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.

 

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. ”

 

Never get solely fixated on driving intranet or ESN adoption

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

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

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

Focus on value not adoption

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

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

The lure of the uptick

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

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

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

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

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

Chris says:

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

Don’t get intranet strategy and tactics confused

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

A tactic is one way of achieving your strategy.

Try not to get the two confused.

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

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

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

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

Chris Tubb March 2014

Steve says:

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

Intranet tactic cards

A seasonal gift from Intranet Directions.

In the spirit of goodwill to all men and women, and to help bring festive joy for intranet teams all over the world, Intranet Directions are proud to present a free gift to everybody. Introducing our cut-out-and-keep Intranet Tactics Cards.

OK, admittedly these aren’t very festive, but in the spirit of Oblique Strategies (we love Brian Eno), we’ve created some cards which have some headline suggestions which are designed to help intranet teams think about working practices, get unstuck with problems, or visit for a bit of occasional fresh inspiration. The original text on each card is not so important – its more the thoughts they may trigger. So even if you think what is on the card is a load of old rubbish, then you might think of something which isn’t rubbish. A fuller set of instructions are below, although you could probably work it out.

Use them at your desk, in a team meeting, in a workshop or pop them straight into the recycling bin, it’s completely up to you. We’ve got four suits of themes:

  • Getting unstuck – a small suggestion if you’re hitting a brick wall
  • Wildcards – a headline to try and look at a problem in a different way
  • Stakeholders – suggestions for engaging with your stakeholders
  • Tactics – things to do to increase effectiveness and adoption

This is a bit of an experiment. We’d love to hear what you think, how you have (or haven’t used them) or suggestions for any more cards, so please do add your comments below. And of course a very happy Christmas or holiday season from us at Intranet Directions.

Steve Bynghall and Chris Tubb, December 2013

Instructions for use

  1. icon_mis  Feel miserable because you are stuck like only an intranet guy can be.
  2. icon_download Download the Intranet Directions Tactic Cards PDF (250KB, on us, for free, no sign-ups)
  3. icon_print Print it out on real world paper. Screw the polar bears.
  4. icon_papers Take the pieces of paper from the printer, and go find a nice quiet spot.
  5. icon_cutting Get some real world scissors and cut across the dotted lines. Start feeling better.
  6. icons_cards  Organise the cards into their different suits.
  7. icon_cards Think about your intranet problem that has got you all stuck
  8. icon_look  Look at the cards, while thinking about your problem. Skills. Take your time. Let your mind wander.
  9. icon_idea Have a bloody brilliant idea.
  10. icon_happy  Feel Happy. You’ve got a plan. You’re unstuck
  11. icon_drinkPub.

Download

Download the Intranet Directions Tactic Cards PDF (13 pages, 250KB, on us, for free, no sign-ups. We are nice people)

tactic-cards-tn

Buddy up with HR to increase intranet value and adoption

Most employees use intranets to get things done during their working day.  So when an intranet doesn’t do this well, it can be regarded as being ineffective and of little value, both by users and senior management. And if that is the case, then you’re on the slippery slope.

Users just want to get stuff done

One of the reasons so many intranets get stuck in this rut is because they focus far too much on content and news.  Internal communications and content is important, but there usually ends up being a huge disconnect between the resources and effort spent in preparing content, and the value users actually get out of it at the end of the day.

A current antidote to this is “social”.  It’s great that intranet ecosystems are evolving to become more participatory through commenting, micro-blogging , social networking and the integration of communities and collaboration. But social intranets, although good for locating experts, employee engagement and getting answers to questions, does not always help users get things done.

A different tack is to focus on key processes in the organisation, and then make sure the intranet contributes to improving them. This can happen in several ways, for example:

  • Making it faster to do things, such as turning a paper-based form into an electronic one
  • Making it easier for the user, for example surfacing data from different applications so the user no longer has to go into multiple systems to complete a task
  • Reducing the amount of data that needs to be entered manually, improving accuracy
  • Establishing one common data source or document, reducing the risk of multiple versions
  • Improving a process so it is more likely to be done by users, for example using intranet-based forms and workflow rather than email where items get “lost” in the inbox causing bottlenecks
  • Allowing users to complete a task themselves rather than asking a central function to do it, so that person can concentrate on more value-added work

The advantage of improving processes is that it is usually popular with users (once embedded) and also with senior management, especially if you can measure the improvement and put some value on the change.  

Ultimately improving the usefulness of your intranet should also drive up the readership of content and news by bringing more and more users to your platform.

Why HR is important

It’s likely that your intranet may already improve processes here and there, but if you really want to make a significant impact with your intranet then an Intranet Direction you may want to take is HR Process Improvement.

HR is one of the cornerstones of any intranet. Several HR processes sit very well with intranets, including:

  • The distribution for HR-related policy and information
  • Employee self-service (ESS) and manager self-service (MSS) relating to pay and benefits, performance reviews and booking leave
  • Booking training and e-learning
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Managing internal vacancies

Of the above points, ESS  and MSS are perhaps the most key. This can cover:

  • Updating key HR data such as bank and contact details (so the information goes straight into the HR system)
  • Questions about HR process and policy
  • Recording absence and booking holiday
  • Pay and benefits, for example with the ability to view payslips
  • The appraisal or performance management system, often giving feedback about others
  • Course booking and other e-learning related processes
  • Choices of flexible benefits

And for managers:

  • Approving holiday, leave, travel and a million other tasks
  • Resource planning
  • Performance measurement and monitoring
  • Managing the appraisal or performance management system
  • Managing training (particularly where it is mandatory)
  • Team compliance processes

Some of these processes such as viewing payslips are tasks which virtually everybody carries out, and can really help to drive user adoption of the intranet as a whole.

How accurate is your data?

Having complete and accurate HR data is also another vital ingredient for any successful intranet. You need good HR data to ensure:

  • Effective identity management (e.g. data tapped from your HR system feeding into Active Directory)
  • Personalisation or targeted content works (ensuring location, role-specific and different language content is delivered to the right people)
  • A good employee directory that is accurate and complete (key for establishing trust in the intranet)

Because HR own the system which should provide that data, accuracy is often effectively their responsibility.  A good intranet effectively shines a torch at the information contained within your HR system and when some of it is wrong, or where there are gaps, employees will notice. And they are also guaranteed to let you know about it.

And there’s more…

There are also some more engagement-led processes which can also be carried out within the intranet environment, although often the systems which power these systems are standalone and may not be integrated.

These include employee recognition systems which often involve peers leaving online feedback, either resulting in some kind of reward or acting as a reference point or data input into performance reviews.

There’s also the whole area of learning, either through the integration of  Learning Management Systems (“Book your course!”) or even “social learning” with communities, blogs and other social tools supplementing more formal-based training.

So overall successfully weaving HR into the fabric of your intranet will leave you in a position of strength to move into various strategic intranet directions, and If HR policies, processes and data have no place in your current or planned intranet implementation then it’s time for a serious rethink.

It’s time for intranet managers and HR to work together

At the moment I’m predicting there are three immediate thoughts among people reading this blog:

  • We already do this stuff
  • There is a key problem: the HR department!
  • There is a key problem: the intranet team!

Well if you do this stuff already and it rocks, good for you, and this post may not be all that helpful, although it may give you some additional ideas.

If it’s the second then you’re likely to be in internal communications or IT department. Many intranet managers report that the HR department takes only an occasional or peripheral interest in the intranet, despite their best efforts.  This Intranet Direction requires close contact with the HR department, so be prepared to make the extra effort.

It it’s the third then you’re likely to be in HR. Many HR departments report that intranet teams only take an occasional interest in them, despite their best efforts. This Intranet Direction requires close contact with the intranet team, so be prepared to make the extra effort.

It’s true that traditionally ownership of intranets tends to fall between Internal Communications and IT and the HR function is a peripheral player with a tendency to do their own thing. But this issue can’t be sidestepped.

A successful intranet means working closely with HR folk. Having them as a full enthusiastic partner with ownership and input means the intranet is more likely to be aligned with HR strategy.  Specifically you should aim for:

  • HR representation within the intranet governance structure, the more senior the better
  • HR owning, designing, managing and updating the HR-related areas of the intranet which need to be prominent in the navigation and evident from the homepage
  • A commitment to ensure HR data is kept up-to-date from the HR-system AND a promise not to set up a sneaky rival HR portal that is completely unintegrated with the intranet

And if you’re in HR you can leverage:

  • The potential possible process improvements provided by the intranet
  • The online skills and experience of the digital or intranet team

OK, that all sounds great but I have absolutely no budget

If you have no budget at all, buddying up with HR is still worth pursuing. Although you may have no budget, you new pals in HR certainly might, particularly if it is going to spent on something that makes their lives easier.

Secondly there are plenty of opportunities to introduce relatively straight-forward measures which can improve HR processes. Focusing on content and navigation can be powerful in its own right or implementing out-of-the-box forms and workflow may be all it takes to really add value.

Thirdly even if you try and implement something light now, the seeds you sow of a new relationship with HR may fully paid dividends when the firm’s future employee self-service solution is fully integrated with the intranet.

Don’t use the “no budget” excuse to do nothing. Remember there are ways to Fix a broken intranet without any money and it requires making a stink.

OK, this is all great advice, but I’ve already done ESS and more…

Great, and good for you, but I bet there’s something more advanced you can do though. How about better personalised HR content relating to country, region and role. Perhaps ensuring the intranet and digital workplace is ready for a new policy on flexible working? Or bringing HR fully up-to-speed or bought in to your social network? Using metrics to make things better, measuring the time for task completion or level of effectiveness?  Or perhaps HR are moving in an unexpected direction you didn’t know about and they haven’t told you yet?

Direction Summary:

  1. Get HR on board on the intranet by giving them a seat in the intranet governance structure, and forging close links on an operational level
  2. Work together to identify key HR processes and how the current intranet supports these, where possible using metrics to demonstrate issues (e.g. time spent on a task)
  3. Work on an intranet strategy which at least aligns with HR strategy and establishes a roadmap to improve the intranet, primarily focusing on employee self-service
  4. As part of the bargain to improve processes, get HR to make a commitment to safeguard and improve the quality of HR data
  5. Implement what you can: if you have no budget, focus on content and navigation; if you have bigger budget focus on the integration of systems.
  6. Measure the improvements and communicate to senior management

What does Chris think?

“Getting Human Resources to be your new bessie pal is a great idea for any intranet manager. Wrestling with a huge amorphous mass of rubbish applications is one hell of a task, particularly when most organisations made paper processes digital and then… left them there for ten years. I think HR is a great place to start thinking about bring these processes together and giving them new structure and renewed focus, but are we…. thinking too small? How about cracking the collective heads of Finance, Facilities and IT and shaking this up entirely. You could take on the entire application estate from the top-down. That gives me an idea for another Direction.”