Intranet resources – the eternal vicious circle

November 6, 2011

Intranets don’t work. Why? Because  not enough resources are given to them to ensure they have a chance of success. Why aren’t resources made available? Because intranets don’t work. A vicious circle is born.

In this post I’m attempting to provide an approach that may help intranet teams to make the case for better resources and to break out of this vicious circle for good.

Why intranets are a low priority in most organizations

Intranets in trying to be everything to everyone have generally failed to be anything to anyone. Continual failure has led to a healthy scepticism in many senior managers that intranets can ever work. Gerry McGovern states that -

Unfortunately, I have come across many senior managers who could not care less if the intranet was switched off or not. And I have come across so many staff over the years who only use the intranet as a last resort because they think it’s a big waste of time.

I agree totally with the quote above. You can see that many managers wonder why they should throw good money after bad when there are no many other areas of the organization which will provide a greater payback? Many staff just ignore the intranet because their jobs are hard enough without having to waste time looking for content they may never find.  So what happens?  James Robertson in the same blog post states -

The only time the vast majority of intranets ever get a budget of any size is for a new technology.  “The technology landscape has changed hugely for intranets over the last year or two,” James states. “I am of course talking about the rise of SharePoint as an intranet platform, but it’s more than just that. Social and collaborative tools of all sorts have made their way into organisations, alongside a range of new business tools.”

There is a problem with the idea that new technology will somehow magically solve existing problems. It won’t. This has been called ‘fleeing into the future’. If the problems were technological in nature this might work but the problems are content and people based. Issues such as poor governance, poor content management, poor navigation and findability, have become the running sores of many intranets eroding the trust of both users and stakeholders.

However for some reason most organizations still think they should have an intranet but never give it enough resources to have much chance of success. It’s like keeping an apple tree in a cellar and wondering why you never get any good apples.

In order to break out of this vicious circle intranet teams need to -

  • Be honest about where the intranet is
  • Prepare a sustainable plan for success
  • Sell the plan to senior managers
  • Carry out the plan using a kaizen approach
  • Announce successes then…

….ask for more resources

Be honest about where your intranet is

In order to measure any improvement you have to know where you are. You need to carry out some extensive research with your users, relying solely on web stats will not provide robust data if the goal of your intranet is to help your users do their job more effectively.  The more research into users wants and needs you can do the better.  Go and talk to users and stakeholders and capture their ideas and levels of satisfaction with the intranet in such a way that the exercise can be repeated over time to provide evidence of trends.  Be brutally honest with everyone about what the data is showing. If satisfaction levels are in the basement then okay, you now have your  starting line in the race to intranet success.

Do not an initial lack of resource stop you from carrying out this research.  Do the best you can, using smaller samples if you have to, backed up with online surveys and approaches like the elevator interview.

Prepare a sustainable plan for success

Based on the research data put together an improvement plan using the lean intranet approach. This approach basically suggests that intranet content should be reduced to a level that can be sustainably managed by the intranet team. The trick is in identifying the 20% of current content that 80% of your users need most of the time. Again be brutal in pruning content and ask the following of all large content sets -

Is the content really relevant?

Is the content really going to help anyone?

Can the content be sustainably managed?

This last one is really important when it comes to sustainability. However some content might be desirable, if it cannot be effectively updated and maintained within the resources available, then it shouldn’t be in your intranet. With less content navigation and findability will be vastly improved.

Once you have your plan you now need to get some backing for it.

Sell the plan to senior managers

This is the tough part. Many senior managers have seen new intranet initiatives come and go and, with good reason, are highly sceptical that anything intranet related could be made to work. You have to be honest about the current state of the intranet and then persuade stakeholders that your plan has a chance of success. Try to gather whatever evidence you can to back your approach both internally, from your users, and externally from intranet case histories.

Importantly do not ask for more resource at this point. Your plan will stand a better chance of getting backing if your stakeholders do not feel they have to put their hands in their pockets straight away.  Once you can show them quantifiably improvements asking for resources will become less of an uphill struggle.

Carry out the plan using a kaizen approach

Big ambitious plans only need to fail slightly to be perceived as total failures. Do not attempt to try and cure all your intranet’s problems in one hit, it won’t work. Improvement activities in any sphere always work better if done incrementally and in a managed way over time.  This is called the kaizen approach.  Go for the low hanging fruit, those things that you know you stand a good chance of achieving success with using only the resources you have available. The key here is patience and giving yourself the necessary amount of time. If you can do that then the small improvements you make will add up to very big ones over time.

Announce your successes

Keep your stakeholders and users informed of all of the wonderful things you are now achieving, however small. Creating an aura  of success around your team and their achievements will boost the confidence of your stakeholders and the productivity of your team leading to further success.

When you have reached this point calmly mention all the wonderful things you might be able to do with just a little more funding.

There is no magic wand, no new technology, no novel social media software that will make your intranet  work. However the lean intranet approach coupled with good planning, based on realistic expectations and carried out using a kaizen approach may just give you your best shot at the biggest intranet prize…

…an intranet that really adds value every working day for your users and stakeholders.

(Thanks to Cartermagna blog for the Vicious Circle)

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6 Responses to “Intranet resources – the eternal vicious circle”

  1. Rahel Bailie Says:

    The lack of investment in intranets always comes down to resources or cost. Internal projects are always harder to sell because there is no ROI attached. But what organizations can do is sell it on the IRR, and that should be possible by doing some sort of pilot project. The Intrawest case study is a good example of how to get buy-in: http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/clients/intranet-case-studies/intrawest/.

  2. Mark Morrell Says:

    I think your view is a little harsh compared with my experience when I was the BT Intranet manager and from benchmarking other organisation with the Intranet Benchmarking Forum.

    I do believe there is a still a lot of work to get intranets to be recognised by senior management.

    The shifting from a physical workplace to a digital workplace is more easy for senior guys to see the benefits and cash savings. The trick is to get them to see the intranet as a vital component of that bright future!

    • patrick c walsh Says:

      Mark,
      Thanks for your comment.
      The scathing quote regarding senior managers was from Gerry McGovern not me. I do believe that there may be exceptions to the rule but I do not yet see any evidence of intranets generally being taken seriously and wholeheartedly agree that there is indeed a lot of work that needs to be done to get intranets recognised by senior managers.
      For me the major point of the post is to try and get intranet teams to start improvement initiatives and demonstrate success before they ask for more resource. Every other department in an organisation will be begging for resources too. You need to enable senior managers to make evidence led decisions with regards to intranets by providing evidence of success.

      • Mark Morrell Says:

        Thanks for you reply. I wasn’t picking up on the quote just the overall tone. Maybe I look at it with rose tinted spectacle? :-)

        I completely agree that intranet practitioners need to be more savvy in how to handle company politics to their advantage.

        Most are still too low down the decision-making structure so need to get under the radar screen of Finance, etc, and test out improvements which can then be demonstrated as successful.

        Ask forgiveness rather than seek permission.

        This post will help a great deal.


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