Going external with your intranet expertise to get internal recognition

With the daily parade of tasks to complete on the intranet or ESN it’s sometimes difficult for intranet teams to stand out and get their contribution and professionalism recognised within their company. This is particularly tricky when a platform is at the middle level of maturity and regarded as business as usual.

Unless you are locked into a process with incremental but significant improvements, in business-as-usual mode perhaps there are fewer opportunities to shine. This is especially hard in a backdrop where senior leaders regard what you do as operational.

Going external

One option is to try and draw some attention to the value the intranet team provides by speaking externally about what you have done internally. Of course this can be very rewarding, enjoyable and good for your career but the value of speaking to a group consisting mainly of peers (e.g. other intranet ESN or collaboration folk) is not often recognised by senior management.

Where senior management do see immediate value is where speaking about what you do externally:

  • Enhances the brand and reputation of the firm externally
  • Creates an opportunity to engage with clients and targets
  • Gives senior management a talking point or opportunity to talk with their peers
  • Enhances the personal reputation of leaders
  • Provides a revenue opportunity, for example through consulting

Limited opportunities or more than you think?

Options for talking externally in a way which will impress senior management might appear limited, but the lack of opportunities might just be down to the fact that its something that hasn’t ever been suggested. Clients and contacts, regardless of the sector you’re in, often want to hear a good digital transformation story and if you have something to share, share it.

If there isn’t an opportunity arising, there are options such as entering some awards.  This has certainly got some teams some internal recognition. There are a number of intranet-related awards around now  and as you may know I coordinate the Intranet Innovation Awards for James Robertson and Step Two Designs. Quite often winning companies issue a press release.

Meanwhile some organisations are also happy to talk about their digital journey. PwC are a good example. They have been happy to talk about their successful Jive implementation because it shows a progressive company culture (good for recruitment) and also strong connections across PwC’s global network of firms (important for servicing global clients). Sportswear giants Adidas have also detailed their intranet and learning environment in blogs posts on their corporate website.

Consulting opportunities?

Your internal ESN, intranet or digital workplace experience also has the potential to be part of an external consulting offering.

You probably have a head start if you work in a company which does consulting on a regular basis because they have the experience and framework to make it happen. For example I know one intranet manager who spends about 10 to 15% of their time on paid consulting for their company. Doing some consulting and getting revenues in means that the intranet team can potentially move from being a support function to something which has the ability to be client facing.

OK so some of the ideas above are not necessarily earth-shattering but it can certainly alter perception of your value among senior management. And if someone high up looks at you in a new light, then that can only be a good thing.

Chris says

It’s lonely in there, and everyone thinks that in other companies it is all roses. There are loads of opportunities to get out there are share what you are doing, to be helpful for others, to raise your profile or just for the thrill of presenting. But always remember that you are at risk of becoming someone else’s product in this big weird world. If you are cool with that quid pro quo, that’s fine, but be aware of it and say no if it puts you in a difficult position. And be brave enough to be honest about the reality of your work. I am always struck about the difference between the reality of what I see consulting and benchmarking, where life is hard, and the razzmatazz world of conferences and webcasts where everything is fine, dandy, kicks and giggles. That said, I wish I had done more of it when I was in house, as it would have really helped me when I wasn’t. As for consulting? No. You stay there. ;-) 10-15% on external projects? I don’t know any intranet managers that have 10 to 15 minutes!

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The No Intranet Strategy

Intranets aren’t dead, but I fear they might be seen as a toxic brand. I’ve heard some hard feedback about the intranet’s place in the world in recent times, particularly from executives. These senior types fall into roughly two camps.

Firstly, the good news. Group One are senior executives that have “grown-up” with having successful intranets at their beck-and-call. Intranets are normal and expected, but old-school. They broadly see them as a communications mechanism for marshalling the troops:

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Figure 1: The CEO feels the intranet is a way of aligning everyone around the strategy. TO WAR!!!!

Secondly, there is the bad news. Group Two are senior executives that tried intranets and they failed. They are also behind the times in viewing what a modern intranet can do and have an old-school content driven view of what an intranet is. They spent a lot of time and money creating “systems” and putting “content” in them and then no-bugger came and read it. They are still bitter about the experience:

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Figure 2: We built, they didn’t come. We aren’t doing that again, it was rubbish.

As you know the really bad news is each of these groups of senior executives is out-of-date. Firstly, nobody relies on internal communications content alone to bring people to their intranet. Everyone, right up to the Head of IC, knows that the content is the pill, and everything else is the sugar: directory, collaboration, social and the range of applications that an intranet provides structured access to that keeps the place running smoothly. Strangely though, organisations without intranets, or organisations with broken intranets that need to be replaced still tend to start with the home page with a load of communications on it. Because. Um.

It is the done thing as Group One expect it, there is likely to a be large amount of Internal Communications sponsorship involved and the “Intranet Home Page Cargo Cult” bows down to worship the homepage in so doing boiling the entirety of an intranet to a single view at the press of the PRT SCN button. (This is a cult that my esteemed colleague @bynghall is famed throughout five continents for feeding.)

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Figure 3: The source of the intranet home page cargo cult (Steve’s actual key)

Screenshot worship provides an easily perceived purpose of what intranets are for and pervades the industry, People can’t wait more than five minutes into a new intranet project before someone whips up a wireframe of the homepage and skewers the requirements gathering into a real-estate war. If the homepage is 80% about communications, people being simple creatures will be inclined to believe that the intranet is 80% about communications.

So if you are surrounded by either Group One or Group Two executives, or even better caught between rival factions, you need to come up with an answer. Are we going to bother to build a bloody intranet or not?

We need to come back to the meaning of the word “intranet”:

  • The intranet == Content Management System [No dammit!]
  • The intranet == The homepage and the navigation [Getting there]
  • The intranet == the whole schmear internally and externally if you can see it in a browser. [The one we work with]
  • The intranet == the TCP/IP network inside the firewall. [Hell no]

Dispelling people’s beliefs about what an intranet is, or is not, is dispiriting and tiring to the point of wishing to dispense with the word and chase other rainbows, such as digital workplace instead. Don’t get me started, I’ve had interviewees berate me and tell me that for example, the SharePoint collaboration sites were not, as far as they were concerned, part of the intranet no matter what my brief might have said, nor my career’s worth of expertise. Suffice to say if when you say, “intranet” to a senior manager and they equate the value with only communications you are in big trouble.

So if you don’t already have an intranet and your sponsors are somewhere in the region of lukewarm to hostile about the idea are you likely to create one? My supposition is that if you have a broken intranet, or no intranet at all, the option to not create a traditional intranet is both open and valid for several reasons:

  1. The commoditization and cloudification of component services, both in the core intranet and application space – O365, Yammer, Service Now and Success Factors.
  2. Universally available single sign on services such as SAML and out of the box Active Directory integration.
  3. The perceived value of intranet dropping below anything showing any potential ROI.

You can now go and buy a service, pay the money, get everyone signed up and call the job done. So, gather together your core identity management tools, otherwise known as everyone’s usernames and passwords, along with a bunch of external sign on tools and away you go. Procure the best tool for the job and get going. Social platform, Collaboration platform, HR self service, IT ticketing, CRM – you name it, some young bucks in Palo Alto are working on a solution 80 hours a week and they will be keen to take your money.

This process has been happening for the past decade. If you are an intranet manager and you are shocked by what I’ve written here, you are quite possibly suffering from denial big time and you need to snap out of it right now.

There remains one sticky truth, now that you have dispensed intranets forever with a slip-slop-slap of your hands. As you are muttering good riddance you realise that you have an array of mostly disparate services. How do people find these things? How do they get to them. It’s very well for the cool-kids to go spelunking around this digital landscape picking up the tools that work for them but, as I like to say, how does that help Doris and Arthur in Accounts?

I’ve got a great idea so don’t worry. We’ll ask everyone to go to the dominant system (for example social) and we’ll create some easy to find links. To make it easier we’ll show the most relevant links to different groups. Actually we’ll set that as their new browser homepage and we’ll make sure that they have the apps on their phone. Then we can put some best bets in the search… Hang on a moment!

So even if executives from Group Two might not want a classic intranet if the main purpose of the intranet becomes the tree to provide some structure and coherence around all your stuff, intranets have a stay of execution. I am beginning to see the intranet merely as a tree where you hang your stuff. If it hung on the tree it is part of the intranet, if it isn’t it is just elsewhere in the digital workplace. But wherever some structure appears that is where your intranet is. Now, do you want it to be good or just let it happen?

The no-intranet intranet

What if we were to plan a non-traditional intranet using commodity components? Not just let it happen, but play the strategy for all it is worth. What might we gain? What will be lost?

  1. We could drop the idea of it being communications or content-driven. The core is inherited by some form of social platform and the classic static elements are being adapted (mangled) into its place. News stories are announcements and people can follow or ignore updates. It’s activity stream based. This is happening with a few social implementations where some organisations have basically thrown the CMS away and started again. If we are crap at content management, we should look at doing it a different way.
  2. Users don’t give a fig where their zeroes and ones come from as long as they arrive safely. Internal, hosted or cloud? We’re easy! Everything can be secure enough and a solid commodity service being run for a profit is likely to be more secure than your un-patched, unsupported, unloved, homegrown bag of spanners written in ASP from 2004. Cloud-based solutions are a doddle in the mobile world.
  3. You can concentrate on helping people solve real business problems, getting people to exploit the solutions. When something doesn’t work out, pitch it in the bin and move to something better. Rock and roll.
  4. Management of this space changes towards risk reduction and providing the minimum structure that people need with navigation, search and curation.

In terms of loss, I’ve written in the past about the designed and the non-designed digital workplace. When you are relying on someone else’s vision and using a product you have to adapt your requirements. If Yammer doesn’t do it like you want it, you are stuck with it. When Microsoft changes their view of their product, they aren’t going to ask your permission. Maybe this will be a better world. Maybe your requirements aren’t special little snowflakes? Maybe we are all commodities using the standard toolset – such as the yawning tedium of Outlook and Exchange.

The counterpoint to that is that most of you work for commercial organisations in which the whole point was supposed to be competitive advantage. If you are all using the same tools, there are incentives to do it cheaper or do something staggeringly better so you can run rings around your competition. The poster child of different at the moment is Slack, which is providing this structure and coherence for small companies at the level of an instant messaging client with connectors that reach into dozens of different cloud based services. Whether that sort of tool, while compelling for small teams, would scale to 20,000 or 200,000 employees remains to be seen. If Microsoft responds by adapting Lync (or Skype for Business) that could have some legs. But if strategically you approach these tools with an open mind, and with the ability to open single sign on to them within moments of signing the contract, when the holy grail is launched that makes everything else obsolete you can be ready to pounce and launch it.

Meanwhile intranets are not only not dead, but actually might be impossible to kill. Nice intranet you’ve got there, can I have a screenshot?

Steve says:

“Sidestepping the issue around the semantics of what an intranet is and isn’t, Chris is right in that organisations can quite easily get by without a shiny expensive content-focused and corporate branded intranet.

But I think organisations do need some content management here and there, whether it’s to support self-service, make important announcements or deliver internal comms-lite. The crux here is whether that  needs to be done via a prominent publishing platform with lovely UX or by other means. For example some organisations seem to be doing pretty well using social networks with minimal branding (e.g. Yammer)  to get their messages out.

I guess this will eventually become a red herring. Let’s be honest, the cloud means we’re all going down the intranet/ portal/ digital workplace commodity route. The art of customising SharePoint so it looks half decent and does what your users like will be replaced by the art of working out who to pilot the new features of  Office 365 to.  The emphasis will be on implementation not tinkering, branding and consistency.

I suspect then that the features which seem to provoke the most fretting among intranet folk (content management / internal communications / branding) may also become commoditised too and available in your big ticket channels like Office 365. or your HR portal. The content management features may not be lovely, the UX not perfect and consistent, but it will be perfectly adequate and you know, perhaps that’s OK.”

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:

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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?]

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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. ”