Why your intranet strategy is iterative

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There’s an inherent tension in intranet strategy. The strategy suggests: “This is what we are doing, and “this is where we are heading” and commits that way forward to a set period. Here is the three-year roadmap it confidently declares, and that’s the direction we are going in.

But effective intranet strategies need to suggest adaptability, flexibility, and input from employees. The better intranet projects are now delivered in an agile or semi-agile way rather than waterfall. Is this counter to the vision associated with the strategy?

You know it needs to be iterative

Being iterative can extend beyond just flexibility over the final design and the solution, but also suggest a roadmap which is subject to change and will be tweaked.  Is the intranet strategy itself also iterative?

Of course, the answer is a resounding yes. It’s a theme we cover in our Intranet Directions intranet strategy training sessions, the next one which is being held at the 2017 IntraTeam Conference in Copenhagen.

There are many reasons why strategy needs to be iterative and adaptable. Sometimes you have to change, usually from the impact of factors outside the project:

  • Organisational and leadership priorities can change rapidly which can impact either budget or what you need to do with your intranet, for example the sudden announcement of a merger
  • New senior people coming in often want to put their imprint on projects, and that might result in a change of direction
  • Technology roadmaps are impacted by IT decision-makers and external vendors, and realistically the news that you are now moving to Office 365 will influence what you do.

When you can’t socialise the strategy

But there are also factors closer to the intranet team which need to be considered. Firstly, your intranet strategy might go pear-shaped and might need to adapt. Secondly, it is rubbing up the wrong way with senior stakeholders and groups of employees.

Ultimately this may mean that you need to make changes and tweaks to take their views into account.  One of the reasons for the need for likely changes is that your discovery period which informed the strategy didn’t discover everything it needed to do, and by presenting the strategy you’re actually extending that discovery period.

Even if your instinct is not to do so, compromise may be necessary in order to get the support and buy-in necessary to make the intranet strategy sustainable.

We advocate socialising the strategy with different stakeholders and groups, as a key enabler of making it happen. But to a certain degree this is also a process of validation of the strategy too and presenting a formulated or semi-formulated strategy can help some stakeholders crystallise and articulate their thinking.

Plan for iteration

The answer to all this is to build iteration into how you formulate and maintain your intranet strategy. You can do this is a number of different ways:

  • Establish governance around your strategy which involves ownership and processes for change, so that any tweaks to the strategy are properly signed-off
  • Build enough flexibility into your strategy and roadmap to make changes, particularly when it comes to more detail.
  • Write your strategy as a snapshot so it is true at the time of writing. If there are future dependencies such as a major IT decision which is still pending, then detail this dependency in the strategy.
  • Have a plan to socialise your strategy with senior stakeholders and employee groups and view this is a validation and refinement exercise as much as it is an engagement piece.
  • Have a process for keeping your strategy up to date after the big project. We’ve written before about the importance of having an intranet strategy that is pretty much up to date. Some teams choose to update the strategy on an annual basis, which also fits into their planning and budgetary cycle, and even discovery period.

Agile projects and approaches have taught us the value of staying iterative in the intranet space. Extend this approach to strategy itself and you’ll end up with something more meaningful and current. And ultimately that should mean a better intranet.

Chris says

Amen to that. Imagine the scene: you are parachuted into looking after an intranet or intranet project. Maybe you are a manager, a new hire or a consultant. You know nothing and everything is chaos. There is no plan. You need a direction by the end of next week. Discover, Diagnose and make a strategy just big enough for the end of next week. Then once you’ve got a bit of a plan and a bit of control, do it again and create a plan for the end of next month; then think about next year. Bootstrap your way to that fabled three year strategy or 2022 vision. Thinking you can rustle up the future in one step from nothing is like hitting a hole in one, blindfold, locked in a wardrobe etc…

 

 

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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 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.

Screenshots

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.

Workshop

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 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!

Making content part of your self service strategy

In these days of social collaboration and apps, sometimes it seems we’ve forgotten that content is very important. Good content is pivotal to the fundamental purpose of intranets, which is to save employees time by helping them to do their jobs more easily.

One of the foundations of intranets is self-service; allowing users to complete tasks and actions themselves.

Self-service is often associated with applications, workflow and ultimately the completion of a transaction. But actually it’s also about content and allowing users to find the information they need so they then don’t have to phone somebody up, send an email or ask a question in a forum.

In most intranets there will be content which enables self-service, particularly around HR processes. There may be FAQs and “how to do” information in different places. Other intranets may have a task-oriented navigation or a focused area on how to carry out processes. I like the example from the UK’s Department of Culture Media and Sport (and since replicated on some other UK government departments) which has a “How To” area as a top level navigation item and details of 350 key processes and tasks.

Making content effective for self-service

To maximise the effectiveness of content to support self-service you need to:

  • Make it readable
  • Make it relevant
  • Make it findable
  • Make it measurable
  • Make it actionable

Make it readable

Clearly writing needs to be clear, focused and formatted in a way that makes it easy for users to scan and understand. The writing may need to suited to users whose first language is not the one the content is written in. It may also need to cross-reference other sources.

Some organisations hire journalists to draft this key content while others follow templates and train content providers to write for the web.

Make it relevant

It is key that the content is relevant to individuals. This can be a challenge when looking at task-oriented content because often processes in larger companies tend to different from location to location or between lines of business.

If your intranet has personalisation and can deliver relevant content to users based on profile data then it is well worth investigating creating self-service content tagged by user profile data. Another related issue is that the same content may need to appeal to a number of different roles, experiences and abilities. Making the same content relevant to everybody can be a challenge and invariably involves compromise.

Make it findable

Self-service content may tend to deal with some major ticket processes or commonly accessed themes such as benefits and pay. You want to ensure users can quickly find these items based on needs.

If findability is not good then preparing the content becomes a pointless exercise. There are plenty of ways to make the content findable, for example:

  • Creating a task oriented navigation either at a global or local (eg HR) level
  • Creating a special section of the intranet relating to how to do things
  • Ensuring prominence in search, for example, using best bets
  • Allowing a restricted search for a particular section of the intranet
  • Cross linking from different sections such as related processes
  • Guiding users towards the content when answering queries rather than giving them the answer

Make it measurable

Self-service usually has an identifiable outcome  and associated KPI. For example this might be driving a number of transactions or freeing up time and resources in comparison to the way things were done previously.

While normal metrics for intranet pages are important and show engagement with the content it is also key to measure the actual self-service element. For example looking at reduced time spent or the number of calls made to the HR centre as a relative KPIs is key.

Make it actionable

I started off this blog by saying don’t forget self-service is all about content as much as it is about completing an online transaction. But of course the two also compliment each other. If your content leads to a system where individuals need to visit, then of course do link to the system. Make your content as actionable as possible.

Overall self-service is critical for intranet success. Content is critical for self-service. Make sure your overall content strategy is aligned to your self-service strategy and vice-versa.

Chris says

Good content. Yes Steve, I’m with you all the way. Yes. But how?

Gerry McGovern famously quips that the perfect intranet is the survivor’s guide to a shitty week. I have started to feel that the root of most intranets’ woes, is basically organisational incompetence with content.

It is provable that the sort of content people want and need and and that helps them in their everyday work, is not what is being provided. Most effort is going towards content that is intended to create and maintain a reality that is being projected by management. That is a perfectly valid use of the intranet (indeed it has been our heartland) and it is perfectly reasonable for senior management to want to use a tool in which they have invested, for that purpose. We need to trust our brothers and sisters over in internal communications that providing that sort of content improves business performance and they in general are moving with the times.

But why can’t we have both the blistering and engaging new stories and brilliant content that tells me how to get a new security pass? Every one of those people out there in corporate-land, when they applied for their fancy jobs probably put “Excellent communicator” and “Superb standard of written communications” on their CV. And yet.

I’m afraid I have little faith that most organisations’ abilities to change this situation. I think many organisations are giving up on content full-stop. But please, oh please, prove me wrong.