The stakeholders in this scenario include the company and the employees, the union, and the customers. All of these people have an interest in the success of our company. The competition has some interest also, but it would not be positive. The union’s interest is in keeping the plant open after winning new benefits and higher wages for their workers. This is not an easy problem, but there is a precedent that gives us guidance in the Tylenol Crisis of some years ago involving Johnson and Johnson. Fortunately, our problem is on a much smaller scale. I would meet with my team and discuss following the example of Johnson & Johnson. I would point out that our company mission statement says that customers come first and that we aim to produce and distribute the finest pure water, and remind them of the success of the response Johnson & Johnson made. I would recall the 120,000 contaminated bottles.
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Recalling the bottles would be costly, but not even as costly as one fifteen-second television advertisement in prime time. The recall would get free television exposure in primetime on the news. That is worth twice the cost of the recall. I would issue a press release that detailed the contamination and the facts that support that there could be no danger. Then I would point out that we claim that we sell nothing but pure water in our new advertising campaign, so we had no choice but to recall the contaminated bottles. I would mention briefly how the contamination happened and that the responsible employee was being transferred to a job not putting them in direct contact with the water and mandated to see a psychologist (at company expense). We will work out a deal with the responsible employee that will save his or her job, but get help for them also. I would urge the other managers to agree to this plan. We would say that we believe that anyone who would do such a thing needs help.
If the company’s financial position is such that this plan puts us in jeopardy we would seek financial backing from local banks who have an interest in keeping the people in the community working. If that is not sufficient, I would meet with union leaders and cut a deal to hold part or all of the first three months of extra pay for the workers and put it back in as a bonus payment after a period upon which we agreed. The new benefits would go into effect immediately. I would let the workers know about the plan and solicit their votes.
A company’s financial position often does dictate how ethical dilemmas are handled, but it shouldn’t. I would include this in the message to our workers when I ask for their help. This would have the dual effect of placating the workers for the need to strike for higher wages, letting them know that we really were not in an excellent position to give them these higher wages and benefits in the first place or the strike would not have been necessary. This may not have been the entire motivation in the beginning, but it should have been. The company should share its bounty with its workers, and we should establish a task group, which would include workers, to look into how this can be done so we can avoid future strikes. We need to get this message out to our workers and mean it. We can even say that we realize that the strike might have been avoided if we had communicated better with the workers earlier. All of this should help fix employee morale, and so these other things should be done even if we don’t need to withhold the higher wages for a period. Once the task group is created, we should hold a meeting and send out a press release to this effect that we are trying to prevent the need for any such action in the future, as it damages the company and its employees.
As a final strategy, I would hold a company contest to create a code of ethics for the company to include management and employees. We would have team meetings to brainstorm what this should contain and what the best contribution was from employees (management at lower levels included). We would perhaps have two prizes for these contributions. Our team would work out the best reward to offer. It should include a seat on the task group for company communication, which would meet on paid company time. My reasoning for all of the above is that any company needs the backing of its workers and its management. We need to be a team. All of these measures can get prime time exposure, however brief, by means of press releases. The local media should be very cooperative, since the community depends upon the health of the economy, and our workers need their jobs. That there was a lengthy strike indicates that something was wrong. Everyone knows this. In addition to fixing the problem with the contamination, and recovering our market share and reputation, we need to establish a better relationship with our workers. I believe this plan will do that.