Warren Bennis, Safety, Labor Relations and Leadership


I love reading the Economist and they justified my appreciation with an August 9 Obituary on Warren Bennis, who they rightly described as “the world’s most important thinker on the subject that business leaders care about more than any other: themselves.”

I cannot do a better job than this article in describing this thoughtful and ethical man’s contributions to business theory, to leadership and to the question of “what matters the most?”

I’m also a fan of Peter Drucker, and the Economist contrasts their focuses:

If Peter Drucker was the man who invented management (as a book about him claimed), then Warren Bennis was the man who invented leadership as a business idea.

Central to his thinking was a distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are people who like to do things right, he argued. Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers have their eye on the bottom line. Leaders have their eye on the horizon. Managers help you to get to where you want to go. Leaders tell you what it is you want. He chastised business schools for focusing on the first at the expense of the second. People took MBAs, he said, not because they wanted to be middle managers but because they wanted to be chief executives. He argued that “failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led”.

Mr Bennis believed leaders are made, not born. He taught that leadership was a set of skills—that can be learned through hard work. Bennis’ autobiography was so appropriately titled: “Still Surprised.” Yep. Never stopped learning and evolving.

As the Economist explained, Bennis believed that “what constitutes good leadership changes over time:”

Mr Bennis was convinced that an egalitarian age required a new style. Leaders could no longer crack the whip and expect people to jump through hoops. They needed to be more like mentors and coaches than old-fashioned sergeant-majors. Top-down leadership not only risked alienating employees. It threatened to squander the organization’s most important resource: knowledge. There is no point in employing knowledge workers if you are not going to allow them to use their knowledge creatively.

A Management Labor Lawyer should love Bennis’ approach to so called business leaders over the last 25 years.  If business leaders heeded his advice, there would be few employee lawsuits, even lower union activity, and a safer workplace culture.  The Economist explains:

The last quarter of the 20th century often saw Mr Bennis in despair. He loathed the Masters of the Universe who boasted about how many jobs they had nuked and how much money they had made. “On Becoming a Leader” is full of prophetic warnings about corporate corruption, extravagant executive rewards and short-termism. He also lamented the quality of leadership in Washington, DC.

But he became more optimistic in his last few years, at least about the corporate world. The Enron, WorldCom and Lehman disasters taught businesses the danger of hubris. And a new generation of CEOs, whom he dubbed “the crucible generation” and compared to his own second-world-war generation, were more impressive than their immediate predecessors, characterized not merely by tolerance of other people, but respect for them.

I’ll conclude my post with the Economist’s fine ending:

When Drucker came to a party at Mr Bennis’ post-modern house on Santa Monica beach in California, in the late 1990s, the two men were a study in contrasts: Mr Bennis, thin, tanned and dressed in a light suit; Drucker paunchy, pale and encased in black. Mr Bennis talked animatedly about leadership. Drucker growled that what mattered was followership. But in fact the men were brothers under the skin and worthy counterweights to each other: big thinkers who took subjects too often synonymous with platitudes and gobbledygook, and, by dint of a lot of hard twisting, wrung some sense out of them.

I’ll leave it to the reader to ponder the implications of Bennis’ teachings to an employer’s role in workplace safety and HR.  For more information on Warren Bennis.


Posted in attitude/culture, management and leadership, supervisor development | Leave a comment

Safety Concerns When Buying or Leasing Office Space

What Should Be Your Safety Concerns When Buying or Leasing Office Space?

What is in this article?:

Are you counting on landlords or contractors to ensure that your office space meets OSHA and NFPA standards? That might not be the right move.

Use office safety as a way to engage employees. Find an employee who would enjoy involvement and give him or her the opportunity to assist you with safety.

Location and price generally control office-space decisions. Even if you construct a new building or do extensive build-out, you probably have not devoted much consideration to whether your new space meets OSHA requirements. 

It’s an office, after all – not a manufacturing plant or refinery. So you rely on your builder or landlord for that. You figure that they’re well-regarded contractors and developers, so presumably they adhered to OSHA requirements along with local ordinances and electrical codes. 

Unfortunately, OSHA standards mainly focus on employees working safely, and contractors don’t view the standards as dictating the final structure. Thus, contractors follow OSHA construction standards to protect workers building the structure, but they don’t really think about OSHA standards applicable to the finished structure in the same way that they faithfully adhere to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards such as 70E or state or local building codes. Your building might be structurally sound and safely wired, but don’t be surprised if you discover a missing mid rail on a stairway or missing knock-outs in electric cabinets and fixtures.


Posted in safety programs, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If Employees Are Unhappy With Politicians, Does That Make Them Mad At the Company?

One of my partners and I discussed what the results of yesterday’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll might tell us about worker attitudes. NBC News pointed out that President Obama’s approval rating was at its lowest point.

The more troubling results of the poll were that 60% of Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the economy, and a whopping 70% said that, they believe that

“the Country is headed in the wrong direction.”

Nearly 80% stated that they were “down on the country’s political system.” Both parties may see political advantage in these numbers. However, any way one spins these numbers, they are not good for the Country.

The poll apparently did not ask employees what they thought about their employers. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between respondents who are frustrated with the Country’s political process, and those that are dissatisfied with their workplace. I suspect that a correlation exists. Would the employee who generally believes that the country is headed in the wrong direction decide that the workplace needs change … maybe more regulation or a union? Probably.

Much has been written about the end of the workplace Social Contract. Many employees believe that the 1950’s era Informal agreement that a company would take care of you if you did a good job has been forever breached.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement and its offspring, such as the attacks on fast food restaurants and efforts to legislate a “fair wage,” show that many employees are dissatisfied with our economic model.

One conclusion from the polls is that employers should not continue to engage in “business as usual.” Even before the Great Recession, employee productivity was on the rise and employees were doing more with less. Many managers are so busy that they do not think about their more vague duties to communicate with and respond to employee concerns.

Mix dissatisfied workers with over extended managers and you get conflict in the form of lawsuits, complaints to the government, and interest in unions.

And let’s talk about unions. Organized labor has become such an insignificant portion of the non-government sector that many employees know little about unions. Employees may not even know friends and family members who are in a union and their personal experiences. Among other things, this lack of familiarity may breed ignorance about legal and practical challenges presented by a union.

 It read employee handbook?   Even more importantly, has the employer taken steps to make a union unnecessary?

I don’t know if these dismal polling numbers will translate to employee legal claims. Perhaps the so-called “summer of discontent” will only affect the political process. Nevertheless, the wise employer should use these polling results as a motivation to train managers and supervisors to better communicate with their employees and to respond to employee concerns.

Posted in cultural changes, management and leadership, managing legal matters, Uncategorized, whistleblower/retaliation | Leave a comment

Four Steps for Managing Employees from Afar (from Construction Business Owner)

Follow these steps to avoid OSHA violations and ensure your workforce values safety and professionalism regardless of who is watching.
Written by:

Howard Mavity


June 1, 2014 


A CEO friend of mine was trying to exit a hotel. As he emerged from the designated exit stairway, he 
almost fell into a hole and tripped over construction debris. Spotting a contractor foreman, he reasonably pointed out that the workers were violating a host of OSHA and local codes and that the head of the state’s OSHA agency was actually meeting with his supervisors at that same hotel. This moment of politeness was greeted by an expletive and then dismissed. When the CEO returned to his office, he asked his construction managers if they had heard of the contractor. “Why, yes,” they responded, “we use them a lot.” The CEO’s response? “Not anymore.”

Many employees work alone at a customer’s site with no immediate supervision or safety professional to check for hazards and ensure professionalism. Many employees, such as journeymen electricians and certified crane 
operators, are trained to operate with minimal supervision. Other workers may be less equipped to individually analyze their settings. Unfortunately, both types of isolated workers may violate OSHA standards or act unprofessionally, as in the case of the soon-to-be ex-foreman mentioned above. Preventing that misconduct is more of a problem when employees—even those who are experienced—are working alone. In fact, the majority of the nearly 500 workplace fatalities I’ve managed involved experienced employees, not new hires. Experienced workers may become lax about hazards, or when fatigued, lose sight of good judgment.

An employer has some level of duty to protect its employees whether they are on the employer’s work site or working elsewhere. The employer cannot delegate this responsibility to others even when another employer controls the work site. The employer retains responsibility to protect its people—even highly skilled workers who are trained to operate alone. OSHA can cite multiple employers on the same job. For example, OSHA might cite the work site 
owner for creating the hazard and the actual employer for allowing its employee to be exposed to the hazard. However, a contractor can’t send a safety manager to conduct a site safety analysis at every power pole, ready-mix delivery or work site where skilled craftsmen are working alone.

Photo courtesy of ClickSafety of a Webcor Builders Jobsite by Ryan Hefferman Photography

If an accident occurs, OSHA will ask the employer many of the same questions that it would ask if the employer 
controlled the work site or had a supervisor present: Who did the site safety analysis? How did you monitor employees and ensure that they used fall protection? Did you 
conduct a pre-work meeting? When did these employees last attend a safety meeting?

You may assume that employees confer throughout the day with supervisors, dispatchers and technicians. You may have trained employees to exercise greater responsibility when working alone, but are these procedures documented? To ensure your employees maintain safe and 
professional conduct while on the job and to avoid violating OSHA regulations, follow the steps below.


Posted in construction, employee engagement, hazard assessment, OSHA, reducing injuries, safety programs | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Two New Webinars: Bullying, the NLRB and Its War On Employer Rules and “Live From the AGC National Safety Committee Meeting.”

Dealing With Workplace Bullying And Misconduct While The NLRB Challenges Your Rules
Join us for a Webinar on July 24
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
A quarter of American Workers claim to have been seriously bullied at work, and many discrimination and other claims were caused by such employee misconduct, rather than unlawful actions.  Many employers have implemented “anti-bullying” policies or made employee civility and code of conduct rules more robust.  Unfortunately, the NLRB is aggressively attacking policies which might discourage employee’s exercise of their Section 7 rights to organize.  While the D.C. Circuit Court has pointed out that union organizing is not synonymous with abusive and threatening behavior, the NLRB does not appear to agree.


Title: Dealing With Workplace Bullying And Misconduct While The NLRB Challenges Your Rules
Date: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT


After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.


System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 8, 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server
Mac®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.6 or newer
Mobile attendees
Required: iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone or Android tablet

Live From The AGC Of America National Safety Committee Meeting

Join us for a Webinar on July 17
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
Howard Mavity will host three nationally regarded safety professionals to discuss concerns and lessons gleaned from the July 16 through 18 AGC National Safety Committee Meeting in Portland.  Nationally regarded safety professionals, Bob Emmerich, P.E., and Jim Goss, will join Kevin Cannon, Director of Safety and Health Services  of the AGC of America.  We will discuss trends in OSHA enforcement, new technology for safety efforts, and challenges and solutions raised by construction attendees.


Title: Live From The AGC Of America National Safety Committee Meeting
Date: Thursday, July 17, 2014
Time: 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM PDT


After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.


System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 8, 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server
Mac®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.6 or newer
Mobile attendees
Required: iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone or Android tablet
Posted in attitude/culture, construction, discipline and discharge, discrimination, employer policies, harassment, internal investigations, management and leadership, NLRB, OSHA, safety programs, workplace violence | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Workplace Bullying and the NLRB

Workplace and school violence events have contributed to our increasing national conversation about “bullying.” Recently, NPR quoted a Zogby poll in which more than a quarter of American workers reported that they have experienced abusive conduct at work. 64% of respondents to a Monster Global Poll felt that they had been “bullied, either physically hurt, driven to tears, or had their work performance harmed.” Legislation is pending in a number of states and the topic regularly shows up in several media discussions. I’m convinced that the problem is real.  We would be interested in how many of you are actually implementing workplace anti-bullying policies, whether they are separate from your no-discrimination/no harassment efforts, and whether you are seeing a positive effect?

Both practical and legal problems impede developing effective policies. As an example, how do you define “bullying” and how do you distinguish this objectionable conduct from the sort of workplace banter and teasing that men often use to bond with one another? Michael Akin, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Society of Human Resource Management pointed out that, “It’s tough, if not impossible, to legislate against someone being a jerk.” However, employers may be able to develop an effective Code of Conduct and Effective Anti-Bullying Policy based upon requiring employees to use “good judgment” and to be a “professional.”

Unfortunately Recent NLRB Decisions Make It Harder To Draft Policies

New challenges to employer policies emerge every time the National Labor Relations Board opens its doors. The NLRB has incredible broadly attacked Rules of Conduct as “tending to chill employees in the exercise of their Section VII rights.” Although the D.C. Circuit Court and the Board itself have observed “that threatening and abusive language are not inherent aspects of union organizing or other Section VII activities,” the Board nonetheless strikes down many policies as too vague.

Any policy has to be read as a whole, and a single statement may be lawful or unlawful depending upon the purpose of and the context of the policy. Thus, some of the language set out below has been found lawful in certain context or in conjunction with other policies. Nevertheless, the Board has found the rules below as overbroad in recent cases:

• A rule prohibiting “making false, vicious, profane or malicious statements toward or concerning the hotel or any employee;”
• Verbal comments or physical gestures directed to others that exceed the bounds of fair criticism and behavior that is counter to promoting teamwork;
• Behavior that is disruptive to maintaining a safe and healing environment or that is counter to promoting teamwork;
• Prohibiting “loud, abusive, or foul language;”
• Discipline for “the inability or unwillingness to work harmoniously with other employees;”
• Prohibiting negativity, any type of negative energy or attitudes;
• Engage in any activity which could harm the image or reputation of the company; and
• A rule prohibiting “negative conversations about employees or managers.”

The NLRB decisions are not consistent and it is difficult to find clear patterns. One response may be to utilize the language in some of the proposed state anti-bullying statutes. One proposed statute defines “abusive conduct,” as:

Acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find abusive, based on the severity, nature and frequency of the conduct, including, but is not limited to: repeated verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets; verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating, or humiliating nature; or the sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance. It shall be considered an aggregating factor if the conduct exploited an employee’s known psychological or physical illness or disability. A single act normally shall not constitute abusive conduct, but an especially severe and egregious act may meet this standard;

“Abusive work environment” means, an employee condition when an employer or one or more of its employees, acting with intent to cause pain or distress to an employee, subjects the employee to abusive conduct that causes physical harm, psychological harm, or both;

I would be interested in comments on how my readers are addressing bullying in the workplace.

I also encourage you to obtain legal review of your Employee handbooks and policies, even if you did so in 2013. Yes … the NLRB has changed things that much. But more on that subject in a future post.


Posted in attitude/culture, cultural changes, hospitality, public attacks, restaurants, retail, social media, union organizing, unions, Washington, workplace violence | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Have you Prepared For Third Party Embarassment Tactics?

The areas of labor, employment, and safety exposure which present very real threats to the distribution industry. There are several reasons for this increased focus on these types of business:

■Distribution is a huge market for plaintiff lawyers who want business, unions who need members, and government agencies seeking to be relevant in the new workplace.
■The Administration and third party groups such as “Occupy Wall Street” spin offs, are critical of the often non-union supply chain process. The Wage Hour Director wrote a scathing book titled, The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became Back So Bad For So Many And What Can Be Done To Improve It. The book raises valid concerns, but you won’t like the proposed “fixes” of more regulation and encouragement of unionization.
■You may also suffer ancillary damage resulting from attacks on your customers. Third parties may attack suppliers and distributors as a way of bringing pressure on the customer. Or unions may try to embarrass a distributor’s customers in order to force the distributor to “voluntarily”recognize a union.

Embarrassment & Public Attacks Are the New Organizing Tool

Unions and other third parties have never before so heavily used public embarrassment as a means of organizing employees. The key to union organizing is to find a disgruntled employee who will serve as a leader and capitalize on existing workplace problems. These problems are typically compounded by communications breakdowns and ineffective supervisors. Surveys show that the most divisive workplace issues are a sense of unfairness, discrimination, an unsafe workplace, and a sense that the employer does not care about employees.


Posted in auto industry, boycotts, class actions/systemic investigation, hospitality, manufacturing, public attacks, restaurants, retail, unions | Leave a comment

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 236 other followers

%d bloggers like this: