The value of intranet feedback

Dipping into Twitter is always good for getting a temperature check on issues or getting a sample of experiences and opinions. Put ‘intranet’ into a Twitter search and you’ll find a whole slew of tweets.

Filter out the marketing messages (apologies for those on behalf of all intranet consultants) and the noise, and you get an interesting slice of feedback about user’s intranets. Here’s a few examples from a few hours in early February:

intranettweet3

intranettweet4

intranettweet5

intranettweet1

intranettweet2

What’s interesting about all these is that they would invariably be very useful feedback for intranet teams, either for issues which are quite specific (and could therefore be solved), are more general comments or need digging to find out why somebody is saying they are going into battle with the intranet.

However the fact that all these users are venting their intranet frustration using external social media makes one wonder if they have bothered to feedback internally.

Don’t miss the opportunity

If they didn’t give feedback it’s a missed opportunity for the intranet team involved. Gathering feedback has many uses and benefits:

  • It identifies issues and problems with content and functionality which can be solved by the intranet team, the IT help desk or content owners or site managers
  • It identifies more deep seated issues and trends about how users find your intranet
  • It can provide statistics and data which can act as KPIs, arguments for a business case and so forth
  • It can capture feedback specific to a site or page which can help motivate or galvanise individuals responsible for that section into action
  • It shows both stakeholders and users that their input is valued, encouraging employee involvement and also team accountability
  • It means you don’t miss an opportunity for vital engagement or interaction with a key stakeholder or individual who gives feedback
  • It means you get to know your users better to create a better user experience
  • It can help identify individuals and make connections which you can draw upon later, for example during projects when you need detailed feedback

Go forth and gather

In practice user feedback on intranets is delivered or captured in a number of different ways, ranging from the formal to the informal.

Outside projects where feedback will be gathered as part of the design process, when intranets are in business-as-usual mode, feedback is gathered through:

  • Informally at meetings and interactions
  • In IT help desk calls
  • Through site managers and content owners
  • Through a dedicated or intranet team email account
  • Via a feedback form on the intranet
  • In discussion forums dedicated to intranet issues and support
  • Via annual or regular user satisfaction surveys, or even through the main employee satisfaction surveys
  • Via snap polls, perhaps on the intranet homepage
  • And as we have seen, even through external social media like Twitter or sites like Glassdoor

You need process and structure

Despite all these avenues, most organisations fail to have a structured approach to actually acting on this feedback. There might be some emphasis on sorting out urgent individual issues, but the collective sentiment is rarely acted upon.

Not having a proper process for acting on feedback is dripping with risk. You can upset stakeholders and users, and miss an opportunity to engage with individuals and content owners, and overall improve your intranet.

Of course not every user is going to give you valuable feedback but this is even less likely to happen if users give you some and then see nothing happening as a result.

It is quite possible that all feedback can be dealt with by an individual as part of their role, but in larger organisations inevitably some sort of process is needed.

Successful approaches

Here are a few thoughts on approaches which can help. Of course your ability to carry out some of these ideas will be influenced by how you capture feedback and also time and resourcing. Dealing with feedback can take time.

  • Focus on one or two ways to give feedback on the intranet to avoid user confusion. The intranet-based form available from the page footer or header is a potential option.
  • Collate and record all feedback in one place so it can be acted upon. This could be helpdesk software or a trusty spreadsheet.
  • Make sure this place also records the actions and person responsible for that action.
  • Speak to your IT Helpdesk and see if you can get any statistics or output from the intranet related queries that come in.
  • Codify the feedback that comes in so you can derive statistics, even if the volume of feedback is small.
  • Ensure content owners get the feedback which is relevant to them.
  • Always report back any actions to the person who made the feedback. This is absolutely key.
  • Celebrate success. Let your team and your stakeholders know when you get good feedback.

Overall getting your house in order when it comes to gathering and acting upon intranet feedback is well worth the effort. Not only does it mean you get to know about things which are and aren’t working, but you also engage with users. And that ultimately means a better intranet.

Chris says

I once worked with an intranet team (they KNOW who they are) whose sole way of inviting feedback on their intranet was a big link at the top that said something like “REPORT A PROBLEM WITH THIS PAGE”. They were happy that this was sufficient for any sort of user feedback.

Here is a picture of Travis Bickle, placed without further comment:

Travis

And my friends at the unnamed organisation were the enlightened ones. When I ask some organisations whether they have a process for intranet feedback so say they don’t bother because they don’t receive much. They. Don’t. Receive. Much. Yeah, sure, because there is one tiny link that says feedback in the footer of the homepage.

On the other hand, you can come across like an over keen puppy indiscriminately slobbering over people. What do you think of this? Do you like that? Your colleagues then may think that a) You don’t know how to do your job and b) They have more important things to do with their job than tell you how to do yours.

Basically the essential part that most people miss about feedback is ‘conversation’. It is a two way street. You need to be approachable and once you have some feedback from someone, they need to know that you don’t file it in the bin. If you as a team are too remote or if you don’t have the ability to change anything why would someone bother. Concentrating on being receptive and on the ability to change and the feedback process becomes a lot more useful.

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Next career steps for the intranet team

One of the perennial issues for intranet managers and teams is where to move their careers. Where should they go and what should they do next? Go and manage another intranet? Take on a wider digital post? Web stuff? Internal comms? Or go and grow carrots somewhere peaceful?

In the absence of a massive win on the lottery, the next step in the careers of the intranet team can be complicated. The principle issue is that there is no such thing as a nice standard and thoroughly linear career path in the intranet world.

This is largely down to the multi-disciplinary nature of the profession. Those who end up managing intranets come from a variety of backgrounds including internal communications, IT / tech, administration, Knowledge Management, involvement in websites, HR and even the core professions of the organisation.  Some of those individuals will have entered the intranet world completely by accident.

Most of the professions where intranet teams first got their training have traditions, structures and roles which provide some sort out of established career path. But there is no clear progression in the intranet world.

Nowhere to go

It is true that there is a growing number of highly professional individuals who have managed intranets and understand the processes and nuances of the channel, and then go on to manage other intranets. But intranet teams in most organisations tend to be small, and inevitably individuals hit a ceiling pretty quickly, finding that there is now nowhere for them to go.

Perhaps the team can expand, or the remit of the intranet can expand, but these tend to be temporary.  Eventually there will be nowhere to go, resulting in some truly excellent intranet managers who have been in one place for a very long time.

Identity crisis

Another complication in intranet career paths is the identity crisis that intranets are going through now. There is a lingering perception that intranets are rather backward and useless, an unnecessary anachronism for awful corporate messaging. But actually most intranets have far more value and go way beyond internal communications.

However if the perception of intranets are bad (and it is among some organisations, and therefore among some employers) then does branding yourself an intranet person potentially limit your options? Are you associated with a channel which is misunderstood and does not reflect the wide skill set needed to run it? Do you need to be a digital workplace professional?

Options schmoptions

However despite careers not being straightforward there are lots of options for next steps for intranet teams. Here are some of our ideas.

Onwards and upwards

You could carry on being an intranet manager but in a place which is a greater challenge. That is a good step especially if you’ve cut your chops in a smaller organisation, or there are opportunities for internal promotion.  Go for a bigger organisation, a bigger team, a bigger budget, bigger responsibilities, a global intranet or a challenging implementation from scratch. The only way is up.

Gun for hire

One option if you want to stay in the (strange) world intranets is to go into contract work, usually shifting from position to position every six months to a year. There are roles which come up through maternity leave, or on projects and implementations.  This is also a good option if you want to get experience of a new technology, wish to bide your time or always get itchy feet if you stay with any organisation for too long.

Digital channels head

A fairly typical next step for intranet chief is to become digital channels chief. So you may inherit the website and quite possible the collaboration platform. As digital becomes recognised as important at a strategic level, this is potentially a good move to make a contribution to your company.

Digital workplace chief or Chief Digital Officer or something like that

This is really one above a digital channels head, and is really about being given a mandate to drive and implementing digital strategy. There’s been some interesting things written about this, for example by our colleagues over at DWG.

Return to roots

One choice is to regard your intranet role as an amusing diversion and return to what you were doing previously before what you might regard now as a career cul-de-sac. Perhaps you were in a pure marketing role, perhaps KM or HR. Or even a frontline role. Of course options to return to your roots may diminish the longer you’ve spent wrestling with intranets.

Comms commando

Depending on the nature of your role and what you were doing before, rising through the ranks in the internal comms world may be an entirely sensible option. Intranet management gives you a good grounding in all things digital, community management. social and even mobile, and that stuff is the future of internal communications after all. Apparently.

Let’s get techie

Intranet managers, particularly in smaller companies, tend to pick up lots of technical skills on the way. If you love a bit of coding on the side then a more technical direction for your career may be worth considering. IT departments tend to lack people with solid experience on the business implementation and internal customer side so your mix of IT and intranet management could be relatively unique.

Special moves

Perhaps it’s time to specialise? UX, content strategy, metrics and data, search, change management, project management and even community management are now established roles and have value well beyond the intranet. There are even some professional bodies across these roles.

Interesting combo

It is not just combining IT skills and intranet management experience that can open doors. Mixing experiences and specialisms builds a USP which might mould future roles around your background. For example I’ve found my intranet and collaboration platform experience when mixed with my professional writing activity has definitely helped my career.

Moving to the dark side

An option is to join the providers and work for a consultancy, agency or software vendor operating in the intranet space. There are options for consultants, community managers and behind the scenes people. Companies and vendors absolutely value real solid experience, and so do their customers. There are even notable examples of ex-intranet managers going off and creating intranet software and selling it.

Of course we speak from experience as we are now wielders of dark forces ourselves. Our experiences are overwhelmingly positive. Most people in the industry are very nice and openings often emerge out of relationships built working with providers while an intranet manager.

Do something else

Of course you could go and do something else entirely. You could retrain. You could do something which is more values driven. You could even go and launch that business you dreamed about. One thing we can guarantee is the multi-activity and multi-stakeholder nature of being an intranet manager will have held you in good stead somewhere along the line and allow you to draw on that experience whatever you do.

Whatever you choose to do, good luck!  Intranets are an interesting career choice and despite the frustrations which can be involved, these are invariably outweighed by the positives. Tell us where you got started and where you are headed in the comments!

Chris says:

I had promised Steve that I would disagree on principle with this post, because I always seem to agree, yet my vicious red pen remains in my pencil case of doom. I’ve always been a square peg, and if you identify as an intranet person you will too. Always in the middle, not one thing or the other. Interstitial and loving it. There is far too much black and white in modern organisations and intranet people operate in a world of nuance. I started hand-coding HTML in MS DOS Edit principally because I could and it has led me a strange and entirely unanticipated path. I’m rushing headlong towards the unknown and ephemeral world of the digital workplace, where nothing appears to make any sense and no one is in charge. Be a maverick, be ready for anything, move with the opportunities and be prepared to be asked to write your own next job description. Just don’t expect to easily explain yourself at parties when someone asks what you do. I hate that.

Make managing a community of authors or site managers a priority

At Intranet Directions we’ve often written about the paths, choices and tactics which are under your (e.g. the intranet team’s) control and influence, and do not have barriers put in your way.

Those tactics which you have the mandate to action, are squarely within your power, and subsequently have a positive impact on the quality of your intranet or collaboration platform are like gold dust. They are (hopefully) not inhibited by your miniscule budget, an IT department that just loves to say no or a stakeholder with a depressing lack of vision.

One area where intranet managers tend to have more influence than they expect is over the networks of authors, content managers or community managers that contribute to the intranet or collaboration platform.

Training and engaging these individuals and communities, and encouraging good practices, helps maintain publishing standards, enforce rules and drive adoption of collaboration platforms.  This is particularly important where authors and site managers are decentralised – and that’s most modern intranets in larger organisations.

Collectively any interventions the intranet team make with this community can have a positive influence on  the user experience of your digital channels, just as much as the introduction of new technology. In fact managing an active community of authors or site managers which features a component of training should be considered a key part of your intranet governance framework.

The why

Training and engaging author, site management or community manager networks helps across a number of areas. A few headline benefits include:

  • Improving findability
  • Maintaining publishing standards
  • Ensuring relevant and up to date content
  • Increasing adoption, particularly for social and collaboration platforms
  • Improving processes
  • Getting ready for changes on the platform such as content migration
  • Getting input into changes on the platform to guide design

The what

Beyond the benefits, here are some of the specific areas where training and encouragement can be targeted:

What you expect

Site and content managers like clarity so let them know what their commitment to the role should be.

Processes and platform

How things are done, not only so they follow the rules but they use the tools in an optimum way .

What they need to do to support their users

Site managers may need to support their users and even may need to train them themselves.

Content management

Ensuring that content is regularly reviewed and up to date.

Branding guidelines

Staying within brand guidelines for both site or page design as well as the tone of content.

Basic usability

Some of the fundamentals of usability and perhaps user centred design. An appreciation of this can help to keep good UX in mind.

Community management fundamentals

How to support and engage members of a community. This is key for enterprise social networks.

Writing for the web

A standard for authors and content managers.

Findability fundamentals

Anything to do with tagging of content and building a user-centred structure for a site.

What’s happening

Future plans, updates, changes to process and platform releases. Site managers are kept in the loop, but can also give you their valuable input.

The how

At first glance managing networks of site manager and authors looks potentially challenging. They are likely to be dispersed across different locations, have diverse backgrounds, speak multiple languages and may have very limited time. Some of their contributions to date might look like an afterthought.

And yes, realistically, there may be some resource constraints if you don’t have any free time to contribute to making the interventions which can support a network.. (Yes, we know we said in the first section that this was not influenced by budget but we didn’t want to discourage you).

However there are various tactics which you can use to engage your publishing community which some companies have seen work.At the centre of this is providing a self-service approach to resources and  training, and encouraging interaction so that momentum  and energy within the community is maintained and members support and inspire each other.

 A few suggested tactics

Here are just some of the tactics we’ve seen in operation to support these communities:

Have a dedicated community space with resources area

Pretty obvious really, especially if you’re dealing with a community of community managers, but this needs to be both a space for resources and interaction between members.

A regular get together

Having a diarised virtual meeting or check-in helps build a sense of community and also allows people to get to know each other. You can also cover specialist training such as writing for the web and also receive feedback as things happen.

Recognition and gamification.

Regularly recognising significant contributions by rewarding or mentioning efforts, or using some gentle and light hearted gamification can keep communities engaged.

Use metrics

Giving individual metrics for site managers with some analysis and pointers can be a great way to motivate individuals to increase adoption and engagement. The opportunity to do this however may be limited by your metrics package or your resourcing levels. Reports can be time consuming to prepare and send out.

Sharing success stories

An obvious way to engage communities is to share success stories and approaches which have worked, allowing peers to learn from each other. Central teams can also learn what works and what doesn’t.

Have an induction process

One of the real challenges for managing dispersed communities of contributors and site managers is the frequent changes of membership. Have a clear induction process, probably centred around a scheduled call or training session, so that every member receives at least the basic training required.

Do an annual or ad hoc review

If you have the resources to do it, a regular annual one-on-one session with individual members centred on improving their site or content is a great way to keep things on track. Realistically you may need to be selective about who this can be offered to.

Let’s do this

Overall we believe spending time nurturing these communities is worth the investment. It’s in your control and mandate, and you don’t have to sit there while IT dither around taking years to make a simple decision, it has an impact and its often satisfying working with these people. In other words, let’s do this.

Chris says

“Back of the net Steve (another Octonauts reference). Again and again we see intranet teams keeping their publishers at an arm’s length at the same time as howling about the poor quality of content. Getting involved with people is a definite skill and enthusiasm is hard to maintain, unless you have the power, energy and determination of a primary school teacher at the beginning of term. Recruiting for energy, coaching and people skills is critical and if you are focused on, say, technology or communications this area may lack. The other thing to mention is the fabled idea of having a content strategy: What are you delivering with the content and WHY? Getting publishers clear on why they are there to do will have, let’s face it, a massive positive effect. This is “fabled” because in reality on intranets it hardly ever happens, but it is the new year and you can start with the best of intentions. ”

 

Intranet diagnosis cards

Another free gift from Intranet Directions!

Last Christmas we enjoyed giving away our free cut-out-and-keep Intranet Tactics cards so much that we wanted to experience that warm glowing feeling again. So, in the same spirit of global intranet community-ness, here are our Intranet Diagnosis Cards.

Before you can work out where you are going, you need to work out where you are. Again, evoking the spirit of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, we’ve created some cards which have some questions, some suggestions and some ever-so-slightly antagonistic statements on them. These are designed to get you thinking about what problems you, your intranet and your organisation may have. Is it the technology? Is it the users? Is the approach? Is it the coffee out of the vending machines? Do you even have any problems?

These cards can help get you in the zone for brainstorming areas of weakness and frustration with your intranet, and diagnosing the causes you’ll need to address. This is a first step towards a cure by playing some quick tactics or kicking off the whole strategic shebang. Conversely they’ll help you to consider your intranet successes – don’t be so hard on yourself.

Use the cards in an intranet team meeting, away day, or just occasionally visit for some fresh thinking. Or scrunch them up, set fire to them and wish you’d never downloaded them in the first place. It’s up to you.

As with the whole of Intranet Directions, this is a bit an experiment. We’d love to hear what you think, how you have (or haven’t used) the diagnosis cards. Enjoy.

Steve Bynghall and Chris Tubb, May 2014

Instructions for use

  1. icon_mis  Wake up one morning feeling like your intranet has so many problems you just don’t know where to start.
  2. icon_download Download the Intranet Directions Diagnosis Cards PDF (239 KB, on us, for free, no sign-ups)
  3. icon_print Print it out on real world paper. Or on some nice card with a view to getting it laminated if you have loads of time and budget. But you won’t have either
  4. .icon_papers  Take the pieces of paper from the printer, and go back to your desk.
  5. icon_cutting Get some real world scissors and cut across the dotted lines. Be careful with those scissors, now. You might want to get someone with a technical background to help.
  6. icons_cards  Place the cards in a nice neat pile and contemplate their zen like papery-ness. Grab some of your colleagues for a meeting.
  7. icon_cardsStart to think about some of those things the users and your team moan about.
  8. icon_look  Look at the cards to start to tease at exactly what the problem is. You can’t blame everything on the users or IT, you know. How about a few post-its?
  9. icon_idea Also identify some successes. Make small paper aeroplanes out of the ones that aren’t problems. Start to see some common themes emerging. Articulate the major pain points and prioritise what needs to be addressed.
  10. icon_happy  Feeling motivated, commit to making a plan of action.
  11. icon_drinkYou’ll now need a stiff drink after such brutal self-honesty. Raising a glass to the Intranet Directions team, you’re now on the path to success.

Download

Download the Intranet Directions Diagnosis Cards PDF (13 pages, 230 KB, 52 cards, on us, for free, no sign-ups. We are nice people)

thumbnails for diagnosis cards

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.”

Learning from luddites: engaging with the intranet sceptics

“I’m no good with technology…”

At some stage every intranet manager has to deal with what we might term as the grumpy luddites. These are the sceptics who see no reason why they or anybody else should need to use the new intranet, social network, collaboration platform, application, whatever because

  • a) they can ask a colleague
  • b) they can pick up a phone
  • c) they can use email
  • d) they can use a spreadsheet
  • e) the old intranet was much better
  • f) I’m too busy
  • g) it’s a waste of money
  • h) why should I? etc. etc.

They tend to be naturally contrarian about technology and change, and are usually quite grumpy about it, or what we might call “comedy grumpy” but with a slight edge. These are the guys who read every cliché coming out of yet another survey about millenials, and then model their image on the exact opposite.

A grumpy luddite, digital dinosaur, techno-laggard, or whatever you choose to call them can be a threat when they are influential, well-respected or in a management position. Most likely they are a barrier to adoption in a team, unit or even division.  They may be a dissenting voice in a presentation who asks ‘how much exactly did the company spend on the intranet launch day promotional cookies when my colleagues are possibly facing redundancy”?

In extreme cases they can help to organise or be a vocal point for other dissenters, particularly if there is a mandatory change to a process involving the new intranet. (“Employee self-service…the outrage!”)  If you’re really unlucky they’re one of the stakeholders.  But perhaps most frequently they are an annoyance – a thorn in your side. You already work your socks off, and they’re being critical of what you slug your guts out to do every day. Grrrr!

Ignore or engage?

OK, at first glance this sounds fairly black and white. Just ignore these people, don’t worry about it, it comes with the territory. There are not enough hours in the day to engage with these people as a priority, and it is simply not worth the drain on time, resources and energy. I’ll go and organise an easy meeting with some early adopters instead!

Personally I think there’s a lot of sense in ignoring the grumpy luddites, particularly if you are in full launch mode, and are chasing some early success stories.  It’s also worth not responding to that critical email if you are in a precarious place time and effort-wise and are dissatisfied with your job. If a setback is going to spark resentment in you, then (as the great Scott Walker once sang) make it easy on yourself. Ignore.

However ignoring is not necessarily the most satisfying or tactical path. You could pass them on to your boss to respond, and in some cases if the intranet-sceptic is at a particular senior level, you may need to do this. But if you instead choose to engage with them, and hear their concerns you may find there are some associated benefits:

  • Everyone will respect you more for it, including the grumpy sceptic and your boss
  • You may have prevented some further dissent
  • You may learn a lot about your user population
  • You may even gain a powerful new advocate or even change agent

The value of engaging

If you have the time there are obvious benefits from engaging with the sceptics. Sometimes these people are simply trying to provoke a reaction. It may be a contrarian streak or something more personal against your department , or against somebody at a high level who has functional responsibility for your area.

If you go and see these people, armed with some good arguments, stories and metrics, and have your most reasonable / unflappable hat on then the outcome is likely to be positive. Even if they are unconvinced you may have achieved an “agree to disagree” uneasy truce, the threat from the dissenting voice will be deflected, at least for now. Perhaps you gave them a concession so they felt like they had scored something, for example that you’ll cancel the promotional launch-day cookies for when Phase 2 goes operational.  You will have earned their respect. Your boss will be pleased, you’ll be pleased.

Learning from the laggards

However the most value will come from listening to their concerns. So far this post has portrayed the sceptics as clearly wrong, but in real life it is hardly ever like that. In fact what happens if they are right? And even if you disagree with their views, do others users feel like they do? If so, then their concerns are legitimate.

A vocal sceptic tends to big-up the type of concerns which linger in the backs of the minds of other users and may already be a significant barrier to adoption. Perhaps you didn’t realise it or it wasn’t reflected in the personas you created for this project. If you spend all your time with early adopters and enthusiasts you’re unlikely to crack the tough nut of widespread adoption.

So a session with a critic might throw up some valuable questions such as:

  • Are we promoting the new intranet in the right way which deals with concerns?
  • Are we using the right vocabulary to avoid misunderstandings?
  • Is more specific training needed?
  • Do we need to do some targeted change management or communication?

It may even throw up some more uncomfortable or searching questions such as:

  • Is it really worth doing this process on the new intranet as the old way was actually better?
  • Have we actually got the design wrong?
  • Do I really understand the users as much as I like to think I do?

The last three points are potentially tricky or uncomfortable because they may point to a more significant issue which is more about the potential conflict between you as the promoter and advocate of all things intranet, and you as the guardian of all things intranet. Are you promoting something which deep down is really not very good? Have you become slightly detached from reality?

If this is the case you may need to undertake a minimum valuable repair strategy which is more honest about the intranet capability, although this may be impossible if you’re promoting something new.

Turning sceptics into advocates

If you are able to turn a sceptic and it proves that much of their concern was based on misunderstanding, then you may have gained a powerful advocate. The experience of ‘conversion’ is a powerful one and sticks in the mind. They may now even be a change agent, an enthusiastic supporter.

If your intranet sceptic is a stakeholder then this is what you really have to aim for, and it may take several battles to win the war. Dealing with a grumpy luddite who is also a stakeholder is a tricky one, and if you’re unfortunate to be in that situation and it means everything you do is an effort then you may have to take the battle to a higher level. Ask another stakeholder to intervene on your behalf and hope for the best.

If the luddism is fuelled by office politics or a poor relationship between individuals at a higher level then to be honest there may not be much you can do apart from get on with things and think about your own position.

Walking with dinosaurs

If you have the time try and engage with the luddites and the sceptics. In the long term it will give you a better perspective on users and that means you will do a better job. Acquire a thick skin if you need to and always question whether the sceptics are actually right. This can drive your intranet platform forward, achieve a better design, help you to continuously improve, and then the sceptics might be silenced.

 Steve Bynghall, January 2014

Chris says:

“Laggards are way over there on the other side of the bell curve of adoption. It’s pretty unlikely that you are going to turn them in my opinion, some people just like to whinge. But they also are likely to say the stuff that your early- and late-majority adopters are just going to think. So consider the luddites as amplifiers to a weak signal. Stay connected to reality, your colleagues aren’t robots who are going to adopt something new just because you think it is cool. Detach your hopes and dreams for your intranet from fantasy with proper user and stakeholder research and regular user testing. You may have got it wrong. Be professional and honest enough to admit to yourself.”

Make sure your intranet strategy is still going when everyone else has stopped

Everything is on hold at the moment…

Intranets and the accompany strategy which steers their direction have an uncanny knack of grinding to a halt. Sometimes this is down to their perilous state as a result from under-investment. If this is the case, we recommend special emergency measures be put in place to implement a “Minimum Viable Repair” and get it (and you) moving again.

However, intranet strategy also regularly “stops” in other organisations, including (in our experience) some of the most well-resourced and well-known global companies. Ask what the intranet strategy is and the answer is sometimes “we’re planning to update that” or “it’s on hold at the moment” or there is some sheepish mumbling while the intranet team gaze at their shoes.

Er, where’s the strategy?

In many cases the closest thing to an intranet strategy that exists is a document which was produced during the project for the last iteration or update, and which envisaged a shiny new post-launch world of continuous improvement. If you are really unlucky this is in the form of a slide deck. Sometimes there might be something more “current” which exists a woolly paragraph or passing reference to the intranet in the latest internal comms, IT or digital strategy.

There are several reasons why intranet strategy pauses including a new platform on the horizon or an organisational change, and I’ll be exploring these in more detail below. Despite these often highly plausible reasons for a stop in intranet strategy, intranets don’t stop, and the organisations which they mirror don’t stop either. Your customers and your competitors also won’t be stopping!

Intranets are a 24/7 environment which is critical to the way employees operate. Arguably they contribute to the bottom line and provide competitive advantage. They are a channel to help senior management deliver organisational strategy. So, in our view, intranet strategy and the accompany roadmap are very important, and should not be an area of neglect. Halting them misses a trick, and is the basis for under-delivering to users and stakeholders. It is basically saying it is OK to put your intranet on hold, and that is another way of undervaluing your intranet,

Having an up to date strategy and roadmap:

  • Gives the intranet team direction and a basis to plan and prioritise your activity

  • Means you are more likely to be aligned to organisational strategy and needs

  • Is the basis for continuous improvement, even if the changes are small and incremental

  • Sends out the right messages to stakeholders and users

  • Is really important in engaging site manager / super-user / publishing communities

  • You never know when you’re going to need one at the ready at short-notice

  • Leads to more job satisfaction when you deliver the goods against it

Reasons why intranet strategy pauses

There are several reasons why strategy stops. Usually it’s a combination of one or more of these: Sometimes these are good reasons, sometimes these are excuses for not having a strategy. Ultimately, you decide which.

Busy busy busy

Firstly intranet teams are busy. Very busy. They are swamped by the overwhelming operational inbox that often comes with the territory. Good intentions inevitably get trampled on by workload.

But trust on this one, getting the strategy and roadmap right is worth prioritising especially if there is a link between the direction you need to go in and the reason you are impossibly busy.

The stakeholders are seemingly unengaged

OK, ideally an intranet strategy should be reviewed, critiqued and signed-off by stakeholders who have a whiff of seniority about them, and quite possibly represent IT, Comms and HR. We know in many places that is not going to happen because the stakeholders don’t care, or more likely are too busy to give it proper attention.

If this is the case and there isn’t much you can do about it, assume that the stakeholders trust you. They know the intranet is in good hands. Assume that if the intranet was failing they absolutely would take an interest. If they trust you with the intranet, they also trust you with intranet strategy. It’s up to you to define this. Even if the output gets waved under their nose, and they nod, take that as approval. Seeing something coherent and well-argued, may actually surprise them, and could lead to a budgeting decision. Someone has to do intranet strategy, and it looks like it is you.

There’s a new Director of Comms / IT / KM / HR on the way

So there’s a new owner of the intranet on the way.  The intranet strategy was going to go through its annual review but we might as well wait for the new Director to come in to wait for their input.

Personally I think waiting is a mistake. It can take ages for a new senior stakeholder to get to know the business, and for the intranet to be properly on their radar. Let’s say it could take six months. Given that senior replacement appointments might be known about six months in advance, then it could be up to 12 months before intranet strategy comes up as a topic for discussion.

Having an up to date intranet strategy already in place sends out all the right messages to someone who is probably your new boss. It also ensures continuity and means that you are more likely to have your dabs all over the strategy.

In larger organisations there may be a steering committee which ratifies the strategy and they might want to halt any updates to it based on the new owner, but if you can influence them, carry on as business-as-usual.

There’s a new new intranet platform or SharePoint on the horizon

The biggest mistake intranet teams make is putting everything on hold while IT makes up its mind about a new platform. We may be going to SharePoint? How long before a) IT make up their mind b) The agreements are signed c) The project is implemented d) The legacy systems are phased out. We’re talking potentially years! So until you’ve seen that bit of paper signed, assume it isn’t happening and everything is business-as-usual.

Moreover strategy should be largely agnostic of technology. And although inevitably your direction probably does need to reference an impending decision by IT e.g. perhaps heavy customisation isn’t such a good idea, many of the improvements you influence are around information architecture, findability and content management.

Many improvements you make in these areas are excellent preparation for a platform change. For example having an engaged publisher community who are clued-up and care about what they are doing is not only going to help you every day, but will come into its own when you go for content migration in any project,

We need a new platform, nothing else matters

If the old intranet is creaking and clearly needs replacing, a new iteration might be uppermost in your mind, but perhaps not for anybody else. Banking on a new intranet is definitely putting all your eggs in one basket. There are always things to move forward on your existing platform. A new IA, a new design, a bit of well-positioned workflow…but you may need to veer into Minimum Viable Repair territory here. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of assuming a new intranet is all-or-nothing, because it may well end up as nothing.

There is a company merger or reorganisation

Inevitably this is going to hijack your intranet strategy and operations so they are going to more short-term, but it can also influence it for the better by assimilating ideas from the new business, or give an opportunity to introduce things you have been thinking for a while.

The point is a merger can force a rethink of strategy but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is completely divorced from existing strategy, and you can’t move forward with a particular direction. You can also learn to plan for future change, particularly if your company tends to acquire other businesses.

Strategy doesn’t stop

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?  Perhaps something else in your organisation halted your intranet strategy?  I think the main issue here is that teams need to prioritise strategy. It is what informs your operations and keeps the intranet relevant. Don’t fall into the trap of having an intranet with no direction, because you’re waiting on something else to happen or a decision to be made. 

Steve Bynghall, January 2014

Chris says:

“A strategy is a plan, people. How can you not have a plan? But, as Steve says, we see it all the time. Intranet teams mumble something about the intranet strategy being developed but they just need something to go their way. You know, I wish more of them would look us in the eye with some steel and just say ‘no’. Grab whoever is interested and document your plan for the next 3 to 18 months with what you know now. Imagine it is code and put some if{} else{} statements in. If we get the go-ahead for SharePoint or the new ESN we’ll do this, otherwise this is the plan and we will concentrate some efforts here – let it emerge. But whatever you do, know what you are doing, write it down and share with everyone who cares. And one last thing: if you don’t have the capability to deliver anything of value strategically, revel in being tactical. That’s your strategy right there, so write it down and take it to your bosses. They’ll blush.”