if staff are our greatest asset why don't we show it?

Staff: Our greatest asset? Don't tell us, show us.

By Darren Caveney

In a recent conversation about intranets and internal communications I fessed up on a theory I have developed.

Staff intranets, we know, are generally unengaging resources, crammed with slabs of info but offering very little in the way of interaction or honest, two-way conversation.

But my theory is that this has very little to do with the intranet sites themselves – they’re just a symptom of a much larger organisational and cultural problem which is that too many organisations – when push comes to shove – don’t truly value their staff. There, I've said it.

Organisations that fall into this bracket often have poorly resourced internal communications full stop. So it’s little wonder that their intranet is 10-years old. Staff are simply not being valued enough. They’re too low down in the priorities pecking order.

My theory isn't based on hard evidence or a robust piece of research. It’s based upon anecdotal evidence from talking to lots of folks and organisations over the past year about internal communications issues and how we can improve it.

Of course when you make any broad, sweeping statements like these there are always plenty of examples of where this is not the case. But I would hazard a semi-educated guess right now that if we conducted a poll across the public sector we'd find some worrying results on the topic of staff feeling valued.

We’ve known for many years that staff are our greatest asset. It makes complete business sense. And smart, successful organisations tap into this - happy, trusted staff are more productive, more likely to innovate, less likely to leave and can become natural, unforced ambassadors for an organisation.

And I’m sure that if asked, all organisations and leaders would say that their staff are their greatest asset.

But don't tell us, show us, as someone famous once said.

This lack of value manifests itself in a whole host of ways, from lowly staff survey scores not being acted upon, staff not trusted to venture onto the internet in their lunch breaks and, worst of the lot, staff finding out about jobs cuts first via the local newspaper or blog instead of face-to-face from the horse’s mouth.

The answer to this doesn't include plastering the office walls with organisational 'values' and hoping some of it sticks either. I once read that if you walk into an organisation for an interview or for a first day at work and the organisational values are sat proudly on the office wall you should turn around and leave immediately. It’s almost certainly a sign that there is a staff engagement problem within that organisation.

Another symptom of this lack of appreciation is the number of internal comms staff working in public sector organisations. Accepted good practice has for years said that organisations should employ on average one internal comms person for every 1,000 employees. Can you think of any organisations that do this? I’m struggling.

Now there’s no chance of a concerted internal comms recruitment drive taking place across the sector to tackle this so it’s going to be down to existing staff from other disciples to push for change, and for more senior managers to lighten up, trust the staff they, after all, pay salaries to each month, and demonstrate that staff really are our greatest assets.

So you see having a bad intranet is more likely a symptom of duff, 1970s-style command and control leadership than any deliberate ploy to create and provide poor intranets.

So, what next?

Working together in a safe, trusted environment where innovation is encouraged, where two-way respect exists and where honesty and telling staff the facts, first and face-to-face is the only way the public sector will emerge intact as we enter the next five-years of impactful financial cuts to our organisations.

You can spot the smart organisations with leaders who know this and are trying to deliver positive change for the greater good. My hope is that they will shine like sparkly beacons and encourage and force others to follow suit.

So if your intranet is rubbish, ask yourself the bigger question about why, and have a think about the ways in which you can force your own positive changes, no matter how small if may be.

And, creating a new intranet, a social one, where staff feel able to share honest views without repercussion, might just have a much bigger impact than we think.

Darren Caveney is co-creator of comms2point0 and vice chair of LGcomms

Image via Flickr Creative Commons