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:

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intranettweet4

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intranettweet1

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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.

Intranet metrics are the intranet strategy you can count

Recently I’ve spent some time advising companies on intranet and digital workplace strategy.  I find it quite a privilege to be asked to help organisations to find out and write down what they think is important. There isn’t much of a secret to working out an intranet strategy and it can be summed up in the question “What do  you want the intranet to achieve?”. Many organisations know what they want the intranet to be or do, but can find this one a bit more difficult. The answer can be as slim as “help in any way we can” or far more specific than that such as “Act as a cultural focal point subsequent to a merger.”

One of the other areas I’ve focused on on is intranet metrics. I’ve written a couple of DWG Papers on it that have been very well received and I was consulting in this area when I was struck by a realisation: Intranet metrics and intranet strategy are basically the same thing, or more specifically intranet metrics are the parts of your intranet strategy that you can count.

Very often when talking to people about what they want to measure, I find we are basically reverse engineering their intranet strategy. If they haven’t got one we end up writing their intranet strategy. In a nutshell, there are a huge range of things you can measure but only some of them are useful. Our cut-off point of usefulness is whether the measurement is an indication of success. Your measure of success is contributing to a state you want to achieve. So what do you want your intranet to achieve? Ta-raaaaaah! Quod erat demonstrandum, baby.

Intranet platforms provide a huge range of numbers that may or may not be useful. This presents a temptation for the unwary intranet manager blundering through their year hoping that a spike in adoption might help reduce the likelihood of being shouted at. But in reality, without an intranet strategy in place many of these metrics may be meaningless, and a “good” metric is something that is easily measurable and readily available rather than relevant. Very often the truly meaningful metric doesn’t even come from your analytics platform. The total number of internal email attachments sent is a lovely proxy for collaboration platform adoption for example.

What do your metrics mean again (Three is a magic number)?

Every so often I see a question posted on LinkedIn or similar and it is a variation of the following:

  • How many page views should my news story get?
  • How often should people look at the home page?
  • What percentage of people should use an ESN to consider it adopted?

[I’m reminded of the nonsense questions from the beginning of De La Soul’s Three is a Magic Number:

  • How many feathers are on a Perdue chicken?
  • How many fibres are intertwined in a Shredded Wheat biscuit?]

de-la-soul-vinyl-320

These are nonsensical questions and knowing the answer gets you nowhere.

Questions I’d ask that would be richer in strategic goodness include:

  • Who do you want to read this news story and what do you want them to think, do or feel different afterwards?
  • What is bringing people to the home page, how do they interact with it and where do they go next?
  • What groups are using the social network  and what processes or use cases are improving as a result?

So, it’s clear to me: If you are feeling the need to bolster your metrics, you are dipping your toes in strategic waters. Better deal with them together and be done with it. If alternatively you are in the process of forming a strategy, attempt to describe how you would measure it. Two birds, one stone. But don’t expect to get useful numbers without a strategy.

Other people’s strategies (and Unikitty)

There are other sources of strategy though, and each will be a lens to gauge success for other areas of the organisation, or particular projects. Even though you might not be responsible for them, you can also use this to power-up your metrics-fu when stakeholders come demanding numbers:

  • The Internal Communications team should have a communications strategy
  • If you are very lucky there is a content strategy that says what the content on the intranet should achieve
  • Perhaps there is a collaboration or knowledge management strategy
  • If Martin White has been about there might be a search strategy
  • Wouldn’t it be nice if there was strategy for the implementation of a social platform which was more than “acquire a cloud-based platform and they-will-come ”?
  • There should certainly be an IT strategy
  • And if there isn’t a business strategy to align with, polish your CV and contact a friendly recruitment consultant.

numbersunikitty

So when your lovely stakeholders are demanding numbers from you to justify their existence, you can ask to look at their strategy to see what they are trying to achieve. When they can’t tell you what they want to achieve in measurable terms, but want to act like Business-Unikitty (above) you can gently send them away to have a bit of a think.

There are two other points I’d like to make about thinking strategically about intranet metrics, if you are still with me:

Goodhart’s law

The first is encapsulated in what was originally called Goodhart’s Law, but I shall paste three quotes directly from Dave Snowden’s recent blog post including his masterly bleak variation:

  • Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes  (Goodhart)
  • When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure (Strathern)
  • Anything made explicit will sooner or later be gamed for survival purposes and that need will corrupt practice and people (Snowden)

This is the world of perverse incentives: Trolleys in hospitals being reclassified as beds. Soviet steel being shipped thousands of miles for no good reason, and crafting news stories so they get lots of comments and likes. OK the last one is trivial by comparison, but as soon as you focus too much on measuring something, and particularly if you start judging people on it you are playing with fire.

The way I recommend to get out of this horror is to look at bundles of individual but related measures together to get a good picture of reality, and don’t fixate on a target.

Use metrics for good, not for evil

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts—for support rather than illumination.” — Andrew Lang (attrib.)

Seriously. You measure things to find out what’s happening, not as a way to say you’re fabulous. Presumably knowing you are fabulous, and maintaining that appearance before and after a measurement, you won’t let mere data get in the way. There is a way of doing this called benefits management and it all about proving that the benefits you promised, say in a business case, have indeed happened. However a lot of intranet metrics work verges on the dishonest and does one of two things:

  • It goes and looks for evidence that supports a choice that has already been made (AKA cherry-picking)
  • It attempts to justify benefit through a vague proxy that then becomes overwhelmingly important: “We are great at communications because this news story was viewed so many times and some people pressed a button labelled ‘like’.” (AKA Reification)

Resist the temptation. Play with a straight bat. Shun the dark-side. Regard the intranet as a natural phenomenon you are trying to guide gently in a good direction. You make a change and observe the result. Think gardening.

In summary

Strategy and Metrics are one. Allow your measurement strategy to emerge logically out of a measurable strategy. Help guide your stakeholders towards this path by measuring the right things.

Steve says

Chris is right in that all too often intranet metrics tend to slant towards arse-covering, convenience or just plain cobblers.  A few years back we could probably just about have got away with it, but these days we all need to be data-driven metrics-heads.  Metrics need to mean something, and rubbish numbers just doesn’t cut it with the suits.

Considering metrics as an integral and inseparable part of strategy is a refreshing way of thinking about what you measure. That not only helps to focus your mind on what is meaningful but it can also work on helping you articulate your intranet strategy too.  When you find something that resonates as a strategic direction and as a  KPI to reflect your progress, it can be a mini-eureka moment.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”