Early NQWC experiments succeed in bringing labor and management together at major U.S. employers
This is the third part of a blog series, “Collaboration & Employee Engagement: Ideas Whose Time Have Come, Again.” Earlier, we explored the beginnings of labor-management cooperation in the 1960s, the formation of the National Quality of Work Center (NQWC) that conceptualized collaboration between labor unions and management for shared benefit. Now, we explore the application of theory!
Initially, the National Quality of Work Center (NQWC) was to act as a “producer” in the initiative, identifying potential joint clients, companies and unions willing to experiment in joint efforts to engage employees in workplace decisions, and procuring independent, third-party consultants (organizational change experts) to advise in the pilot activities.
The Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan was engaged as an independent evaluator of the process of bringing labor and management together, and as an independent assessor of the results of such initiatives.
Early clients were Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Members of a newly created “joint venture” with Local 1199, National Hospital and Health Care Workers, the New York State Nurses Association, and the Committee of Interns and Residents at Mount Sinai.
Likewise, Weyerhaeuser Co. and the International Woodworkers of America established a joint initiative aimed at significant employee involvement and engagement. Independent “third-party” management consulting firms were picked from a roster of such firms by the joint union-management participants to “facilitate” the change efforts.
An interesting dynamic soon developed in both of these early ventures. All of the participating parties, management and unions, came back to NQWC saying of their third-party consultants “these guys really don’t know anything about the labor – management world, they are management consultants, and are of no help in an organized labor environment.”
They asked if NQWC itself could act as the independent third-party adviser, saying “you guys brought us together in the first place, why can’t you be our ongoing facilitator?” As a result, NQWC found itself in both the initiating and consulting roles!
Early experiments had sufficiently positive results with measurable outcomes to induce other companies and unions to “experiment”, and ultimately, the clients themselves began to fund the initiatives, eliminating the need for external funding from government or private sector granting institutions.
The majority of funding came, of course, from the corporate side of the joint initiatives, but since the unions had equal say with management in the hiring and firing of consultants, and in the specific design of employee involvement initiatives within each of the companies, the activities were credible as genuine joint ventures.
By 1980, several developments began to take shape. There were a growing number of “joint” employee involvement initiatives in a variety of companies (and in one case, in a large city government waste disposal division), always involving a union or multiple unions as “partner(s).”
Several of the NQWC staff, who were themselves organizational change practitioners, had established independent consulting practices providing the services previously provided by NQWC.
Over the course of time, these and other individuals became the nexus of the network of employee engagement consultants brought together under the aegis of what is now known as the Overland Resource Group.
Next: Working together adopted as a “new normal” for the workplace.
Robert Hughes is the founder and President of Overland Resource Group and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicholas Bizony is long time member of the consulting consortium at Overland and is a founding Principal with The Lakeland Group, where he consults to major organizations in the public and private sectors, enabling them to achieve significant improvements in productivity and quality, cost reduction, and increased customer satisfaction. Nick can be reached at email@example.com.