When a workforce organizes, it can feel like a direct attack on leadership. Because of this, a typical response by leaders is something along the lines of unionization is futile, or we’ll never give up our opposition to the union, or the union is to blame for the workplace issues.
At Costco, however, that wasn’t the case.
Workers in a Northern Virginia store recently voted to unionize, even though only 5 percent of Costco’s 208,000 employees are union members. The response from Costco CEO Craig Jelinek and President Ron Vachris was remarkable, saying in part, “We’re disappointed by the result in Norfolk. We’re not disappointed in our employees; we’re disappointed in ourselves as managers and leaders. The fact that most Norfolk employees felt that they wanted or needed a union constitutes a failure on our part.”
What a refreshing letter. There’s no blame-shifting or excuses, just accountability and an acknowledgment of the truth. Additionally, Jelinek and Vachris went on to reiterate Costco’s values, saying, “We’re as committed as ever to our employees. If you ever have any doubts or questions about this commitment, please talk with your manager or any member of Costco’s leadership team. Our culture of trust, respect, and reliance upon each other is what makes Costco such a great company.”
Jill, What Can I Learn from This? Respond honestly to employees who voice issues, and look inward. The only way to improve as an organization is to undergo a serious, comprehensive self-critique. Only then can you acknowledge and embrace the truth, and begin working on those areas that are not serving the organization – or employees – well.