Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is a Union in Your Future?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just announced bad news for the golf industry. As you may know, the NLRB issued its final rule regarding the new employee notice that all clubs must post beginning November 14, 2011 dealing with employees rights to organize and form a union.

To add insult to injury, just this new legislation hit the streets; the NLRB handed down its first ruling that will make it much easier for the union organization process in clubs across the country. In a 3-1 decision, the NLRB has said that unions may now organize smaller subsets of employees in a business. For the golf course industry, this means that a union could organize the golf maintenance staff staff rather than the entire club staff.

Since a union is formed when a majority of employees vote for it, it will be much easier for union organizers to get the 51% they need if they can focus on a smaller number of employees. Clearly, 20 golf maintenance workers is a much more interesting target than going after the entire group of employees at a club that enjoys a large staff of 75 to 100 all encompassing club workers. Once this subset group is unionized, the club will need to negotiate a contract with these 20 while dealing with the needs of the other club workers (golf shop staff, kitchen staff, servers, pool staff, administration staff, etc.) separately.

Such a situation will increase administrative issues for the club and soon push the other club workers to look to unionize when they begin to realize the differences in pay, benefits and/or treatment from the club’s leadership. This is exactly what labor unions have wanted for years and it is why the NLRB has finally given it to them. With the increase in cost of labor clubs and golf will begin to become out-of-reach to more, continuing the death spiral already being experienced at some golf facilities on the edge.

This policy also places the burden on employers to prove that any excluded employees “share an overwhelming community of interest” with those in the proposed union group. So, golf facility leader’s will now have to struggle to include more employees into a proposed union group to help dilute the chance the union will succeed – an awkward and expensive task no facility wants to have to undertake.

What makes this ruling even more regrettable is that there is no direct federal or state court appeal that can be made of an NLRB judicial decision. The only course of action is, an employer will have to be challenged with a union that wants to organize a small subset of workers, let those employees unionize and then refuse to recognize the newly formed union. When that happens, the new union will sue the employer and the employer will then be entitled to argue the NLRB overstepped its authority by allowing this small subset to be unionized in the first place.

In short, this NLRB ruling cannot be addressed until a business decides to accept being slapped with an unfair labor practices lawsuit for failing to accept the new union representation of a small group of its employees.

The NLRB has an agenda that will only cause the golf course industry more and more of a problem as these new regulations and rulings are handed down. The cost of golf will begin to increase as the H2B program remains under assault, health care laws will either fine of force clubs to insure all staff members and labor prices will escalate due to unions and the high cost of imposed increases in wages and benefits.

Powerful forces are at work to change the labor landscape in our industry, it behooves each of us to have a dialog with our appropriate representatives on these small business harming, draconian policies.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is your golf facility psychologically ready for change?

Every once in a while the economy whacks everyone on the side of the head to remind them to shape up, pushing many golf businesses into a state of shock. 2008 showed us a perfect example of a good whacking with a major collapse in the financial markets. Fast forward to today, the shock has worn off (mostly), and it’s time to shake off the dust and move forward. For many clubs, this is the time to reevaluate the course of action, reposition the club, or even reconfigure the whole facility.
For most club businesses it’s so much easier to go back to the way things used to be. The thing about change is that it mostly strikes the psychological part of the system, and club leaders that charts the course of the club, must expect and properly handle the emotional ups and downs of the membership and the staff throughout the transition.

Just over the past few months, I’ve either been involved with or have witnessed the firing of key clubs staff, rebirth of entire organizations, layoffs, and repositioning of companies (yeah, those management companies are spending money like the 112th Congress). Although I personally enjoy the prospects of change, years of dealing with various clubs and organizational changes has taught me a lesson or two about dealing with the unsettling factors involved with major change within clubs. I’ll share a few of them here.

Deal with the fear of change. Your other option is stagnation which is much scarier. The way you can help the club and staff overcome the fear of change is to provide as many facts and analyses as is possible. The more knowledge everyone has, the less emotionally reactive they become.

Don’t act out of panic. You’re almost sure to make the absolutely wrong decision. Enough said?

Take things one step at a time. Keep a strategic view, make your plans, and then act accordingly. The longest journey begins with the first step.

Remove yourself from the situation. Pretend like you’re giving advice to someone else. I’m saying this from experience. Something happens when you’re removed from the situation – you become more rational and less impulsive in your decisions.

Get your staff on board during the planning process. You need the affected mangers and organization leaders on board to make successful transitions happen. They need to understand why the change needs to occur, where the organization is headed, and how you will get there in order to transmit the ideas throughout their respective departments. The more time you spend with them laying out the groundwork before the change occurs, the easier the transition.

Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Engage the organization throughout the change process both by talking and listening. This is no time to hide in your office, behind your computer screen. Pay particular attention to the quiet ones. They’re the ones listening to everyone else and can provide a wealth of information about the general morale and other on-goings within the club.

Expect problems. Know that things will go wrong. Your staff will get cold feet, the markets will change, and your finances won’t go as planned. It’s OK. Your plan should have wiggle room, but also, don’t beat yourself (or anyone else) up if things go slightly off course. Regroup and pull things back on course. You never know, you might even decide to change the intended course halfway through the process based on the new information.

Not everyone will be unhappy. Whenever I’m presenting to a group about a particular subject I always notice a few quietly nodding their heads. By tuning into the “Head Nodders” know that some of your staff is already on board to make these changes happen. Use them to help you in the change process. If they’re already nodding they most likely share your vision, and can help you during the transition.

The ending is just as important as the beginning. Once you’ve gone through some type of change process, don’t let the organization fall back into the old patterns otherwise your efforts will go to waste. Everything associated with the change process will feel a little shaky for a while. Make sure all the processes, new systems, and new positions are solidly in place before you relax and grab that cold frosty to celebrate.

Change, whatever it may be, is one thing that’s inevitable, the better we prepare to be agents of change the better and more valuable of a manager and a leader we become.