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Intranets require strong leaders if they are to be more than just publishing platforms for occasionally-used information.
The intranet team must take on this leadership role, and drive the evolution and enhancement of the site.
This is not an easy role for some intranet teams to play, but ultimately it is one that is satisfying for the team, and greatly beneficial for the site itself.
This article outlines a range of practical tips that can be applied to help intranet teams operate more effectively in this leadership role. These are all small (but important) steps that can be taken immediately by any intranet team.
Importance of a leadership role
Someone must ‘own’ the intranet, and take on responsibility for driving the site’s evolution. As discussed in the earlier article Intranet teams: a leadership and coaching role, the centralised intranet team should play this leadership role.
This means more than just passively publishing information, or meeting the immediate needs of individual site owners. Beyond this, intranet teams can (and should) play a dynamic role in shaping the direction of intranets, as well as guiding their design and management.
Taking this leadership role may require a different set of skills, and a new perspective on the position of the intranet team in the organisation. This article therefore provides some practical tips on how to make these changes on a day-to-day basis.
Intranet teams must take on a strong leadership role
Tip #1: Create a clear vision
Strong and successful leadership is based more than anything else on having a clear vision, and gaining support for this throughout the organisation.
This means moving beyond generic ‘motherhood’ statements such as “The intranet will provide all staff with the information they need to do their jobs”.
(For more on the limitations of these types of goals, see the earlier article Beyond “efficient dissemination of timely information”.)
While a set of clear business goals is useful, even these are not good enough to gain real support and buy-in from the organisation. Goals such as “Improve customer satisfaction” are meaningful, but are still too abstract to be truly effective.
Intranet teams should therefore look to create an ‘intranet concept’, a single sheet of paper that outlines:
- current state of the intranet, including major issues (the need for change)
- overall direction for the site (intranet goals)
- initial steps, giving concrete examples of specific functionality that will be delivered
- plans into the future (often setting expectations about timeframes and rates of change)
Taking a ‘narrative’ approach, an intranet concept written in this general form can be a very powerful way of painting a picture of where the intranet is going.
Case study: a new organisation was formed by merging together several existing health care providers. While each original organisation had an intranet, none were prospering.
There was a strong desire to create a new organisation-wide intranet, and the executive placed considerable pressure on the intranet team to deliver this in a very short time frame.
By creating a strong ‘intranet concept’, the intranet team was able to clearly indicate that only a small new intranet would be created, and that it would grow in step with the gradual merger of the organisations themselves.
Avoid communicating by corporate memo
Tip #2: Communicate well
Intranet communications can easily be dragged down by ‘corporate speak’ or bureaucratic language.
Instead of communicating clearly, intranet updates may be disseminated in the form of ‘policy updates’ or corporate memos.
Writing in this stilted and formal language does nothing to assist the intranet team’s objectives of gaining stakeholder support.
Intranet teams can therefore have a big impact on their effectiveness by simply using more direct and ‘human-friendly’ language.
Writing in this way assists the intranet team to clarify objectives for the site, and forces the identification of concrete benefits and activities.
Case study: one team given the task of selecting and implementing a new content management system found sending out a monthly email newsletter to be very effective.
Any stakeholder could subscribe to this newsletter, and it was even sent to external consultants and stakeholders.
This newsletter had a very simple format, containing a number of brief sections outlining current news.
For each section, a paragraph-long summary was written in plain English, followed by the contact details for the relevant person who could provide additional information.
On the face of it, this newsletter was nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, the clarity of the writing and format made it a powerful communications tool for the project.
Tip #3: Promote successes
Many intranet teams find themselves too busy doing the work to actually communicate the benefits that are being delivered to staff (and to the organisation as a whole).
If intranet teams are to gain the recognition (and more importantly the resources) that they require, there must be a clear awareness of how the intranet is helping staff.
This means promoting the successes of the intranet, and of the intranet team itself. This is particularly effective when the benefits gained in one business area can be used to generate enthusiasm amongst other areas of the organisation.
This promotion may be as simple as having a regular section in the corporate newsletter, or listing items in the intranet’s home page news section.
Beyond this, intranet teams should consider producing a brochure for the intranet team, outlining the services they can offer, along with case studies of past projects.
Case study: as part of the overall redesign of their intranet, one intranet team put considerable effort into improving search.
This included implementing a full taxonomy, which was seamlessly integrated into search to allow staff to easily narrow down their search terms.
With a little encouragement, the intranet team wrote up this work as a small case study, running to six pages and including a few screenshots.
While this benefited other organisations looking to improve their search, it was also a valuable way of building credibility within their own organisation.
Promote the successes and benefits of the intranet
Tip #4: Spend time with people
Intranet teams sometimes view internal politics as a necessary evil that keeps them away from the real work of running the intranet.
The reality is this: managing these internal politics, and balancing the sometimes competing interests of stakeholders, is the real work of running an intranet.
Successful intranet teams have strong interpersonal skills, and devote a lot of time to talking with stakeholders and users throughout the organisation.
As discussed in the article Intranet managers must be managers, this also means that intranet managers should be left free to devote almost all of their time to managing these ‘people issues’.
Case study: one particularly successful intranet manager was well known for being a ‘connector’ within the organisation.
When talking with intranet stakeholders, they were often able to identify other business areas doing similar things, or potential solutions that had already been created. The intranet manager is uniquely placed to play this role, as they have an opportunity to talk to almost every business area. Beyond the benefits to the various business areas, this also built up a large number of informal ‘favours’ which were then used when gaining support for major intranet projects.
Do something beyond maintaining current content
Tip #5: Do something new
Simply maintaining a site in its current form is not going to win the intranet team awards. New functionality or content must be steadily delivered if the intranet is to grow and prosper.
The intranet team should allocate ongoing time and resources to delivering these new features. These need not be large, as even small tools targeted at individual business units can be of great value.
Delivering new functionality creates genuine enthusiasm throughout the organisation, and demonstrates that the intranet team can ‘walk the talk’.
Case study: one organisation mapped out a simple calendar a year into the future. For each month, they listed the initiatives that would be conducted, or the new functionality that would be delivered.
This included projects such as improving intranet search, delivering a new staff directory, or creating a new centralised policy area.
A clear roadmap was created for the intranet team, demonstrating to the organisation that there was a plan for the future growth of the site. While it would be upwards of 12 months before some features would be delivered, the
organisation was prepared to be patient, as they could see the overall sequence of activities.
Look for opportunities where the intranet could help
Tip #6: Be proactive
Intranet teams should actively look for opportunities where the intranet could assist other business areas, or deliver benefits to the organisation.
All too often, major projects are developed in isolation, with the intranet team only contacted in the final weeks to ‘provide a link’ to the newly-created systems.
Other examples include major internal communications projects being developed with the intranet only considered as an afterthought.
In both these cases, the intranet should be proactive, directly contacting the relevant teams once they hear about the new initiatives.
The intranet team should then offer to assist with these projects, thereby ensuring alignment between intranet approaches and project activities.
Case study: one intranet manager asks to be invited to project meetings for a wide variety of important projects.
By simply sitting in on these meetings, they are able to get a clear picture of what is happening across the organisation. This is invaluable when planning intranet strategies, and allows the intranet team to volunteer assistance to the various business areas early on in their projects.
Tip #7: Be bold
Many intranet teams could do with being a little more courageous in their approach to managing the intranet.
This means ‘giving yourself the power’, and taking the initiative to make decisions about the design and direction of the intranet.
Intranet teams are often very hesitant to make strong decisions, being keenly aware of the power of internal politics, and the need to build consensus.
While managing intranet stakeholders is very important (see tip #4), organisations are almost always pleased to see someone actually take charge of the intranet with the goal of making it into something that is useful and used.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the motto: “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
Case study: an intranet manager was growing increasingly frustrated with her direct manager, who had little interest in the intranet and was not providing much support or assistance.
She approached the CEO of the whole organisation, and requested that the intranet team be moved to report to a different manager.
While the CEO was somewhat surprised by the request, he was happy to make the change. The intranet team is much happier and more effective in their new location in the organisation chart.
As the intranet manager said afterwards: “what did I have to lose by asking?”.
Tip #8: Have fun
Intranet teams are only effective if they are able to approach each new working day with some degree of enthusiasm and optimism.
While there is much hard work in creating and maintaining an intranet, the intranet team must ensure that they do not get ‘burnt out’ over time.
Intranet teams should therefore plan activities not only to meet organisational objectives, but also to focus on areas that they are interested in or enjoy.
In many cases, this comes back to delivering new functionality or tools on the site (see tip #5), or doing work that very directly (and visibly) benefits staff.
Case study: one intranet manager, when asked about their approach to the site replied: “I just go off and do things, I don’t ask for permission, I just do them”.
One example of this was a document that she noticed sitting on the desk of many of the executive. So she asked whether it would be useful to have an electronic version of this, so they could all collaborate on updating it.
This was received enthusiastically, so she went ahead and implemented something simple which worked well. Needless to say, the intranet team has much greater support from senior management now.
Intranet teams can often be overwhelmed by the task of maintaining and growing a large corporate site. With no clear direction for the site, the struggle with internal politics and competing stakeholder interests can be draining.
Intranet teams need to find for themselves a new leadership role, one that involves driving the intranet forward and making it into something that is valued and used by all staff.
This need not be an impossible task. There are a range of practical steps that can be taken to build the role of the intranet team, and to help them be even more effective.
This includes creating a clear vision for the intranet, and communicating this well. It also involves being proactive in finding intranet opportunities, and delivering new functionality (beyond just maintaining the current site).
Fundamentally, however, it involves having fun. If intranet teams are to be effective, they must find satisfaction in their jobs, enabling them to do the hard work that is required to make the intranet successful.