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We live and work in times of boom and bust. Even when the economy travels well, there are stresses and strains in our working lives. However, if the economy takes a sudden dive, then the impact on organisations is likely to require us thinking and reaction beyond the ‘business as usual’ approach.
Of course, the crisis does not have to be on a national or global level – individual organisations can suddenly be faced with all kinds of operational hurdles. A falling share price, cash flow problems or a change in top management may lead to a u-turn in organisational direction.
The strategies organisations employ in managing change at such times maybe innovative but too often they are reactive and unimaginative. It is common for organisations to revert to the usual approaches of cost and staff number reductions and organisational restructuring.
And what are the implications for intranets when this occurs?
Inevitably, there are impacts on the corporate intranet. These impacts may be direct reductions in intranet resources or funding, or more indirect effects, such as increased workloads caused by fewer content authors, or cancellation of new projects.
Look for opportunities
The impact that a crisis has on an intranet is likely to reflect the value the intranet has within the organisation. Does senior management consider the intranet a core business tool or is it still considered a ‘nice to have’?
The intranet can help the organisation cut costs
The answer to this question is closely related to the pressure on the intranet manager. If the intranet is not valued as a core business tool, then it is more likely to be targeted when the cost-cutting knives come out.
Either way, the key to handling a crisis situation is being prepared; foresight is a key tool in managing uncertainty. Good preparation may even lead to opportunities not previously considered.
This article explores a number of tasks that intranet managers can undertake to be prepared when times get tough. Even if your organisation is not affected by the current financial crisis, the ideas presented in this article might well assist you to cope with the unexpected occurrences that may one day face your organisation.
Be prepared to argue for the intranet
Know the intranet well, and be able to list current intranet services and their benefits, financial and otherwise. For example, make sure management is aware of the time and travel cost savings that have been made with a recently delivered online-meeting capability. You may need to ask the business to provide the detail of the actual savings achieved.
A list of cost-saving and productivity benefits of the intranet is not only a great promotional tool, but provides a strong position from which to argue against cost reduction in the intranet team.
With such ammunition, when management comes looking for cost savings, it might be possible to argue that rather than cutting back, the organisation should invest in the intranet, furthering its ability to support cost saving initiatives across the organisation.
Further support the argument by being ready with a list of potential initiatives where cost savings can be demonstrated.
Consider initiatives that are not expensive, but will quickly result in outcomes supporting the corporate direction, whether that be cost savings, productivity efficiencies or driving other required change. Web-enable some forms, add some workflow, enhance the staff directory, ensuring the task meets a specific business need.
Take the opportunity to promote the intranet around the organisation. It is a great time to promote the value of the intranet as a tool that supports the organisation’s core business processes.
Liaise with business groups, showing them how the intranet can support the initiatives that they are working on.
Understand intranet expenditure and value
Know the financial worth of the intranet
Being prepared to defend the intranet will also require a clear understanding of current intranet expenditure. Whether or not there is a formal budget, be clear on what has been spent on the intranet in the past. If enough information is available, clarify what can be considered discretionary and non-discretionary spending. This way you can be prepared to give ground if necessary.
When a crisis hits, a state of mild panic can occur and having to react to directives such as “we have to find cost savings by Friday” is not uncommon. If you are not prepared, planning under pressure usually results in the abandonment of strategic thinking.
Be prepared for such a situation with a list of costs that can be eliminated, projects that could be done at a later date or other strategies that will not have detrimental impacts on the intranet’s momentum.
For some bigger companies, headcount reductions maybe inevitable. Look to see if there are cost saving initiatives that might balance out the cost of one or more salaries. Failing that, an intranet manager may be prepared for this by identifying staff who are looking for a change or staff who may be able to find work elsewhere in the organisation
Align the intranet with the organisational direction
Anticipate what is coming. Intranet managers should already be aware of the organisation’s overall strategies and direction but in a time of crisis, more than ever, it is necessary to know what is going on in the broader organisation.
As corporate strategies change, knowing that the focus is to be on growth, cost reduction or other specific areas will help the intranet manager build a forceful defence for the intranet.
This will require calling on the intranet sponsor for information and support. If the intranet has no sponsor, now is the time to get one. Having a sponsor is the key to getting high level support of the intranet. The sponsor should be a senior manager who:
- can be on the side of the intranet when cost-cutting is discussed in management meetings
- will be able to tell the intranet team what the executive are thinking about strategic directions
Find out what key strategic initiatives are planned for the coming year, such as new projects, acquisitions and mergers. Be able to demonstrate or at least explain how the intranet can support those initiatives. In the case of an acquisition, emphasise the value of communication and how the intranet can support cultural shifts.
For further information, see the article Choosing an intranet project sponsor
If there isn’t an intranet sponsor, now is the time to get one
Measure intranet usage and collect feedback
Already part of standard intranet management, measuring intranet usage and being aware of the users’ perceptions of the intranet becomes even more important at these times.
If measuring the usage of the intranet and the performance of the search engine is not already part of regular intranet practice, then it is time to start collecting statistics now.
Find out about the least used areas of the intranet, as well as the most used. Over time, these measurements will reveal trends and shifts in usage.
For more on search engine usage, see the earlier article Intranet search reports.
Anecdotal evidence can be as valuable as hard statistics. This is particularly important when arguing for the intranet with senior managers, who are often only occasional users of the intranet. Collect positive feedback from the business about the intranet and its value. Focus on getting feedback about how the intranet has supported productivity improvements and costs saving initiatives.
Take a web poll or even better, get out and talk to the users of the intranet.
Provide innovative ways to communicate change
Support organisational change
Organisations undergoing rapid change need to have an extensive and targeted communication process in place. This is the time to leverage the intranet’s capabilities as a communications tool.
Employees will be looking for the latest news, updated organisational charts, information about new directions and even the latest positions vacant.
This might offer an opportunity for the intranet to take a leadership role in the implementation of technologies for delivering communications in new ways. It could be as simple as a discussion forum for two-way communications, or the CEO delivering messages regularly through a blog or via podcasts to geographically scattered employees.
It will be imperative during this period of change that the intranet manager establish a strong partnership with the communications team to assist the prompt delivery of all the information requirements of the organisation.
For further information, see the article Intranet as news channel.
We may all be familiar with the maxim, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and there is no reason that this should not apply in the case of intranets.
Innovative intranets meet the needs of business. An innovative intranet manager looks for business problems where the intranet can form a key part of the solution.
Focus on the full potential of the intranet. The platform is not only for content and communications, but the greatest business value will be provided by its capabilities in the areas of activity and collaboration. Bringing all the elements together positions the intranet as a core business tool that supports the streamlining of tasks and processes.
Harness previous experience
Companies often establish consistent patterns of behaviour in times of crisis. An astute intranet manager who has been around long enough will have a pretty good idea of the likely reactions at the executive level.
Intranet managers facing a crisis for the first time, should consider talking to others in the organisation who have been around a lot longer. Tapping into experience and knowledge of the way the organisation traditionally reacts, might provide valuable insight on how to be prepared for what lies ahead.
Build on past experience to prepare for future challenges
Where to start?
There are many practical steps which can be taken immediately, even as longer-term considerations are being explored.
Review the intranet strategy
If there is already an intranet strategy in place, then consider reviewing it. It may need to be updated to reflect the new directions that the organisation is taking.
If a strategy is not already in place, then start by producing an intranet concept. An intranet concept is a one-page document that captures where the intranet is at, where it is going and what this means in the short-term regarding actual deliverables. It is a succinct, yet effective description of the intranet direction.
For further information, see the article Creating an ‘Intranet Concept’.
Do some planning
Start the ball rolling with a planning process, including some of the tasks that have been mentioned above. Review what can be realistically delivered over the next six months.
Importantly, re-evaluate the current workload. Are the team’s tasks and deliverables still relevant given the organisation’s change of direction?
Remember to set realistic and achievable goals and ensure what is delivered is tangible and visible.
Even if resources and funding have been reduced, making it difficult to deliver major projects, it may still be possible to deliver small but beneficial improvements. An example might be implementing search engine improvements, or automating a simple workflow process.
For further information, see the article 6×2: a new approach to planning.
When a crisis looms, globally or locally, being a step ahead may help protect and even promote the intranet within the organisation. Being proactive, understanding the intranet, looking for opportunities and establishing two-way communications with senior management is vital.
It all adds up to being politically astute, which is never a bad thing for a non-revenue raising department.
Thanks to the Melbourne Intranet Leadership Forum for providing input into thinking about this topic.