By Chally Kacelnik
It’s no secret that I have a bugbear about organisations not recognising the value generated by support and administrative staff. (See, previously, Reorganising Technical and Transactional Tasks to Achieve Your Organisational Goals for a brief guide to untangling the messes this can cause.) In fact, I was mulling over writing the very post you are reading on the subject when a friend of mine told me a story that illustrates the point nicely.
A senior leader in her organisation had set up a new online forum to keep staff informed, and it’s been pretty popular. They work in a hospital, where quite rightly there has been a lot of focus lately on the excellent work of their doctors and nurses, each day and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the new portal, the organisation has launched a campaign to also recognise the work of allied health staff, non-clinical staff like cleaners, security, and kitchen staff… in fact everybody except for the administrative staff.
This was not missed by the administrative staff, some of whom are making pointed comments on the portal and some of whom are expressing their feelings behind the scenes. It’s never about the one incident, of course. Both the public and private responses exemplify what happens in organisations when critical staff and their critical work are persistently overlooked and undervalued.
Support services are not as flashy as, for instance, surgical services, or whatever the central or high status work in your organisation might be. They are however crucial enablers of that work. And if your organisation is making it clear to people that their work is not valued, then you will generate a culture in which an increasing number of people performing critical work are turning up jaded and disengaged. This is not something you want to be a norm, particularly for work that requires a lot of fiddly expertise and knowledge across many areas.
We at LKS Quaero say that leaders have to understand the social valuing processes in a group and intervene to deliver a constructive outcome. Understand what messages are being generated by the systems, symbols, and behaviour that comprise the current state of your organisation and change them where you need to change the outcome. Not recognising the value of people’s work leads to some really symbolic behaviour, and it’s something you can identify and change.
If there are genuinely activities and roles in your organisation that are not generating value, then you have the opportunity to conduct a rigorous, holistic current state analysis to determine what needs to change. More broadly, you should be orienting your organisation from what is valued because of high status to what generates value for your stakeholders. If you haven’t been recognising the value generated by support staff up until now – or responsive to their sensibilities – then it’s time to ask some big questions about what other critical issues may be going unaddressed in your organisation. How are people experiencing their time at work? Do you know the extent to which value is being generated by ignored activities?
This is not about placating people or generating warm and fuzzy feelings. Explicitly and implicitly recognising the value of support staff and their work is crucial to well-functioning organisations. You’d be sunk without them.