Director of the Involvement and Participation Association Nita Clarke, Blair’s former trade union adviser, made the warning in a speech at CMI’s inaugural President’s Lecture Programme – Managing and Leading in a Modern Workplace – held this week at London’s Cass Business School.
She said many firms make the mistake of deciding to engage employees when something goes wrong. “[The employees say] oh it’s alright now the proverbial has hit the fan – now you want to talk to us!”
Clarke added that some of the highest levels of engagement and a feeling of dignity among employees were achieved when there was trade union representation in the workplace. “I would suggest this was particularly the case when trade unions and management work in a collaborative way,” she said.
In other news, one of Clarke’s fellow speakers Patrick Dunne, group communications director of 3i Group Plc, who works to make companies’ boards more effective, offered delegates some memorable tips to prevent them responding intemperately when board members’ behaviour frustrates them. Popping a pencil in your mouth isn’t usually practical, he said, “so I imagine popping a pencil in my mouth”.
Dunne also passed on wisdom from his Irish grandmother who told him that listening to what people are thinking is more powerful than listening to what people are saying. “I now [visualise] cartoon thought bubbles above people’s head,” the Liverpudlian revealed.