The four simple truths of Intranet

This month saw Investis host the first of many Intranet thought-leadership seminars. Over 45 people from 38 FTSE and multinational organisations filled the room made for 40, for what was to be an insightful if not somewhat snug gathering at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden.

In this post I summarise some of the key points discussed:

The workplace is out of date – Mike Boogaard (Investis)
I started off the event by revisiting the point I made in my last blog post about the workplace being based on a 20th century model even though we find ourselves in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. Coupled to this is the reality that consumerisation of IT is raising the user’s expectations: organisations that fail to improve both their digital workplace and access to up-to-date technology risk losing their best people to the competition.

I concluded, however, that there is a huge gap between what we as organisations are ready for and what the consultants and vendors are trying to sell. In most cases organisations are simply not ready for the utopian ‘totally mobile, social and collaborative network’ and simply need to focus on connecting people with people and people to information, achieving what I refer to as ‘networked productivity’ and ‘coordinated working practices’.

The Four Simple Truths of Intranet – Mark Smith (Investis)
Rather than focus on the big business transformation piece, Mark focused on four practical ways of ensuring your Intranet is fit for purpose.

1. Your Intranet doesn’t have to be ugly!
An ugly Intranet reflects a lack of investment and says to the user that the organisation doesn’t care (…and so why should the user?). Also, as people are working more from home and remotely, it is important that entering the Intranet gives the same sense of ‘brand feeling’ as walking into the physical office itself.

2. Make things simpler
A key win for an Intranet is if it is simple to use, easy to navigate and fast at finding information. The focus should therefore be on what you can take out rather than adding things in. Intranet managers should focus on eliminating complexity.

Mark gave the example of the mobile Intranet site of the UK parliament. Developed by Sharon O’Dea (then at the UK parliament), it is focused solely on what MPs really needed when on the move. Namely, alerts telling them when they needed to go into the house to vote , maps of the parliamentary estate and of course a list of bars and restaurants. A great example of making things really simple.

3. Use technology intelligently
Technology should never be the driver of a project, but the enabler. My approach is always to take a step back from technology as this allows me to focus on the needs of the business rather than be restricted from the outset on functionality. Technology needs to be used smartly to deliver content and tools that are relevant to users. Define your objectives and needs first, then select the technology to do it.

4. Put people at the centre of the Intranet
Lastly, Mark focused on the most important part of any Intranet: the users. He made it clear that content is not king, people are. This means focusing on the activities and requirements of the user rather than publishing pages. He concluded that by focusing on the users you will allow them to become more efficient, and efficient employees lead to efficient organisations.

Integrating social collaboration within your business – Bruce McKay (Jive)
Bruce focused on the benefits of integrating social collaboration for the organisation and gave 3 practical examples: Toshiba which achieved faster sales cycle, SAP which reduced product release cycles and News Corporation which reduced multiple Intranets to one.

They achieved this by improved access to information, easy scalibility, ideation and innovation, and improved general awareness.

But the best way to get a feel for what Jive can do is to watch this great video (put your headphones on!).

Simplifying the Intranet – Paul Hewitt (Deutsche Bank)
We are incredibly grateful to Paul who gave us some of his precious time to talk about DB’s initiative to simplify their Intranet and give a practical example of how they went about integrating their social collaboration platform into the workplace.

Below I have outlined the key points that I noted down:

1. Deutsche Bank has the same challenges as many of our clients: multiple intranets, several disparate and diverse systems, out-of-date content and a desire to make use of social collaboration.

2. Clearly defined roadmap – DB had a clearly defined roadmap, divided into four phases with well-defined activities and benefits per phase.

3. Solid social collaboration business case – DB launched their social collaboration platform to a select number within the organisation and let it go viral, but prior to launch they developed a clear strategy and solid business case for the implementation of the relevant platform, and were able to measure performance against these objectives. Their key objectives (each stream split into several activities) included reduction of service costs, consolidation of the Intranet, a focus on eliminating waste/duplication of work and decommissions the total number of tools used.

Paul concluded by highlighting some of the key opportunities that he believes DB’s social collaboration platform has to offer, which included: improved findability, visibility beyond your own division, a great way of driving traffic to the Intranet, and helping people connect to management.

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I would like to thank Mark, Bruce and Paul for their time and all the attendees for making it very interactive and insightful morning.

If you are interested in receiving a more detailed presentation of the event, please get in touch.

The Intranet and beyond…

As I will soon be hosting an event with the same title, I thought it might be interesting to give everyone a little taster of what I hope to cover with (a lot of) help from my colleague Mark Smith and some very interesting guest speakers.

By now, everyone has pretty much accepted that Intranets are important and a great way to help bring people closer to people and closer to information. Most businesses have some sort of Intranet and some of us are discussing the importance of ‘socialising’  Intranets and making them more collaborative.

But to understand where Intranets are headed, we have to understand the underlying trends and directions that are influencing our working lives.

Our lives have changed
Consider how the way we live our personal lives has changed over the past two decades: we socialise and make friends online (Facebook), everyone knows where we are (Foursquare), we are available any time (mobile), we buy anything anywhere (ecommerce), we only watch what we want to see (TV on-demand), we share our interest and knowledge (Twitter), we have total mobility (iPads, Smartphones) and we expect all of this at breakneck speed (4G and broadband).

I could go on and on about how our personal lives have been unrecognisably changed by technology…but that is only because I am old enough to remember what our lives were like 20 years ago. Most of the 20-something youngster joining the workforce today don’t know any different.

Our workplace needs to catch up
And yet, if we look at the way we work, very little has changed over the last two decades. In fact, if anything, the speed of organisations’ advancement has slowed down.

What does our office look like today? Pretty much the same as it did in the 1990’s. Back then we had open offices, coffee corners, networks and document drives. Some of us had PCs and others had laptops (ok, a bit bulkier and more expensive). We had email and mobile phones. Sure there have been some changes, but the sad truth is that back then our workplace offered us better infrastructures, connectivity and equipment , whilst today we now have better equipment and connectivity at home.

Fundamental change
It is not just about technology but about the way we structure our organisations. As people are becoming smarter, there is less need for traditional business hierarchies. As people start to collaborate, we need to adjust the way we approach targets and job remits. As people begin to share, authority will shift from those with fancy job titles to those with knowledge.

Essentially, the workspace should no longer be a place you go to but a thing you do. The office environment should become an extension of our digital workplace. People will not work 9-to-5 but whenever they are connected. We need to recognise achievements instead of just offering attractive compensation. Mobility (not mobile), collaboration and sharing need to become the focus, and we need to put in place solutions that will allow us to do all this effectively (hint: that is not by email!).

All of this will not be achieved immediately, and we will certainly not have all the answers at the event, but I do hope we will demonstrate ways in which you can start working towards this organisational revolution, and how to ensure your approach is flexible and future-proof enough to meet the challenges of the second decade of the 21st century.

The free breakfast seminar will be hosted at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden from 8.30am-10.30am on 10th October 2012. To register please visit: http://linkd.in/PtE38h (limited availability).

See you there!

Lonely at the top: how a CEO drives employee engagement

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s Continental Airlines was ranked bottom of nearly every category used to measure airline performance. The company went through 10 CEOs in a decade, had to ask for bankruptcy protection twice and, at it’s lowest point, made losses of over $600m per year.

When Gordon Bethune took over as CEO in 1994, the situation looked hopeless. But he quickly realised that the origin of the problem was (mainly) down to one major failing: a complete and fundamental lack of employee engagement. In fact, employees were mistreated and mistrusted. The employees themselves were embarrassed to work at Continental. There was no pride and certainly no pleasure in going to work.

This lack of pride and enjoyment inevitably led to slow turnarounds at airports, lack of cleanliness of the planes, delays and most importantly of all total customer dissatisfaction. People didn’t fly Continental for their pleasure. The result: a hugely unprofitable airline.

Bethune, implemented the basics of employee engagement. He instilled pride, explained that the cleanliness of the planes wasn’t just important for the customer, but for the staff themselves. They had to work in the planes. He started giving the staff bonuses every month the business made a profit (sending a separate cheque at the end of the month to make sure they knew it!). And he got stuck in. He could often be found loading luggage with ground staff or getting feedback directly from cabin crew.

The result? The year Bethune took over the company made $250m profit. It was soon at the top of all the rankings and the stock price rose from $2 per share to $50 per share, it was voted ‘best place to work’ for 6 consecutive years and in his last year (2004), Fortune magazine voted Continental Airlines No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline (which it has won many times since then).

So, what can we learn from Bethune’s activities? How can we translate these into a digital comms language? Here are some ideas on how you as a CEO can use your digital channels to cultivate employee engagement, instil pride and get your team behind you:

CEO Participation – the biggest lesson we can surely take from this success story is the importance for the CEO to ‘get stuck in’. It is not just about getting senior management and/or CEO ‘buy-in’ for the Intranet (or social collaboration platform). It is all about actual participation. You need to be using the same systems that your staff are using. If you use it, the rest of the organisation will follow suit (and you will gain a better understanding of any limitations and/or benefits).

CEO blog – a great way of getting the team behind you is by communicating to them. And one of the most effective ways (time/cost) of doing that is through a blog. Although slightly more time consuming than participation, CEO blogs are hugely powerful instruments that enable you to address potentially sensitive issues, cultivate enthusiasm for new projects, and communicate the management’s vision and the company’s performance.

CEO Q&A – another very effective idea, and very easy to implement for the more social platforms, is the creation of a version of ‘prime minister question time’ or internal CEO Q&A session. Run as regularly as it suits the business, this will allow staff from all levels of the organisation to ask questions and for you to address them. Yes, this means you will sometimes face difficult issues, but the reality is they are better addressed than left to fester.

Video & webcasting – it doesn’t replace the importance of face-to-face presentations, but in organisations that are geographically dispersed or simply too large to get everyone in one room, video and webcasting is the perfect way for employees to get a closer to the CEO. Webcasting, in particular, is a great way to draw people to the Intranet at the same time, with a common sense of purpose and allow you to address the whole organisation as one. Rich content is also becoming more and more important to Intranets, so consider a quarterly corporate update video, and a video for new starters welcoming them on-board (simple but extremely effective).

KPIs – the lack of importance given to communicating company performance internally always amazes me. Companies are quite willing to spend fortunes on end of year reports and IR sections (which are clearly also important), but don’t seem to understand the importance of communicating this information internally. A company performance section should be a standard for your Intranet if you want to gain real employee engagement. Simple: to cultivate pride, tell them how you are doing when you are doing well. If the company is doing badly, discussing performance figures can help rally the troops.

Conclusion:

Essentially, all the above are digital examples of how you can achieve two things: ‘getting stuck in’ and open communication. Open communication builds trust and pride. Getting stuck in shows awareness, interest and understanding.

These are the pillars on which employee engagement is built.

The workplace is becoming an ‘i’-mocracy

Recently I posted a question on LinkedIn asking people: what they thought the workplace would look like in 5 to 10 years time. My reason was extremely selfish, as it is a question that I have to ask myself quite a lot in my line of work, and thought I would make my life easier by getting other people to answer it for me. For 2 days I waited and waited. Nothing!

Then slowly but surely people started to respond and a week or so later there are 20 comments from people all over the world giving their personal vision of the future of their workplaces. And as I don’t want to be selfish any longer, I want to share some main points raised, and my conclusion with you.

Mobility & flexibility

Almost all the comments to some degree or other touched on mobility being a major influencing factor in the future. Organisations need to embrace mobility and provide their staff with the tools not only to access data but to interact with it wherever they may be (and across multiple devices!).

Collaboration

I was fully expecting this, as it is the single most talked about topic in my conversations with clients. How can we become more collaborative? How can we crowd-source more effectively? Ideation and gamifaction are of course always darting in and out of this conversation, but the reality is that organisations need to stop pretending they are collaborating and really provide substantial tools (and culture!) that enable effective and meaningful collaboration.

Fluid workspace

I loved this expression, as it immediately conjures up visions of what that would look like. The conversation around this went well beyond hot-desking or open spaced offices. As Joyce put it: imagine a big open space with clusters around projects and the ability to join in the various clusters that are relevant to you. Picture leaders walking around this big space and almost indistinguishable for the other participants.

A bit too far out? No!… That is what social intranets or ESN are all about! The technology is real and it is here accessible to all.

Bringing order to chaos

Another point made was around environments that have less noise, and are less chaotic. I interpret this to mean that information is easy to find. Relevant conversations and content are easily identifiable. Relevant people stand out from the crowd.  The mad rush to find content is over. The confusion about who reports to who and who is involved in what are things from the past. Bliss.

BYOD (Bring your own device)

Not longer than ten years ago, we used to go to work because that is where we had access to (fast) internet connections,  the latest computer and some of us were given mobile phones we didn’t need to pay for. Those were perks. Fast forward to today, and the reality is totally inverse. Our personal mobile phone is the latest smartphone on an ‘all you can eat’ data and call package. It is sync’ed with our iPad (or tablet), giving us access to all our songs, photos and other content in a totally seamless way. We have a stylish thin laptop or a top of the range, faster than lighting PC. At work? We are lucky if we get a Dell Latitude laptop and a poxy 3G iPhone.

What does that mean? It means that there is a massive disconnect between our expectations of user-experience and tools that we are expected to work with. Companies will have to focus on improving the user-experience and move away from “they should be happy they are getting a phone” to providing the employees with tools that at least match what they have in their personal lives. Or they will have to accept “bring our own”, and iron out any security issues that may imply.

© Hollywood Pictures

Conclusion:

Reading the above and the response on the Linkedin page, one thing becomes clear to me: we are shaping our own workplace. The balance of power is shifting and employers are having to play catch up to our demands.We share our private lives (FB, Twitter, etc.) – so businesses have to provide platforms that allow us to share (collaborate) our working lives.

We have cool toys – businesses will have to provide us with cool toys or accept that we will bring our own to work.

We value our time – businesses are going to have to provide more flexibility and the ability to work any time anywhere, or we will look for other places to work.

The workplace is no longer feudal (dedicated top down), nor is it a democracy (lets all work it out together).

The workplace is an i-mocracy – I decide!

Thank you the all the participants of the LinkedIn discussion: Stephen RussellSumit RoyLinda BjorkBala SubraStephen RussellPiyush MangalIvan IsaacsMatthew AikenMikko MalmivaaraRandy HerbertsonCatherine Zang, MBAJoyce Wilson-Sanford

A Merry Christmas and a Digital New Year

Is it wrong to say “It has been a great year!”? Well, there… I have said it. And it is true!

I know the credit crisis has affected us all, budgets are shrinking and we have to fight much harder to win new clients and bring in projects.

But working hard is only a negative if you don’t enjoy what you are doing. I am very lucky that I love what I do.

Secondly, although it is true that budgets are shrinking, there is always spare cash for great ideas. It just means that we have to work smarter and give our clients more. This arrangement can sometimes feel a little one sided, but my experience has shown that a little more effort does pay off.

For me 2011 has been the year of the Intranet. Although I have been active in public facing digital work, I have found the developments in internal communication the most fascinating and exciting. There has been a massive shift in the perception of importance of Intranets amongst large corporate clients.

The realisation that Intranets are more than just document repositories and address books is now commonplace. The focus on making them more collaborative, most significantly through Social Collaboration (social media, social networking, social listening, etc.) has allowed me to work on some exciting projects this year (and get involved in some heated but interesting debates).

My prediction for 2012: Intranets will no longer be treated as a ‘bit of software’ but as communications platforms that need/deserve the same strategic approach as Above The Line advertising has enjoyed for decades. And why not? Every Intranet user is after all a consumer, and should be treated as such.

So for my Intranet recommendations for 2012: focus on tasks and platform delivery (namely mobile) and consider the importance of adoption campaigns (think advertising!) as well as introducing (very) rich content.

Public facing digital: there is still a lot to do in 2012…we need to work hard at making our solutions more distinguished! We have had personalised content for a while now, but in the coming year we need to make sure that web sites know what we are looking for before we do (intelligent personalisation)!

That is it for me for 2011 – festive greetings, merry Christmas but most importantly…have a digital New Year!

Mike

An Intranet is not just for Christmas!

I admit that the title is a little obvious given the time of the year but that makes it all the more appropriate for the purpose of this article.

For those who are not sure what an Intranet is, I am afraid the Wikipedia definition is not particularly helpful and will probably only add to any existing confusion. Essentially an Intranet is an internal platform that allows people within an organisation to share documents and content.

Most of the businesses I work with already have an Intranet, or even several Intranets. They have had them for several years. However, all too often, their purpose has long been forgotten. It is there and people use it but mainly to order sandwiches or as a very expensive common address book, and the organisation might use it to force-feed corporate news that nobody reads. A little harsh…yes, but true!

Most of these Intranets were set up with the best intentions, but after they were deployed, or sticking with the Christmas analogy ‘unwrapped’, there was initial excitement but after a few months they were left to fend for themselves. Not unlike most Christmas presents.

So what makes a good Intranet…one that is not left abandoned?

  1. Good looks – yes, sadly in the Intranet world, good looks are key. Users are now so used to seeing attractive web content and web sites, that an Intranet simply has to follow suit if it to stand a chance. This doesn’t mean bells and whistles but it needs to looks alive and engaging.
  2. Address business issues – the Intranet is one of the most effective mechanism to address change, cultural divides, HR challenges, collaboration. Make sure you have clearly defined business objectives and that the Intranet is addressing them. Don’t try to hide from the negative issues and challenges either. Your staff know they exist…so use the Intranet to deal with them.
  3. Content, content, content – it is all about the content. Make sure that you know what the users are looking for and surface it in the right place. Create content owners and content focus groups. Train people on how to create interesting content. Provide guidance through ‘how to guides’.
  4. Accessibility & mobility – according to the Office for National Statistics mobile internet usage is now nearing 50%. Consider your users. How are they accessing information? Would they (and therefore the business) benefit from a mobile (or even multi-device) friendly version. These can be easily implemented using platforms like SharePoint or Sitecore at a negligible cost, but with considerable benefits.
  5. Communicate & market – promote your Intranet, launch it with a bang and keep promoting it.’Build it and they will come’ might have worked in Field of Dreams, but it doesn’t work for Intranet. An Intranet needs to be supported by communication and marketing campaigns. A nice example I saw last week was a client of mine offering an iPod to the person who invited the most colleagues to set up their MySite.
  6. Dedicated core team(s) and buy-in from the boss – create core teams that are responsible for the Intranet and its content. Get senior management to set the example. One of my clients runs a great blog on their SP2010 Intranet. Hugely popular and throws down the gauntlet to the rest of the organisation.
  7. Governance – I know…it sound bureaucratic and maybe even a little dull…but it is essential. Strong governance is a critical component of a well managed and effective intranet. A governance model will provide clarity, give purpose to the content and avoid duplicating effort and costs. Consider not just an operational but also a content governance model.
  8. Measure success – statistics and analytics are used for public facing web sites, but rarely on the radar for Intranets. Metrics are hugely important to know what people are visiting, how they are getting there and where they are exiting (read losing interest). I would strongly suggest monthly evaluations!

Finally…An Intranet is not just for Christmas!…Build on it, let it evolve, refresh it, reassess its functionality, measure its effectiveness and keep your fingers on the pulse of technology. Tomorrow social media will be today’s fax machine. Digital moves fast and your Intranet should be at the cusp of technology because most of your users are.

Merry Christmas and festive seasons greetings to all!