The only way to create a successful intranet

There are many features, functions and elements that go into a great intranet, innumerable perhaps. We mean to create an intranet that is useful and helps people with their daily tasks; that is part of their professional toolset. The intranet has to be useful and useable, and actually have an impact on the business.

There are a great many elements that go into a fully-functioning intranet, but there’s only one way to create a successful intranet, one that is used and relied upon. There’s only one thing that you should focus on – the users.

I say ‘users’ here on purpose, in contrast to my usual hatred of the term. It’s time that the intranet was used, rather than merely read, and it’s time that we stopped thinking about ‘our audience’ and started thinking about ‘the participants’.

HR may talk about ’employee engagement’ and how important it is for morale, ‘discretionary effort’ and impact on the business, but we should consider the engagement of our intranet ‘end users’ (participants) as a key indicator of usefulness and usability.

Hit metrics, and whether articles get read, are less than half the story here. The intranet needs to be useful and help people get things done. That can only be true if people are empowered and permitted to use the intranet. Because only an intranet that gets used can have a real impact, and people will only use it if it’s useful and usable. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it read your clunky, locked-down, intranet.

So yes, the elements that go into a successful intranet have to include great communications that change people’s behaviours; it has to be about collaborative environments that enable people to get on with work together, online. It has to be about end-to-end business processes and task completion; the idea of actually getting something done on the intranet. And it has to be about knowledge management and easy knowledge sharing. It has to be about subject matter experts getting involved and sharing what they know about the business with the business. It has to be about focusing on the many different audiences within the organisation. It has to be about having that audience become active participants in the intranet, and that’s what I mean by user engagement.

I’m saying that the audience isn’t the audience; they are the participants. They are the people who create and use the intranet. The intranet is a platform; the intranet is a dynamic system for your people. It’s not a piece of software, it’s not a Word document, it’s not a noticeboard that you curate, create and publish to for the benefit of the audience. No, actually it’s a platform for the benefit of the participants and therefore we need to get past this idea of having three people in the Ivory Tower who have the permission and the skill to publish. We have to recognise that everyone should be able to contribute to the intranet.

Now I’m not talking about everyone having a free rein to publish front page directives and policies, no that’s formal content. So the usual checks, balances and permissions, the usual approval processes, continue for formal content.

But we have to allow people to informally contribute to the intranet, and that means we have to let go of our fears that Derek might say something that’s not as correct as what Julie said yesterday or that Rashed might say something which is actually wrong and misdirect some people. Line Managers misdirect some people all the time; colleagues misdirect people all the time; nobody is perfect. We pass on outdated and bad information. We do that right now, on the phone, in person and via email. Sometimes we do it for many many months before someone notices and corrects us.

At least on the intranet when we’re sharing our ideas and sharing our knowledge, more people can be involved and can say “well actually I think we updated that in June, we need to use the pink form now, the green form has been superseded”.

So considering that user engagement, or having our people engaged with the intranet and through the intranet and contributing to the intranet, if that is the secret sauce of a great intranet then how do we get people involved? Because let’s face it, lots of people don’t consider the intranet part of their day at work. It can feel irrelevant to them. Whose fault is that? We haven’t provided enough relevancy on the intranet and we haven’t invited them strongly enough to contribute to fill in the gaps. The signals tell them that the intranet is for Head Office, for HR and Communications and Marketing. So we’ve got the signals wrong there.

So as the most important thing is user engagement, or participation from all of our people, what can we do to get our people involved with the intranet? And that’s a subject at my upcoming Webinar. I’m going to talk about the importance of user engagement, or people engagement, and I’m going to talk about how we can achieve it. It’s not just as simple as herding cats, it isn’t just about asking people to contribute stories for the front page; it’s about getting real work done. We therefore have to create a system that enables and empowers real work on the intranet alongside informal conversations. That means we have to get our senior and middle managers to trust the very people they’ve chosen to employ. We’ve got to get management support of informal contribution and actual collaboration on the intranet.

In my Webinar I’ll talk about real steps that we should take with our management and with our people to help the intranet become an essential part of our business; that’s where the return on investment is. Because we can do so much with an intranet platform, but that’s just technology; it’s all down to people.

Free Webinar: The only way to engage your intranet users, led by Wedge Black – reserve your space today

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