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. ”

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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.

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. ”

 

Don’t let your project plan and governance, become your intranet strategy and governance (or why Intranet stakeholders are your BFFs)

A quick one, but worth repeating.

Your intranet is a complex array of browser based systems and services. They are tangled together like spaghetti alla crazy glue. Your users don’t really get the idea that one bit is owned by one team, and another bit is owned by a different team; nor should they care.

If it has been a bit of a mess the reason is usually that collectively the idea of the intranet has not been a strong one. One day there is enough embarrassment-in-common amongst the great-and-the-good that something-must-be-done. “We need a project to build a new intranet,” they say. A project manager is found. Requirements are gathered. The PM rounds up a strange breed of people called “Stakeholders”, who presumably know what they want. The project starts to fly and some structure is thrown over the rhubarb-muttering crowd like a hopeful fishing net. That net is called “Project Governance” and it attempts to bring some structure to the panicky madness that is a large scale IT development project.

After a bit of monkeying around with Gantt charts, test scripts and usability testing the intranet is handed over to the people that will put content in it and content is poured into it like beer into a tankard. Champagne corks are popped that everyone has a little party, and the PM rides off into the sunset. His work is done here. The development team go and work on something else.

The governance, of course, falls apart because the project is over. The stakeholders drift away. The intranet degrades, until the next time. Then people like Steve and me shuffle onto the scene. We ask if there is an intranet strategy. Small voice: “Not really. Just ideas you know…” Mumbling. Staring at shoes. Is there a steering group. “Used to have one…” Governance model? “Pfffft…. Wild-west, innit.”

There is a better way, people…

Of course what you really need to do is to sort out the strategy and governance to scope, define and set a roadmap for the future. The projects can then fall within this framework.  So…

1. Get a group of people together who are accountable and engaged about the intranet. They will want to use it to drive business outcomes with things like “efficiency”, “engagement” and “knowledge”.

2. Get them to figure out a vision and a plan for the whole intranet – from tip to tail, from the top of the tallest shiniest news story to the dark and dingy team sites. No site left behind.

3. Get them to assemble a way of everyone working together: a governance model that encompasses anything that people might conceive of as the intranet. Let it scale.

Then start creating projects to deliver a bit of the intranet vision. Any project you create should be part of an overarching plan to deliver your intranet strategy. Your intranet “project”, even if it is huge and transformational should be initiated and accountable to your intranet steering group.

There is a better way: PEOPLE

Your intranet isn’t SharePoint. It is a idea that brings unity and structure to people, places and things. Your vision, strategy and governance aren’t just documents. They are held in place by the people who are involved and invested in it. No people, no belief, no mandate, no strategy.

Il faut cultiver son jardin, dagnammit.

If you are in this horrific groundhog day of big-bang project, followed by cold-tea ambivalent mediocrity and eventual and inevitable failure, you can break the pattern.

Save and close that Word document, get up from your desk and go speak with your stakeholders. Bond with them. Give them a reason to believe in a cheery future and your intranet’s place in it. The belief starts with you, and when someone asks what platform your intranet runs on, point at your intranet steerco and say: “Those guys.”

Steve says:

Far too often intranet  strategy comes grinding to a halt for various reasons and then gets revisited when its big project time. The danger then is intranet governance and project governance overlap and become indistinguishable. Sure there are similarities – some of the same stakeholders  are almost guaranteed — but its what happens when the project is over that worries me. It’s amazing how  everybody abandons ship the day after launch. Chris is right,  Keep them distinct, otherwise you could be heading for trouble.