Are you ignoring your brilliant silent majority?

It's the perennial problem for internal comms leaders - how do you stop the dialogue being dominated by the same old suspects?

Dr Peter Thomond: Are the best ideas being drowned out?
Dr Peter Thomond: Are the best ideas being drowned out?

You know the type: always quick and opinionated with their comments on your intranet articles, never shy in the brainstorming sessions and voluminous when it comes to filling out your surveys.

I’m being a little facetious of course. People with ideas need to feel free to voice them and some people will always speak up more than others.

But we all know that quantity and quality are not to be confused.

In fact, evidence shows that it’s the silent majority of staff, those who might never speak up, who hold many of the best ideas – often as many as half of them.

From the reams of data we’ve captured, we see an 80:20 rule in operation: 20 per cent of your most ‘creative’ staff will typically make 80 per cent of the contributions in brainstorming workshops or comms department questionnaires.

But it’s the quiet non-creatives who make up the vast majority of your people, and while they may only make 20 per cent of all contributions, our data often shows that they come up with half of the best ideas.

I’ve observed this time and again in organisations as diverse as NHS trusts, think-tanks, local government and major banks.

So what does this mean for internal comms?

First and foremost, it means that traditional engagement processes often fail to get the most from people because they lack the techniques to nurture the voice of the majority.

Even with the best intentions, many engagement processes leave the quiet ones feeling drowned out by the chatterboxes.

In the social media age there are opportunities to be more innovative and level the playing field.

By using the right processes, and avoiding the pitfalls and dangers of just ‘giving social media a go’, comms leaders can tease out the views of the wallflowers.

For example, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has used a secure Facebook-style platform to empower its workforce to get involved in strategic conversations about the direction of the organisation.

Anonymous ideas and comments can be ‘liked’, ‘disliked’ and debated, with internal comms staff facilitating the conversation, then distilling the strongest insights and presenting these to the board.

The Trust used this method when crowdsourcing its vision and values – with more than 4,000 staff and 1,000 external stakeholders, making more than 40,000 contributions in three controlled campaigns.

Leeds has seen satisfaction with its internal comms process rise ten per cent as a result and is now making the process a key ongoing engagement tool.

There’s a blueprint here for any large organisation that wants to get the best from its staff.

And, armed with the right set of skills, internal comms people have an opportunity to be the conduit; cementing their role as indispensable facilitators of strategic change.

Dr Peter Thomond is chief executive of Clever Together

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