22 ways to socialise your intranet strategy

intranetnowworkshopjuneOn our day long intranet strategy training workshop Chris Tubb and I not only cover the fundamental steps required to develop an intranet strategy, but also what happens afterwards.

Even when you’ve got an intranet strategy agreed and signed-off by your stakeholders it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to happen.You need to socialise and communicate your strategy in order to gain the wider acceptance and genuine commitment from stakeholders and employees in order to:

  • get the go ahead and funding for specific projects
  • facilitate the right governance structures to make it all happen
  • assemble the teams and players required for implementing  initiatives
  • avoid the watering down of the strategy into something different
  • get your intranet strategy prioritised above other competing initiatives

What are you trying to achieve?

Socialising your intranet strategy isn’t rocket science. At a high level you’re trying to:

  • create as much buy-in as possible
  • develop a consensus across a broad and representative church of stakeholders and groups
  • raise awareness with clarity and consistency

And tactically you can achieve this by a number of approaches:

  • targeting both stakeholders and employees
  • trying to be as inclusive as possible
  • seeking feedback so those involved feel engaged and have a sense of ownership of the strategy
  • starting the process of socialisation from the moment you start to define the strategy
  • being consistent with your messaging and communications

22 tactics

That’s all sounds lovely, in a common-sense type of way, but how does that actually translate into specific actions and tactics? Here are 24 real life examples we’ve seen undertaken by intranet teams to socialise their intranet strategy. Get ready for listicle mode – here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Have one-to-ones with your key intranet stakeholders

Go and have a friendly chat with the stakeholders that really matter, listen to pain points and explain what the strategy will mean for them. Taking this approach to formulate and then embed strategy should generate buy-in.

  1. Create a version of the strategy which explains WIIFM for each group

To endorse your intranet strategy different stakeholders and groups want to know what’s-in-it-for-me. Give the people what they want! Create targeted sections of the strategy or other related materials which do just that.

  1. Have a process where a governance group owns the strategy

If you’re lucky enough to have an intranet steering committee with some big cheeses on, get them to own and ratify your intranet strategy. Senior management buy-in should help generate buy-in from those lower down the food chain.

  1. Clearly align the intranet strategy to organisational strategy

Make sure your intranet strategy is explicitly aligned to company objectives. Using the same language and terminology really helps, unless everybody thinks the company strategy is meaningless waffle.

  1. Conduct stakeholder interviews and then hold a workshop

This is a process loved by consultants to help define strategy which also helps drive consensus. Hold structured interviews with stakeholders, non-attributed if necessary, to feed into a proposed strategy. Then reveal the results and recommendations at a workshop with stakeholders to hammer out consensus on strategy..

  1. Make it a clear and potentially annual strategy

Some intranet teams have a clear annual process for updating their strategy and roadmap for the coming year. This is usually intertwined with the governance mode for ratifying the strategy and has some data inputs to help define priorities. Having a clear and accepted process which runs the same way every year drives confidence in the outcome. .

  1. Create a catchy mission statement

Sure they can be fluffy, but a decent strapline can be a useful and consistent aid to socialising your strategy.

  1.  Explain the strategy on your intranet

An obvious place to disseminate your intranet strategy is…drum roll please…on your intranet! Create a dedicated page.

  1. Have a prominent link to the strategy in your footer or navigation

To draw attention to your intranet strategy how about a permanent link in your intranet footer? Hat tip to our friend Sam Marshall for that one.

  1. Use other channels at your disposal

You’re in internal comms, right? Or if not then you’re pretty close to other digital channels. Use intranet news, surveys, your ESN, whatever to spread awareness and get consensus.

  1. Link an update to the strategy to your annual intranet survey

If you carry out an intranet survey to gather feedback in what employees think of your intranet (either annually or on an ad hoc basis) then this can be an input into your intranet strategy. Letting employees understand that their input influences the strategy legitimises and socialises it.

  1. Involve a network of advocates

Having a network volunteer of intranet advocates who act as local champions and experts is now a common tactic used for change management with intranets and ESNs, at least in larger organisations. If you have an advocate network then get their input into your strategy and also to spread the word. .

  1. Use infographics and memorable assets

Having some memorable visual assets for use in slides, documents and other publicity helps. A killer infographic or data visualization of your strategy that is consistently used can be very effective.

  1. Do a video

A short video representation of your strategy may just be a little more digestible and engaging than an 18 page word document with a further 52 pages of appendices.  It could be a better way to get the attention of busy employees.  

  1. Get a big hitter to explain the strategy in a blog post or equivalent

If you have an active and interested intranet champion, owner or sponsor you could strong arm them into explaining the strategy. Although if they are regarded with contempt by everybody perhaps it’s best to avoid this approach…

  1. Run a pilot to validate your approach

Sometimes you need to do extra work with nervous or sceptical stakeholders to get their real buy-in. Some commentators frown on pilots, but in my view running one can really help sell the strategy and give you invaluable insight

  1. Play the organisational process game

Some organisations have a set process for submitting a strategy for wider consideration, which is usually wrapped up in making a business case. In our view a strategy is the precursor for a potential project which requires a business case, but perhaps we are pernickety. Do what you have to do and follow the organisational process game.

  1. Use the right language and vocabulary

Using the right language and vocabulary to describe your strategy is important. Some terminology gives the wrong impression, while some resonates. Words which are real and emphasize benefits are at a premium.

  1. Be consistent across your team

Making sure your core team are all on message helps. You want everybody on the same page. Acting consistently with implied behaviours from the strategy also helps. For example if you are advocating a growth in social tools, then your core team should use social tools.

  1. Have a validation workshop with users

Does the strategy stack up with employees? Run a validation workshop to see what they think. This not only involves more users for buy-in but also gives you a credential to win others over. We believe strategy X is right because group Y agreed with it!

  1. Create an intranet manifesto

Creating an intranet manifesto sets out some governing principles in a compelling format which reflects your strategy. Its suitable for both stakeholders and users. The City of Malmo has a great intranet manifesto courtesy of Jepser Bylund.

  1. Highjack a key management meeting

Organisations have management meetings and even conferences. If you can get your intranet strategy in the agenda then you’ll be communicating to an important group all in one place.

  1. Have a person who ties it altogether

In my experience behind a great intranet there is usually a great intranet manager. Often they have developed the strategy and led the design project. It’s easier to socialise a strategy when you have an energetic and enthusiastic individual who cares about what they are doing. They tie everything together. Perhaps that could be you.

Of course there are other ideas and some of these will work better than others based on your circumstances.

If you’d like to discuss this or any other aspect of intranet strategy then why not come along to our intranet strategy training day being held in London on June 30 2016. Early bird tickets are available until May 13th!

Chris says

You don’t go to battle until you know you can win. Making sure that everyone is aware of what you are planning is a hugely important step and often very undervalued. Your strategy might be more complicated than you can communicate quickly but what is the essence that people need to know? A word of warning though, if you have a rubbish strategy, or an ill-thought out one, socialising the hell out of it will not only be difficult, but it won’t compensate for the work not done. They will tell that you haven’t got all the answers.

Those uncomfortable confessions which arise from developing intranet strategy

One of the foundations of developing a successful intranet strategy for your organisation is trying to be as objective as possible to derive the best possible future path. It’s a theme we’ve touched upon
in our blog and will be revisiting in our upcoming training day.

An intranet strategy built on your own assumptions and those of your stakeholders is dripping with risk, potentially setting you on the wrong path with an intranet direction that will reap little value.

Objectivity is achieved through an extensive, evidence-based diagnosis phase which takes a fundamental look at what your organisation needs and what your current intranet scenario delivers or fails to deliver.

Being objective is not just about getting some data in and knocking it into shape. Sometimes it’s also about being honest with yourself and coming to conclusions which can feel a little uncomfortable.

Let’s call these slightly uncomfortable conclusions, intranet confessions. These are those moments when you realise that what you do, the way you do it or something you’ve been aiming for isn’t necessarily the best path for your organisation.  There also might be a conflict of interest in what you want for your job or your career and what’s best for your organisation.

Inevitably developing intranet strategy can throw up these “confessions” because you are thinking through what you’ve done and what you will be doing.

It’s confession time

Both Chris Tubb and I have managed large intranets or collaboration platforms. Here’s are a few confessions from Chris and meI (randomised for the sake of plausible deniability):

  • Focusing far too much on a niche use case for a collaboration platform when I should have driven wider adoption and value
  • Over customising SharePoint in the name of “user experience” because I really liked drawing wireframes
  • Holding on to something of value which only my team knew how to do to help protect my team’s roles, when I should have driven more self-service from users
  • Ploughing on with a people directory for a subsidiary regardless of the wider group solution. Because: “knowledge management”.
  • Not keeping the platform moving while we waited for the new SharePoint solution, which never seemed to arrive
  • “User-centered design” meaning being sent into a group of stakeholders to get them to agree the design that had already been created
  • Not really focusing on metrics, because you know they’re not going to be good
  • Delivering ever more elaborate intranet internal communications channels because internal communications had the budget, not because anyone needed them.


Type of intranet confessions

There are different types of intranet confession.  Some are not about seeing the bigger picture, some arise from hanging out with your stakeholders, some are simply mistakes. Here’s a few common scenarios:

Horizon blindness

You’re too fixated on the goal of the new CMS or social functionality, that everything else just becomes not that important. That’s to the detriment of important stuff like governance, adoption, content, everything really.

The thumb twiddle

Often a by-product of horizon blindness, this is when active management to improve your intranet stops and you effectively tread water while waiting for something better (like the new CMS) to arrive. It also happens when intranet managers feel burnt out or want to leave.

My boss made me

There’s a strong steer from your stakeholders for your intranet direction even though their suggestions aren’t that great. Instead of being the voice of sanity you shut up and put up. Set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Self-preservation society

It’s time to make yourself indispensable, get involved in a fiddly bit of a digital process and keep that knowledge to yourself. Hey presto, instant value and hopefully a protective layer against the next round of redundancies.

CV builder

Basically this is when you and your team are taking actions which look good on your CV rather than are necessarily good for your organisation. Hmm…that’s a lot of recent updates to your LinkedIn profile.

I can’t hear you

I know the best way forward for the intranet! And because I do I’m going to ignore the feedback from users, stakeholders, consultants, everybody really. Action based on assumption is a dangerous game.

Bad decision

You simply made a bad decision. You got lost in the operational mess and day to day quagmire of running an intranet, and steered the wrong way. We’ve all done it, and we’ll probably do it again.

Confessions lead to good outcomes

Any intranet confessions which arise during strategy development sound a little uncomfortable, but actually they lead to better outcomes.  Being objective and honest with yourself is often the key to working out a better intranet direction. This in turn may lead to a slightly different, more high-profile and therefore valued role for intranet managers and teams.

Also remember there is no confession box. You don’t necessarily have to tell anybody and most stakeholders don’t focus on operations or what has happened in the past. Inevitably there will be also your own intranet successes you can mention too.  

However, if you do anything with your intranet confessions, let them infiltrate and influence your intranet strategy in order to deliver the absolute best way forward for the intranet and your organisation.

Chris says:

“We’ve all been there. When you decide to do something and there is a great outcome, you pat yourself on the back and credit yourself with intuition. But when you make a bad decision, or you are forced down a bad path by people or circumstances, it can haunt you. For the good of careers, users and intranets make sure that you create an atmosphere where decisions are made in the sunlight. You’re far less likely to be tempted to guide things for your own ends, or led down a blind alley. ”

The Spark, or “How to take that half-baked idea and turn it into an intranet strategy”


Picture: Gabriel Pollard CC BY-SA 2.5

When I work with clients on intranet strategy, there is always a reason that I am there and that is the first thing I want to find out. I call this “the Spark”. Something has happened that has started this organisation thinking about the future of their intranet (or their wider world of digital work) and a wise old owl has said, “Hang on! We better get a strategy…”

[And if you are interested in improving your intranet strategy moves we’re running a one day training course in London in June 2016. It’s intensely practical and you’ll come away with a plan.]

The Spark is the most free-flowing and unstructured  phase of strategic definithttp://intranetnow.co.uk/workshops/ion. That also makes it the most dangerous; the time when things can go seriously wrong before you’ve even started. In this post I’m going to explain why you need to take care with the Spark, , how to recognise different types and then (like a corporate martial artist) steer the Spark’s momentum onward into what you really need.

Sparks are ideas of different sorts. Some good, some bad. They have other names: a “Vision”; sometimes they are pretending to be a strategy; sometimes they end up as a ballsed-up project plan Sometimes they are a nagging doubt which builds up into a crescendo and demands attention. Sometimes they are just simply a really good idea. There is nothing wrong with a good idea, but they can go wrong when too much blue-sky solutioneering has been applied before the problem is fully understood.

Negative Sparks are the attempted solutions to unmet hygiene factors. These are when someone has finally noticed that under-investment and under-resourcing has had the obvious real world effect. People are suffering: they can’t find things, they can’t complete tasks, maybe the intranet service itself is going down. Whatever the reason, someone says, “Something must be done.”  This in itself is not a problem, we all agree that something must be done. Intranet practitioners will be there  with the usual array of first aid and post-operative therapy to provide the appropriate rehabilitation. However, negative sparks are a problem if in the next breath they decide what the solution is: “Everything is screwed…. and the solution is SharePoint/ Social/ Cloud/ etc.”

Positive Sparks are attempts to exploit a perceived opportunity for advantage. This comes from a much better place than a negative spark, but can be hazardous in the same way. It might be a great idea to bring something new to your users, it really might! But maybe it won’t and stepping back and having a look at it together with all the other problems might be better. The nasty part of this, is that if you look at the wider strategic diagnosis and go with a more traditional way forward (boring old findability over radical socialisation being a total intranet classic), you might be labelled as conservative and not progressive.

Technology and Risk Sparks are desperately common. The platform has come to its end of life, or might even be dropping out of support, or we’ve now got licenses for this because we got them with something else so we’ve decided we should migrate. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, and don’t bring a technology driven project to the crazy mixed up world of the intranet. These Sparks certainly need some taming but they can sometimes go a loooong way towards delivery before anyone starts thinking about users, publishers and any implications beyond getting servers humming.

Organisational Sparks: Mergers, acquisitions, rebrands, reorganisations, mass redundancies and zombie apocalypses. Something big is brewing and the intranet will need  to change in response. By a week on Wednesday please. These may well take all of your skills to deliver a tactical solution that throws a bone to the problem, before wrestling with the fundamental changes that have just been wrought to your universe.

Senior sparks you know so well. Someone on high has had an idea. They’ve read something in an in-flight magazine, spoken to someone at a conference or their 15 year old has shown them something on their iPad. These sparks are very often delivered using the project methodology known as JFDI. Good luck!

“That’s just, like, your opinion man”

Being merely apes-in-suits, we modern business people are full to the brim of the cognitive biases our brains evolved with. One is called the Einstellung effect, which to put briefly, we can get stuck with trying to solve a problem is a certain way. When, for instance, you know that the answer is mobile-social-sharepoint-slack-apps-tasks-based-cloud before you know what the question is, you’ll look for evidence that will support the Spark and guess what? You’ll find some! Then you’ll stop looking for evidence to the contrary, and then wonder why users don’t like what you’ve provided.


Without any rigour to your thinking, your whole plan is no more than your opinion, as the Dude above notes so clearly. This is how some bad intranets are born.

Other intranets simply stagnate, as well meaning but weak and fluffy business cases repeatedly fail to attract backing.

The cold dark vacuum of strategic space

Sparks are only bright when the scene is so dull. When there is an absence of strategic thinking and solid operational delivery it leaves a vacuum that can be filled with half-baked ideas.

It is not your job to deliver the Spark as if it were a strategy:

  • It is you duty to analyse it as if it were any other input. It has started you along your way. It has got people talking and interested. Be cool-headed and skeptical. Thank it kindly for its good service, but drop it if you have to.
  • It is your duty to complete the full cycle of strategy formulation and really understand the problems that you are there to solve.
  • It is your duty to ensure that there is not such a vacuum of strategy in the future, so that Sparks can have such a disproportionate influence over what you do.

Sparks catch

You deal with the Spark by using its energy to do something useful. You use a Spark to create some light: you take that interest, the engagement, the apparent burning platform, the god-damned EXCUSE to speak with people, into a process of creating an intranet strategy. The next phase is to cooly understand what is really going on with stakeholders and users. What does this idea really mean to them? What would the implications really be? Is it as valuable as they think? Where does it lie in priorities compared to some alternatives. We’ve written about the phases of Discovery and Diagnosis before.

Extra credit: How to make Sparks

So, intranet manager, if Sparks are so useful you might want to start some yourself. Some of those Sparks might be down to you. You maybe know that there is the potential for your organisation’s intranet to kick ass instead of sitting on it. Maybe you just want to personally do things better this year. These are your Sparks.

You can call me cynical (and many do) but there are darker, more negative Sparks most of us can confess to: intranet managers wanting to see exciting things on their CV have steered projects in certain exotic directions. Cough cough. Again, insisting on a decent strategy formation cuts through the reality distortion field, which is an important thing for more senior readers to note.

So now you know:

  • What the boss wants isn’t written in stone, but it is great way to start with some energy
  • You have to have a strategy – it isn’t optional, it is down to you
  • Having a strategy protects you from random ideas having too much of an effect
  • Having a strategy protects you from your own flights of fancy

The reason you started might not be what you end up delivering. That is not only allowed, it is much better – you are adding value to the process with research, thought and engaging stakeholders. If you have a decent strategy, everything will be laid out in black and white and  you’ll be able to show your working like in school maths class. Then  you can go back to those Sparky people and explain how those ideas grew and evolved and then started the fire burning.

Chris Tubb, December 2015

Join us for a workshop in June 2016

If you’re considering your intranet strategy and need a little diagnosis, why don’t you join me and Steve Bynghall on our day long intranet strategy workshop in London on June 30th 2016. We ran this in January and got great feedback.

Whatever the stage of your intranet we think you’ll find it useful but especially if you have a tricky Spark to deal with. We’ll help you think through the issues in a structured way and you’ll leave the workshop with a much better idea of the way forward for your intranet.

Steve says

“Chris is right when he says you’ve got to handle those Sparks with care. OK so sometimes being spontaneous is good, but not when it commits you to a massive SharePoint implementation your organisation doesn’t really need. Sparks are exciting or pressurising and usually demand rapid action. But the intranet plays too important a role in organisational life to work out the related strategy down the pub on a napkin during your lunch hour.  You need to rise above your own assumptions and those of your stakeholders. Be objective, go through a discovery phase and really understand what your organisation needs.“

The A to Z of intranet diagnosis: 29 data inputs, triggers and sources

We recently wrote about how an intranet diagnosis, an honest assessment of where you are with your intranet, is critical for crafting any plan forward. To get to point B you’ll need to know where point A is, otherwise all plans and roadmaps are effectively pie in the sky. Understanding where you are is relevant from top leading-edge performers to the weakest about-to-implode intranets.

To get your diagnosis you need evidence. However in the bold new world where everything is “data-driven” many intranet teams might not feel they have a rich enough set of data to enable accurate decision-making. First of all you don’t need to have just numbers as a data input to understand your intranet. Secondly there are a huge variety of sources out there which can help. Thirdly, you can drive some specific initiatives to help understand your intranet’s successes and pain points.

Here are 29 (count ’em) data inputs, triggers and sources of wisdom which can help with your intranet diagnosis. We’re sure there are more out there, but this is what Chris and I managed to bash out.  Here goes:

Advocate networks and site owners

Publishing, super-user and advocate networks are a good source of quality feedback. They usually have know-how to understand the deeper functionality of the CMS and enthusiasm to bother to give you the feedback. Their input can be rich and valuable.

Application owner roadmaps

What’s going on in the technologists heads? Where are they going? Can you go too? Will it be expensive? Probably. WIll it be better in the next version? Certainly. Get connected. This is rich data to show the gap where you are now and where you need to be.  See also Vendor roadmaps.

Case studies

Chris has his reservations about case studies but I love ’em! They are a good way to illustrate how and what other companies do and therefore by implication what you could be doing too. The best sources for case studies are things like Nielsen Norman and the Intranet Innovation Awards but there are also lots of webinars, Slideshares from the intranet conferences and even vendor-driven case studies.

Content audits

Content audits tend to be time-consuming and done in preparation for content migrations, but you can learn a lot.  Is your content rubbish and out of date? Is there duplication? Is it actually not that bad? A content audit gives big hints about what you need to do.

Corporate strategy

Does your intranet support your content strategy in any way?  Going into new markets? Acquiring many businesses? Changing customer perceptions? If your intranet doesn’t help your organisation deliver on its strategy, it should do. A change in corporate strategy or an organisational change such as a merger will be a major influence and input into your own intranet strategy and future direction.

Email usage stats

Email stats are indicative of both trends and issues which intranets can positively influence, for example reducing internal comms related emails or reducing the numbers of attachments sent.  Intranet driven self service can reduce emails to your IT and HR helpdesks.

Employee engagement survey

The annual engagement survey might deal with some corporate generalities but it does show long term trends and also identifies high level issues, for example around communication. More specific breakdowns, details of feedback comments (if available to you) and output from employee listening programmes can also be gold dust.  Use it!

Employee interviews

Why not ask a few regular Debbies, Daves and Delias how they work and what they need?

Employee observation

Why not watch a few regular Debbies, Daves and Delias to see how they actually work?  For example when was the last time you hung out with some frontline workers?

External benchmarking

External benchmarking of your intranet or digital workplace can give you powerful insight. Both Chris and I do work for the Digital Workplace Group, formerly the Intranet Benchmarking Forum, which is probably the market leader with the most mature methodology.

Focus groups

Oh no, focus groups! I’m picturing you rolling your eyes. But if the feedback is useful, what’s not to like?

Forum and community research

If you already have a set of communities, forums and discussion groups this is a great place to learn about the topics that people are discussing or also a forum to ask focused questions? A bit of sentiment analysis could be just the ticket, for example to learn about the behaviours of sales staff, personal assistants, factory workers and other groups.

Glassdoor employee reviews

Are the wretched and ancient systems that people need to wrestles with so bad they are mentioned after people have left the company? Powerful stuff.

Guerilla user experience feedback

You can use “guerilla UX techniques” to get quick feedback on designs by asking questions in the lobby, setting up a stall in the canteen or going from desk to desk. It’s quick, instant feedback.  You could even use polling functionality on your intranet for a snap poll too.

Help desk stats and feedback

IT and HR helpdesk data is a key source of information on common pain points, but there’s also often some rich data and feedback buried in exchanges. If your IT folk codify feedback and can provide output….then grab it!

Imagination and gut feel

You are not a scientist. You are in business so it is OK to follow hunches, but remember to check in with the real world. The aim is to understand reality a little better, not to make any fantasies more elaborate.

Intranet metrics

What do the numbers say? Do people really use this stuff? Do they get value from it? Be broad in what counts as an intranet metric. Numbers from any of your sources count – visits, hits, registrations, engagement etc. etc.

Intranet survey

An intranet survey nails down the opinions of your users. Clearly this is a key source of data. Whether you do this annually or more ad hoc to feed into projects, past and present data are both an essential ingredient to inform your intranet direction.

Output from other projects

Other initiatives which involve workplace technology may already have done some extensive research or just have some good war stories. Don’t reinvent the wheel – go and visit your friends from another department about what they did a few months previously.

Peers in other organisations

What do you peers do? Are you behind or ahead? We know the plural of anecdote is data, but put some structure behind it and you can get something useful together. LinkedIn, conferences, Twitter, training course, your little black book. The only limit is how much of a brass neck you have.

Research and thought leadership

There is research and thought leadership out there which can be useful background for your project. Some is intranet-specific but others look at related issues. Be wary that many whitepapers have a vendor message lurking somewhere in the background. Be even warier of sweeping statements about millennials.


There are lots of intranet screenshots freely available which both give ideas for design but also illustrate in a very tangible way potential use cases and the art of the possible.

Stakeholder interviews (anonymous)

When you want the issues to be more important that the personalities. Do a series of interviews and make sure that everyone knows things are going to be anonymised. People can speak freely.

Stakeholder interviews (on-the-hook)

Get the senior stakeholders to put their money where there mouth is. Do a series of interviews and relate the write up to who said what.

Usability testing

How’s usability? And your information architecture? From high tech user labs to cardsorting, it’s all useful stuff.

User testing

What do people do all day? How do they feel when they do it? To what extent does your intranet help or hinder? Get people to write down in diaries when they used the intranet and for what. Then analyse.

Vendor roadmaps

Vendor roadmaps are an influence on what you may be able to implement, for example if you’re locked into the Microsoft stack. It also gives you a flavour of tools available.

Worldwide Intranet Challenge / Digital Workplace Trends

Andrew Wright’s long running survey can show you the basics and give you a heads up about where you are intranet wise. Jane McConnell’s survey has a wider scope looking at the wider world of digital working. Both provide some positioning compared to the other data which can be very useful. Moreover the service is free.


Well, we would say this wouldn’t we? Come to our London-based workshop on June 30 2016 for a very practical and focused day on kickstarting, refreshing or reviewing your intranet strategy.

Why diagnosing your problems beats a fancy vision for your intranet strategy

Before you create any plan to take you forward, you need to understand where you are. This is paramount whether you are already a stellar performer, or if you are experiencing total failure. The more that I work in the intranet and digital workplace field, the more I am convinced that it is this phase of analysis that determines success or failure.

In strategy-speak this is known as diagnosis, and in this post I going to try to convince you to spend a lot more time and effort on it at the beginning of your project.

It’s something we’ve covered in the past with our diagnosis cards and we will also be covering in our one day training course in London in January 2016.

The doctor will see you now

First off, let’s understand the term. The diagnosis is the period of research and analysis that defines the problems and attempts to explain the challenge that your intranet project faces. Similar to the idea of a medical diagnosis, not only do we try and describe the current realities (think of them as symptoms – say aaaaah!) but critically it gives us the opportunity to consider the reasons why.

Imagine going to the doctor:

You: “Doctor I have a sore throat.”

[The doctor peers into your open mouth.]

Doctor: “You have a sore throat.”

That is useless – you know you have a sore throat, that it why you are here. For the Doctor to earn their keep,  you need and expect an answer like this:

Doctor: “You have a sore throat because you have a streptococcal infection. You need antibiotics and some time off work. Are you a bit stressed and overworked at the moment?”

The doctor of course has lots of training and tools that allow them as a professional to be able to tell a nasty case of strep from throat cancer. Us intranet professionals have a bunch of ways of collecting data to try and understand the current state and what people think about it. For instance:

  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Focus group and workshop findings
  • User interviews and observation
  • User surveys and free-text feedback
  • Analysis of metrics
  • Benchmarking data

By pooling this rich source of data, themes will emerge:

  • How people feel about what they’ve got
  • The sorts of things they really want
  • Sources of enormous frustration to them
  • Their overall satisfaction all things considered.

This is data you need in your hands before you even think about the direction you need to go in. The trick here is to enter a phase of objective self-criticism by seeing the reality of your intranet and your organisation for what they truly are, and this is where it gets tricky for most.

You are literally your own worst critic

Explaining your bad points to yourself is a hard problem. No one would like to admit that they are not very good at something or was the cause of a problem. Professionally we are all taught to say we are brilliant at everything we do, all the time and unfortunately we all buy our own cover stories. Organisations are no different and tend to fall back on the clichés of management or the comforting illusion of best practice. We all have the irritating ability to protect ourselves from perceived criticism. We love to build a cosy bubble of belief around us. It is your duty to burst it with other people’s views of what you do – both stakeholders and users before you go too far in the wrong direction.

You need to understand what you are a bad at if you are going to create complicated plan to shift from one state to another:

  • Do you have the skills to do this? Do you need outside expertise? Do your big projects keep getting ruined by outside expertise?
  • What do people really want? What would be most valuable to them? Would they prefer efficient basics over the latest shiny doobury-wotsit?
  • How has the organisation changed? Is there a different business strategy? Different sorts of customers? Different sorts of employees? Less money? More mobile? More international?
  • Is there something that repeatedly goes wrong at your organisation? Over optimistic project plans? Incompetence at content management? Bad change management? A stifling management culture with no interest in social media? Is trying to keep anything findable a losing battle?
  • Has the market moved since you last did this? You might have a team to cut code but now should you use an off the shelf product? You might have always had on-premises, is now the time for cloud?

Notice it. State it. Discuss it. Plan to mitigate your weaknesses. This is the source of success.

We all know it is ****ed, why rake over the ashes of failure? Let’s build the FUTURE!

Because unless you have a true view of what you do and how it is received it is going to be a failure again. So much of strategy is not in fact the “what”, but the “how”. You might have the vision to provide the all singing all dancing workplace of the future but, as it pains me to say it, you’ll just be spouting clichés that we have all been chasing for 20 years, elaborated by the marketing departments of vendors. By focusing on the fresh view of your problems and how they are, you will start to generate your own ideas that are truly fit to what you need to do.

There is a paradox here. The more you understand about the nature of the problem the better you can tackle the beast. Using an “external” resource is a good way of breaking through the veil of stuff that you can’t see through (or are too afraid to ask).  This could be a consultant or a peer within your organisation, but probably not a vendor for obvious reasons of bias. However once you’ve got a clear view though you need to be really intimately involved in those next steps because you will have a much deeper view of the organisation that any suit on a day rate.

Diagnosis is not requirements gathering

This is an important point. People will of course tell you what they think the solution is as soon as you ask them anything. That’s what people do, they can’t help blue-sky solutioneering and it is likely that they are trying to be helpful. At this stage just notice the themes of things they want. This isn’t a stage of hardcore requirements gathering. Consider what people say they want at this time as symptoms of the problems they are suffering.

Playing the intranet game

Here’s my intranet strategy philosophy in its shortest form.

Given rules 1 and 2 of the intranet game, how do you play the intranet game and win? Without a critical view of your strengths, weaknesses and the obstacles in your path, you won’t and your fancy vision will remain only that.

Chris Tubb September 2015

Steve says.

“Getting a thorough diagnosis is the basis for a good cure. For intranet teams the act of diagnosis is also about being honest with yourself and having clarity of thought.  And that’s difficult when a) You are knee-deep in operational stuff and have no time for clarity b) When you realise that a new intranet  is not really the solution, and  that devalues what you’ve been building diligently for the past five years. I’m not sure there’s a magic solution but I believe focusing on the real problems and discussing them in the open will be ultimately rewarding for both organisations and intranet teams. That’s the sort of approach which leads to unexpected and interesting avenues.”

Need a diagnosis?

If you’re considering your intranet strategy and need a little diagnosis, why don’t you join me and Steve Bynghall on our day long intranet strategy workshop in London on January 21st 2016.

Whatever the stage of your intranet we think you’ll find it useful.  We’ll help you think through the issues in a structured way and you’ll leave the workshop with a much better idea of the way forward for your intranet. It’s going to be intensely practical.

There are still early bird tickets available until the end of September and if you want to discuss the day further with us you can contact us. We’ll also both be at the Intranet Now conference in October.

Why you need an up to date intranet strategy

Do you have an up to date intranet strategy? All too often the answer is “No”.

Many organisations only have a documented intranet strategy to prepare for a specific project such as a redesign or a new platform. Once the project is completed the intranet strategy isn’t revisited until the next major iteration.

While that’s not a disaster per se, it does leave your intranet at a disadvantage. Without an intranet strategy, your intranet is effectively rudderless and directionless.  And without some direction your intranet could be failing to have the impact it should be or even effectively start to fall out of use.

Your intranet strategy needs to be a living and breathing document. And here’s why. (We’ll be covering this topic in even greater detail in our forthcoming intranet strategy workshop).

It’s a cross functional thing

Although intranets are usually owned by Comms and IT, intranets are, in fact, cross functional platforms with multiple stakeholders. Often it is the gateway to different systems and applications. There may be multiple dependencies in place.

This means the intranet is likely to be referenced in the strategy and roadmap for communications, IT, HR and other channels. But to preserve the integrity, consistency and value of the user experience of the intranet as a channel, everyone needs to have some common reference points. Having an up to date strategy with a vision, roadmap and other trimmings helps to preserve that direction and act as a central point of reference for all stakeholders. The intranet can now align with other strategies and proceed in a co-ordinated way based on holistic thinking.

Ch ch ch changes

Organisations change. The business climate changes. The expectations of users change. Technology changes. And those changes happen increasingly quickly meaning that even within the lifespan of a major intranet project the strategy it was based upon might be out of date by the time of the go live date.

Intranets need to react to all those changes but all too often the changes are not referenced within an up to date strategy. Having a living intranet strategy helps maintain direction, consistency and relevancy in a volatile climate.

Digital transformation, digital workplace

The strategic importance of digital is a common theme and on the agenda for many leadership functions. It’s reflected in buzzwords like digital transformation.

Within the intranet community we’ve tended to latch on to the term “digital workplace” which points to a more more integrated and consistent experience of technology in organisations for employees.  Intranets are playing their part as the main channel into the wider digital workplace and also increasingly integrating social and collaborative functionality.

Is your intranet of strategic importance to your organisation? If you want it to be, you’ll need to have an up to date strategy which shows how it can assume that position.

Relevance at all stages of the intranet lifecycle

Intranet strategies tend to be produced only with the anticipation of a large project which involves a change in platform. This implies that you build a great intranet and then let it drift without direction until it needs replacing, based on a new strategy you have just written.

However in reality most of the best intranets are actually built on more of a programme of evolution or continual improvement, with smaller and more iterative changes actually delivering the real benefits. Broadly speaking most intranets have four stages of their lifecycle:

  • Actively being replaced
  • Post implementation with a roadmap for improvements
  • Business as usual with occasional improvements (including one major relaunch)
  • End of lifecycle and needs replacing

You need an intranet strategy for all four of these stages to keep the intranet relevant and improving. Even when you have reached the end of the lifecycle there are still things you may be able to do around content and management processes to improve the intranet and make the migration to a new platform easier.

Where’s the money?

You’ll also need an up to date intranet strategy to argue for investment. Sometimes opportunities arise quickly and if you need to construct a business case from scratch then you may be missing out. Be prepared! Having an up to date intranet strategy in your back pocket will undoubtedly help.

Credibility for your career

It can be hard proving your value to senior management, especially as intranet teams are small or even standalone roles Having an intranet strategy which shows how your intranet will deliver value and speaks the language of the company and senior management gives you personal credibility which can help you in your career.

Don’t know where to start?

If you’re considering your intranet strategy and don’t know where to start why don’t you join Chris Tubb and I on our day long intranet strategy workshop in London on January 21st 2016. Whatever the stage of your intranet we think you’ll find value.  We’ll help you think through the issues in a structured way and you’ll  leave the workshop with a much better idea of the way forward for your intranet

There are still early bird tickets available and if you want to discuss the day further with us you can contact us. We’ll also both be at the Intranet Now conference in October.

Chris says:

“Hallelujah and amen. If you think intranet strategy is optional, your intranet will become optional and so will you. Next week I’ll be covering some nuts and bolts about how to start your efforts for defining your intranet strategy. You will find that understanding your present circumstances are as important as defining that vision thing.”

Going external with your intranet expertise to get internal recognition

With the daily parade of tasks to complete on the intranet or ESN it’s sometimes difficult for intranet teams to stand out and get their contribution and professionalism recognised within their company. This is particularly tricky when a platform is at the middle level of maturity and regarded as business as usual.

Unless you are locked into a process with incremental but significant improvements, in business-as-usual mode perhaps there are fewer opportunities to shine. This is especially hard in a backdrop where senior leaders regard what you do as operational.

Going external

One option is to try and draw some attention to the value the intranet team provides by speaking externally about what you have done internally. Of course this can be very rewarding, enjoyable and good for your career but the value of speaking to a group consisting mainly of peers (e.g. other intranet ESN or collaboration folk) is not often recognised by senior management.

Where senior management do see immediate value is where speaking about what you do externally:

  • Enhances the brand and reputation of the firm externally
  • Creates an opportunity to engage with clients and targets
  • Gives senior management a talking point or opportunity to talk with their peers
  • Enhances the personal reputation of leaders
  • Provides a revenue opportunity, for example through consulting

Limited opportunities or more than you think?

Options for talking externally in a way which will impress senior management might appear limited, but the lack of opportunities might just be down to the fact that its something that hasn’t ever been suggested. Clients and contacts, regardless of the sector you’re in, often want to hear a good digital transformation story and if you have something to share, share it.

If there isn’t an opportunity arising, there are options such as entering some awards.  This has certainly got some teams some internal recognition. There are a number of intranet-related awards around now  and as you may know I coordinate the Intranet Innovation Awards for James Robertson and Step Two Designs. Quite often winning companies issue a press release.

Meanwhile some organisations are also happy to talk about their digital journey. PwC are a good example. They have been happy to talk about their successful Jive implementation because it shows a progressive company culture (good for recruitment) and also strong connections across PwC’s global network of firms (important for servicing global clients). Sportswear giants Adidas have also detailed their intranet and learning environment in blogs posts on their corporate website.

Consulting opportunities?

Your internal ESN, intranet or digital workplace experience also has the potential to be part of an external consulting offering.

You probably have a head start if you work in a company which does consulting on a regular basis because they have the experience and framework to make it happen. For example I know one intranet manager who spends about 10 to 15% of their time on paid consulting for their company. Doing some consulting and getting revenues in means that the intranet team can potentially move from being a support function to something which has the ability to be client facing.

OK so some of the ideas above are not necessarily earth-shattering but it can certainly alter perception of your value among senior management. And if someone high up looks at you in a new light, then that can only be a good thing.

Chris says

It’s lonely in there, and everyone thinks that in other companies it is all roses. There are loads of opportunities to get out there are share what you are doing, to be helpful for others, to raise your profile or just for the thrill of presenting. But always remember that you are at risk of becoming someone else’s product in this big weird world. If you are cool with that quid pro quo, that’s fine, but be aware of it and say no if it puts you in a difficult position. And be brave enough to be honest about the reality of your work. I am always struck about the difference between the reality of what I see consulting and benchmarking, where life is hard, and the razzmatazz world of conferences and webcasts where everything is fine, dandy, kicks and giggles. That said, I wish I had done more of it when I was in house, as it would have really helped me when I wasn’t. As for consulting? No. You stay there. ;-) 10-15% on external projects? I don’t know any intranet managers that have 10 to 15 minutes!