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Organisational Behaviour - Unison Case Study

Introduction

UNISON is the UK’s biggest public service trade union. It represents 1.3 million members who deliver essential services to the public. These are services that protect, enrich and change lives. Its members work in all areas of public service. They work in hospitals, town halls, universities, colleges, schools, social services and clinics. Most people in the UK rely on these services.

There are UNISON branches in all sorts of organisations in the UK. As a trade union, UNISON represents and supports its members in issues at work. It looks after their welfare and campaigns for changes on their behalf. UNISON also has a role in local and national negotiations and in collective bargaining. This is where UNISON negotiates with employers and groups of employers for all of its members collectively. One of its key roles is in campaigning on behalf of members. This could be for changes that will benefit members such as better wages or working conditions or against policies that threaten members’ jobs. UNISON therefore campaigns against government spending cuts that will have a negative impact on public services and those employed in this sector.

UNISON, on behalf of its members, has concentrated its campaign efforts over the past two years on the future of public services and the challenges that they face from government cuts. Public sector cuts planned by the coalition government in 2012 would mean more than 730,000 public service job cuts.This case study looks at organisational structures and how UNISON’s structure is designed to allow it to make decisions and respond to changes quickly in order to help its members.

The structure of an organisation

Organisational structure refers to how the workers within a business are organised and how they relate to each other.

A visual representation of the structure can be shown in an organisation chart. This shows who has authority over whom and the different roles that workers carry out.

Certain organisational structures suit particular types of organisations. This will depend on the size of the business, its aimsandthewayitseesitself(knownasitscorporatecultureor image). It may also be affected by factors outside of its control (externalfactors)suchasthenatureandspreadofitscustomers. Structure is often linked to the type of business. For example, it could be organisedby:

   product-forinstance,achemicalcompanycouldbesplitinto paints andplastics

   function-forinstance,departmentsoffinance,marketing, human resources andoperations

   geography - this could be by UK region or eveninternationally

e.g. Europe, Asia, America

It is important for a business to choose a structure that helps it operate efficiently. The structure should also help to achieve the organisation’s aims and objectives and make best use of people and resources. The main types of business structure are:

   Hierarchical (tall) structure. This means that the business is organisedinlayers,withthehigherlayershavingmoreauthority thanthosebelowthem.Theadvantageofatallstructureisthat everyroleisclearlydefined.Decisionscanbemadequicklyby thoseatthetopoftheorganisationbutcommunicationmaybe slowerasthemessagehastopassthroughallthelayers.

   Horizontalorflatstructures.Heretherearefewerlayersand more people in each layer. Decision making may need to take account of several groups within a layer. However, communication is usually more effective. Flat structures often work well with skilled and motivatedworkers.

   Matrix structures. Sometimes the business needs to use peoplewithavarietyofskillswhoaredrawnfrommanyparts or functional areas of the business such as marketing, operations, finance and human resources. These can be organised into teams to completeprojects.


UNISONhasacomplexstructurethatreflectsthecomplexnatureof the work that it carries out. Its structure is split by function and by region. UNISON’s 1,100 staff work in either its new centre on EustonRoadinLondonorinoneofthe12UKregions.Withineach region there are employees responsible for different areas of the union’swork.Theseareasincludehealth,learninganddevelopment, andlocalgovernmentandeducation.Themembersareorganised into branches throughout Britain and Northern Ireland. This tall structure helps it to act quickly and respond tochanges:

   TheNationalExecutiveCouncil,whichiselectedbymembers, can focus on policy and providingleadership.

   The UNISON Centre concentrates on providing a range of servicestomembersandtheregionssuchaslegal,financial and personnelservices.

 

   Regionalemployeescandealwithissuesparticulartotheir geographicalareae.g.whenalocalemployerannounces redundancies.

Managing organisational structures

Thetypeofstructurethatabusinesshasreflectshowitbehaves. It defines its culture or way of working. A highly centralised, hierarchicalstructuremeansanorganisationisrunfromthetop. Itmayhaveawell-knownpersonatitsheadwhomakesmostof thedecisions.Adecentralisedstructureislikelytocreateamuch moredemocraticculture,whereeveryone’sopinionisvalued.

Decisions will often be made by groups of people or in consultation with different layers.

The national structure of UNISON is centralised with many decisionsaffectingthewholeunionmadebytheseniormembers and workers in the new UNISON centre. However, UNISON’s cultureisoneofequality.Itisaculturethatgivespeoplefreedom to express their views and to be part of decisionmaking.

 

Therefore, some power is given to the regions so that they can makedecisions.Quiteoftenthepeopleintheregionswillhavea betterideaoflocalneeds.ThisdecentralisationhelpsUNISONto be responsive at alllevels.

Whateverthestructure,therearecertainkeyfeaturesthat arecommon:

   Span of control – the people for whom a manager is directly responsible. A narrow span means tight control; a wide span canprovidemoreopportunityforemployeestocontribute.This can lead to better motivation. There are narrow spans of control in tall structures and wide spans of control in flatter organisations.

 

   Chain of command – how authority passes down the organisation.Italsoshowswhohaspowerdelegated(or passed down) tothem

Careers and training at UNISON

Atthelocallevel,arecentadditionhasbeentheroleof‘fighting fund organisers’. Faced with huge cuts to public services, UNISONisrecruitingover100suchfightingfundorganisers.

Thesepeopleneedtohavegoodanalyticalandpresentationskills. They will undertake an induction training programme which preparesthemtogointoworkplacesandrecruitmembers.These fighting fund organisers may come from a range of different backgroundsandarecentralintakingtheunioninnewdirections. Their jobs will include using new methods such as social networking to keep in touch with members. New roles such as this are helping UNISON to change its structure to focus more at thelocallevel.Thismakestheorganisationmoredecentralised.

UNISON is also building clear career paths for organisers. Local fighting fund organisers will recruit members, mentor stewards and helpbranchestogrow.Tostepuptoarealevelmanagementmeans moreresponsibility.Areaofficialsproviderepresentationformembers. They also carry out bargaining with employers. These two activities andexperienceprovideagoodlaunchingpadforaregionalrole.At regionallevel,jobsinvolveresponsibilityforlarge-scalenegotiations, leading projects and managing teams oforganisers.

Thiscareerpathwasdesignedtoprovidegreaterflexibility.Ithelps theuniontodirectresourcestowheretheyaremostneeded.

Whenanemployersuggestschangesthatwillharmmembers– such as redundancies or a transfer of services into the private sector – a team of organisers can be on hand to work with the branch, supporting members in their workplace

Certain organisational structures suit particular types of organisations. This will depend on the size of the business, its aimsandthewayitseesitself(knownasitscorporatecultureor image). It may also be affected by factors outside of its control (externalfactors)suchasthenatureandspreadofitscustomers. Structure is often linked to the type of business. For example, it could be organisedby:

   product-forinstance,achemicalcompanycouldbesplitinto paints andplastics

   function-forinstance,departmentsoffinance,marketing, human resources andoperations

   geography - this could be by UK region or eveninternationally

e.g. Europe, Asia, America.


 
  Text Box: PEOPLE

 


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