For good labor relations: Try respect and saying 'Hi'

Bob McClintock

Respect. That was the word that Bob McClintock used to describe the best way to deal with a union workforce. McClintock walked into a troubled situation at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where customers had been complaining about problems with the union workforce and the unions had been complaining that management was ineffectual in its ability to run the center.

In our Leadership Agenda interview, published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer, McClintock gave an example of what he was describing. McClintock is the chief operating officer of SMG's convention center division. SMG is a West Conshohocken company that operates 71 convention centers along with more than a hundred arenas, stadiums and theaters. SMG took over the management of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in December.

"There’s a young man who is the shop steward for the electricians here – a bright young man," McClintock said, as we talked in a conference room at the Center. "He can do my job a lot better than I could do his job. He’s an electrician by trade. That’s not a job I could do. He’s good at it. He’s smart, intelligent, communicates well. He could do my job.

"I think if you enter in a discussion with that level of respect for what they do, then the communication becomes much more productive. That’s something I learned. My father taught me," McClintock said.

Somewhere along the way, McClintock said, both union leaders and center managers lost that sense of respectful communications. But, he said, those have been regained.

The key, he said, is to focus on the customer.

If that were so easy, everyone would do it, I noted.

"Part of it is training," he said. "Part of it is osmosis."

For example?

"One of the things we noted when we came in, and it’s very small [was that], nobody said "Hi" to each other," McClintock said. "When we would walk through the service corridors and we would see somebody, nobody would say, "Hi." When you are in the customer service business, the first thing about being good with the customer is saying "Hi."  So part of our management strategy was saying "Hi" to everyone."

Well, what about telling people to greet customers and greet each other?

"You learn much more through experience than you do through directions," he said. "I think when you realize that everybody around you is saying "Hi," you start to say "Hi." Now when I walk the corridors, people say "Hi" all the time. Part of this is because they know me, but even when they don’t know me, they still say "Hi."