Labor Relations Strategic Planning

There are several key steps in developing a strategic plan between labor and management in federal labor relations.

Developing a relationship between labor and management is a continuous transactional process. Each interaction between the parties can create a new outcome for the relationship.

Rarely do the parties plan on how they want the relationship to work, they just respond to each new thing that happens. This can be good, as far as it goes, but it also can be disastrous.

As I have written before, there is a considerable amount of emotional content to labor relations. However, there may be a way to create a more stable atmosphere. Parties wishing to improve their relationship have decided to engage in a joint labor relations strategic planning process. 

Agencies and businesses often engage in strategic planning to create a plan on how to best meet their goals. It is an organized effort to assess the current state of the agency or enterprise, and then set goals and agreed upon ways to meet these goals. The same process can be used to develop a successful approach to the conduct of labor relations. 

The First Step

The parties must first agree that they are interested in jointly developing a strategic plan. For this decision to be made, each side must have a certain working level of trust in the other side. There must be trust that if they jointly agree on this plan the other side will live up to its commitments.

The process for the joint development of the plan can be a way to start a trusting relationship or be an enhancement to an existing one. The parties must also agree on joint training on strategic planning so both sides have a mutual understanding of what the process entails.

Assessment of the Relationship

To begin a Labor Relations Strategic Plan (LRSP) the parties must first assess the state of their relationship.

In strategic planning, an organization undertakes an assessment of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) to the organization. A similar type of analysis should be completed with respect to the parties’ labor management relationship.

In labor relations strategic planning the parties should jointly assess the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship. They should discuss what works and a what does not work including the level of trust and communication that takes place between the parties. This would be the equivalent of strengths and weaknesses. Next, they would determine what opportunities are available to improve the relationship and what are the threats to a good relationship.

Key Issues and Priorities

Once the assessment is completed, the parties should then agree on the key issues in the relationship and what their priorities are. The parties jointly identify strategic issues emerging from the assessment, and then prioritize them in terms of importance, timing, and feasibility. The result should be a set of strategic issues that will be addressed as part of the strategic planning process.

Develop a shared vision for the relationship. 

A vision for the relationship is based on what the parties have determined is the kind of relationship they would like to have. The strategic planning vison statement is like the preamble to a collective bargaining agreement where both parties share their aspirations for agreement and for the relationship itself. 

Develop a series of goals or relationship status statements.

It is extremely valuable to transform the vision into a series of key goals for the relationship. One goal could be to complete a collective bargaining agreement. Another goal could be to have joint meetings on a regular basis. The goals should be oriented towards what should be accomplished to improve the parties’ relationship.

Agree upon key strategies to reach the goals and address key issues identified through the assessment. 

The process requires looking at where the organization is now and where its vision and goals indicate it wants to be and identifying strategies to get there. Once the key issues to be addressed and the goals have been specified, the planning group, staff, or a consultant might look back at the assessment, and identify changes in current strategies which may be required to reach the goals and address the issues.

Develop an action plan that addresses goals and specifies objectives and work plans on an annual basis.

Once the longer-term elements of a strategic plan have been developed, it is time to ensure a specific work plan to begin implementation. Implementation should be time based and measurable. 

Finalize a written strategic plan that summarizes the results and decisions of the strategic planning process. 

There is no set format but be sure to include the outputs of each major step. The box at the end of this document provides one possibility.

A LRSP is a joint commitment to move away from a solely transactional approach to labor relations and instead plan together on how labor relations will work and what kind of relationship the parties will have.

About the Author

Joe Swerdzewski, former General Counsel of the FLRA & owner of JSA LLC is the author of The Essential Guide to Federal Labor Relations, A Guide to Successful Federal Sector Collective Bargaining, etc. For more info on JSA’s services, email or subscribe to JSA’s newsletter.