Never get solely fixated on driving intranet or ESN adoption

In Chris’ last post he outlined why it’s important not to confuse strategy with tactics when it comes to intranets. In my view one of the reasons for this is because intranet teams have a habit of focusing too much on the tactics and working energetically and diligently to make them work, without ensuring they are part of a strategy which ensures business value.  Ultimately this leaves teams open to a withering “that’s nice, but so what” from senior management.

One of the reasons for this is the obsession with driving adoption when it comes to intranets and collaboration platforms.  Of course if you build a site or post content, it’s only natural that you want more people to use it or read it. More visits to the homepage, more users registered to the social network, more collaboration sites created, more comments on the news items, more unique visitors. These are often the validation of an intranet team’s efforts and the evidence of success.  They are also some of the easiest things to measure.  I’ve become fixated on driving adoption in my work and I’m sure I will again and again.

I’m not going to pretend that adoption isn’t important, because it is. It may well be the prerequisite for the overall success of your intranet strategy. Perhaps you need some sort of scale to feel an effect an organisational level, for something to be transformative, or to realise some sort of ROI benefit.  But it’s only part of the mix and increasing adoption on your intranet is definitely not a strategy in its own right.  

Focus on value not adoption

Adoption also only has value if what users are adopting has value. It has little value in itself. For example email has spectacular adoption, but now a reduction in that adoption level is regarded as a good thing.

In his recent presentation at Congres Intranet in Utrecht  Lee Bryant is quoted as saying “We don’t need people to adopt the intranet. We need people to do their job.”  This is spot on. If an intranet has less value, perhaps because it is only an internal communications vehicle, then adoption becomes a little bit of a red herring. Yes, there may well be some residual value in many people visiting the homepage and reading the news, but does the impact really justify the efforts?

The lure of the uptick

It’s also really easy to be seduced by the uptick of adoption. There will be a post-launch surge which provides an immediate high for the project team after the energy-zapping pre-launch effort. But we all know things might not pan out so well in the medium to long term.

There can also be a degree of complicity in presenting the stats to stakeholders, showing a nice upward-looking trend which presents success at a glance.  And that’s not to say these adoption trends might be really significant and fantastic, but they might not be.

It’s that tactics-and-strategy-confusion thing again

When adoption becomes your main focus, you’re in danger of judging success on the delivery of the tactics which drive that adoption. Intranet teams do have a lot of tactics at their disposal to drive adoption. I’m thinking better usability, a nicer design, gamification, subtle nudge tactics, advocate networks, publishing communities, notifications, personalisation, customisation, dashboards, metric scores which reflect engagement and adoption, encouraging viral growth, even traditional change management. These can all be excellent and important techniques when done right, which do help drive those numbers up.

But what does a 20% increase in the number of visits to the homepage mean? What does the unexpectedly fast viral growth of a social network mean? What does a 25% rise in the use of Team Sites mean?  Intranet managers and ESN community managers with their eye on the ball need to ensure it means something for their organisation and the people who work there.

Chris says:

“Now. I bloody love metrics. But it isn’t blind love and I can see its flaws. Adoption is a lonely metric unless it is enriched with a bundle of other more meaningful business metrics that should include a measurement of what you were after in the first place. Adoption worship, I think, perhaps comes from a lack of a hard understanding what your benefits were up-front. If you are deploying an ESN to break down barriers between functions go and look for the cross functional diversity of different communities and measure that. If you want to break the cold and steely grip of email, go and look for a drop in the number of email attachments. I understand where people are coming from. When you’ve done a great big intranet project you want it to be loved, but each large project is poker-chips-down, and some of your bets won’t work and you won’t press through into the late majority for many reasons. Go and read Everett M Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations” for more on this.”

Don’t get intranet strategy and tactics confused

Your intranet strategy is a plan of action to ensure that you are prioritising what the business needs of you in the most appropriate way.

A tactic is one way of achieving your strategy.

Try not to get the two confused.

  • Improving search is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports a strategy of maximising findability so that people can get the information they need.
  • Personalisation and customisation are not strategies. They are tactics that support a strategy of maximising relevance for the user and the publisher.
  • Mobile intranet is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports a strategy of enterprise mobility to ensure that people can get what they need to get done, irrespective of their location.
  • SharePoint (good God!) is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports, umm, replacing your end of life content management system perhaps or consolidating numbers and types of platforms. Whatevs. This is the case with any particular product name.
  • Social is not a strategy. It is a tactic that supports a strategy of getting people to collaborate and share in a certain way that will contribute to new ways of working.

Tactics can be used for lots of different strategies. For example you can use the implementation of a social platform to support employee engagement and involvement. Both good uses for a different reason. Tactics may be rather modest such as making sure you take your opposite number in IT or Communications to lunch once a month.

Why is this important? A strategy is based on the beneficial outcome of delivering a business need. If you dress up a tactic in strategic clothing you will be found wanting. A few simple questions by a senior manager and your hopes and dreams and reputation will be skewered. If you are unaware of this little game you might spend the next budget cycle muttering about chronic under-investment in intranets being to blame. No. It was you. You fluffed it. Sorry. And there is enough goodwill and interest in these tools out there to not make it a pure hard-cost problem. Find your allies and work with them.

Lastly there is no shame in not operating strategically. If it just you and a monkey delivering the intranet for 5000 close personal friends, just making it work is enough. Make it work well and you should get a medal. There are things that intranet should just do, and do well. Concentrate on those.  Your strategy is more personal: survival and getting out of such a pickle. I give you a hall pass on being required to speak business jargon unnecessarily.

Chris Tubb March 2014

Steve says:

“Chris is right. Confusing a tactic with a strategy is a dangerous game. First of all you potentially alienate the stakeholders and your users who can’t  quite share your enthusiasm for this initiative. Secondly it encourages narrow thinking.  So a limited mobile intranet is up and running, which is great, but your non-office based staff are shrugging their shoulders as they don’t have the BYOD policy,  the wi-fi needed in the factory facility, and the email accounts needed to truly work in a different way. Thirdly the tactic you are pursuing becomes the focus in itself, which means taking your eye off both the ball and the goal.  Always work with some sort of strategy, and slot your tactics in appropriately.”