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  • Intranet Book: The Works Council: Its Uses for the Intranet and What to Look Out For
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Who represents the interests of the workforce at your company? Yes, indeed, a formally elected works council. At least in Germany that’s most often the case. In other organizations, it may just be a loosely-knit group of employees who open their mouths occasionally. Sometimes, the corporate culture is so participatory that to date, no works council has been formed. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what structure you have in place, because the concerns of your employees are fundamental to the success of your intranet project.

However, our large and very large customers do usually have a formally elected, powerful and active works council in place as an institution. The relationship between the senior management at the company and these employee representatives varies enormously: we have seen everything, from extremely amicable to extremely confrontational relationships. 

If you are not clear about the goals you want to achieve with your intranet as an HR, knowledge management and business process portal, you may not be sure about whether and when to incorporate the works council in the best case scenario. 

A simple rule of thumb here is that the more you want to promote participatory processes and collaboration with your intranet in your organization, the more you should involve the works council. 

Personally, I think it’s always a mistake to not involve the works council from the very start. That said, however, it appears that works councils in many companies are systematically trained to “make things worse than they actually are.” And the works council is the perfect skeptic in a situation like this, because it sees challenges and traps everywhere. 

Let’s be open about this, technology allows us to do lots of different things. In the past, nuclear physics has been the origin of magnetic resonance tomography, but also atomic bombs. With a lot of malicious will, an intranet can also become a malicious place where more monitoring and bullying takes place than does constructive cooperation. But we have just considered how we deal with doubters and skeptics. 

Only bring the works council into your core project team if you know that a good and constructive relationship exists between the senior management and employee representatives, and if experiments are also possible. 

If this is not the case, you should take the works council seriously, but still treat it as a “skeptic” and make sure it is closely involved. 

Why a Social Intranet is Perfect for Works Councils 

If you ever find yourself working in a specific situation with a works council or having to convince one of its members of something, I would like to offer up a few thoughts and arguments I believe to be relevant.

In principle, works councils should promote, support and drive forward the creation of a modern intranet with all of its participatory elements. And I’m not saying that because we undertake intranet projects ourselves.

The original task of the works council is to represent the interests of the workforce. This involves jointly determining how the workplace is designed, how the company operates, how the company develops and the way in which democratic principles can strengthen the company as a whole. It is about working together in a self-determined and dignified way and against the exploitation of “human resources” for the pure maximization of profit. 

I cannot emphasize enough the enormous extent to which these objectives are systematically in line with the goals of a modern intranet (and also map a sustainable corporate organization in the 21st century). If you want your company to still be in existence in ten or twenty years’ time, you need to position yourself today so that your teams can deal with complexities effectively. 

In the past, it was enough to simply produce something efficiently (or inexpensively). Today, you need to understand and solve your customers’ problems. And the stupid thing is that these are constantly changing and the market contains lots of surprises. But to experience this, you don’t have to wait ten or twenty years. It’s something you can already notice today. All it needs is a smaller and less well-known competitor to snatch a contract or customer away from you because they are faster and more flexible to be left thinking, “Why aren’t we this quick and agile?” Or perhaps a large company comes along (it may have been just a small start-up a couple of years ago) that changes the way your market works almost overnight and by doing so threatens key elements of your business model. You have to act quickly. 

Anyone who has a functioning press for printing money in their basement that has never worked better who still wants to improve the communication and collaboration in their organization must be a very forward-looking business person. In reality though, most of our customers notice that things will not continue functioning as they do today in the long run. 

And that also includes the situation with the works council. I continually experience how work councils stop an intranet from going live because the process involves co-determination (at least in Germany). A successful intranet encroaches upon the workforce’s daily work processes and is therefore subject to co-determination. This is legally documented and irrefutable. Some project teams try to avoid this issue for as long as they can. But they have to involve the works council at some point. 

If I talk to employees’ representatives about intranet projects, I always ask and advise that they raise their hands and get involved as early as possible – not necessarily actively in the project, but in coordinating what basics need to be in place to be able to sign off on a company agreement. Lengthy rounds of agreement allow both sides to achieve better results in the negotiations. 

The longer I have to agree on things, the better the interests can be reconciled. This ultimately leads to less bureaucratic nonsense outliving the negotiations.

I don’t want to hide the fact that we often see the works council virtually take the intranet project hostage in order to achieve other goals. As a rule, these matters concern wages, salary increases or certain conditions in the context of employee compensation. Something like that is obviously always a possibility, but we never hear about the success of such actions in the end. However, it is certainly a tactic that works councils use in intranet projects, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the project per se. 

Every member of a works council should understand that the intranet actually supports employee interests. There are myriad starting points for this. 

The works council itself needs a stage for its communications. Employee representatives themselves have very similar needs to the company management when it comes to communication. An intranet with heavy traffic with a central point of contact for the works council allows employees to find out about current issues relating to employee representation and also participate in them. The works council can present results, organize elections and showcase contact persons. 

A successful intranet opens up significantly more space for employee representation in terms of garnering attention. Getting involved early on helps them to use this potential.


Link to this page: https://seibert.biz/intranetbookworkscouncil


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