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Organisations can successfully engage with staff by shining a light on their own unique histories and qualities in interesting ways. While a picture of the ‘356 tram to Hawthorn’ or a story about the founding partner is interesting, intranets can (and should) go beyond this to connect with staff.
Trainspotters and flamboyant lawyers
At the Department of Transport in Victoria, Australia, the intranet is capably managed by the team who have access to the organisation’s archives. On a regular basis a photo from the archives is published to a blog, and the rest of the organisation then vies to identify the subject of the photo, where it is and any other details.
This blog taps into a subject of interest and a source of amusement for many of the employees, at the same time as highlighting the long history of the organisation. The blog engages both trainspotting enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, creating many ‘water cooler’ conversations around the organisation. It’s a nice match between audience and interest.
Another example is at the law firm Sparke Helmore, which features the personality of ‘Basil’ on its intranet. Basil is based on Basil Helmore, OBE, one of the founding partners of the firm. Basil was an impressive and witty man. He started his long and successful career in law in 1914, fought in World War 1, edited four law text books, received his doctorate from the University of London, acted as a company director, stood for election to Parliament and was active in his community.
The intranet includes illustrations of Basil that are used on different pages, such as an image of Basil in a business suit on the home page, Basil in a mortarboard on the learning and development page and Basil in a bike-riding outfit on the sports committee pages. The intranet also features a short biography of Basil and a retelling of the firm’s history in his voice.
Connecting with staff
History presents an ideal way to reach out to staff and tap into common interests. Curiosity about the origins and shared past of an organisation draws staff into being part of something bigger. This can be an important factor in fostering a positive staff culture.
The other key human factors to consider are recognition and competition. Staff are often inspired when they have the opportunity to share their knowledge with a comment or answer. Others can be motivated by competition. Either way, history areas on intranets can generate widespread and lively interest.
The final factor is humour. A little off-beat and non-offensive humour can give a strong signal to staff that can catch on throughout the organisation and create a unique area of the intranet.
To be successful with a historical section of an intranet, a few practicalities must be addressed:
- Topic needs to directly relate to the organisation or industry and is best illustrated with photos or other imagery — visual content has a much stronger impact.
- Content should be owned by someone who is passionate about the organisation’s history and committed to keep the content flowing (but not necessarily the intranet team).
- Technology must allow sharing of imagery with context and maybe commenting — this may be part of your current technology offering or one of the free online solutions.
- Cultural appropriateness is key to finding a way to speak to the whole organisation. For example many large organisations have grown out of a number of different, possibly older organisations along the way and care must be taken not to revive dislike or distrust generated by hostile mergers.
Sharing history on intranets can be a powerful way to engage staff in well-established organisations with their unique back-story and cultural context. Building a sense of pride in the organisation also leads to increased staff engagement.
As intranets become increasingly ‘social’, this further strengthens the opportunities to engage staff via stories from the organisation’s history. In this way, the past can help to bring the present to life!