What Purpose Does Your Intranet Serve?
Intranets have been around for quite some time, yet I've found that how the intranet team and especially management perceives an intranet dictates how it is developed and the magnitude of its impact on an organization.
The Intranet as a Website for the Employees
Intranets are most commonly perceived in this light, as a means to share items of interest with employees.
The objective in this case is to facilitate access to helpful news, articles, documents and tools for employees.
The intranet is built by asking employees what they want or need. Most times, such intranets would include company news and available apps, In some cases, they provide support for the employee’s top tasks.
The management of the intranet is mostly done by internal comms, HR, IT or marketing, all of which are support departments. Contribution to the intranet can be centralized to a small team of editors or decentralized to representatives from all departments.
People managing such an intranet will often speak about content. The value of the content is based on the traffic it generates and the likes and comments it receives. Regular content reviews make sure a piece of content that for example has not been updated for a year could automatically be deleted as it is considered to be no longer relevant.
If employees are using such an intranet, it means it is a good intranet, it is fulfilling its role. In such a case managers would look at the traffic volume, daily visits and comments, and survey the satisfaction of the employees with the intranet.
While most of the employees and management agree that good communication is important for a company, the impact is rather difficult to assess, and it is mostly an indirect one.
This is one of the key reasons why most intranets are underdeveloped and underfunded.
Related Article: Intranets Mirror Their Organizations – The Good and the Bad
The Intranet as a Support System for All Tasks Within a Company
Whatever task an employee must perform, certain resources will be managed by the intranet: related procedures, product descriptions, training resources, links to the app that is supporting the task, operational announcements, support contacts and so on.
As a result, you can look at the intranet as a critical business support system that helps employees perform any relevant task within the company.
In this case, the intranet is basically a way for the company to structure all the resources required for the company processes to work. The intranet is a platform for each process owner to run their process with their internal customers.
The objective of the intranet here is to help employees meet and exceed operational standards, to help with change management or with integration of new employees — on top of the objectives of a more traditional intranet.
Instead of asking what employees want or need, a task-centric intranet is built around all the internal processes that make the company work. These are the topics of your intranet.
There is no need to run countless workshops and employee interviews, as these processes should be well-known in most organizations. If you don’t have a list of processes, then building up this list would be the first step towards improving the organization in your company.
For every such process, you can structure the resources the employees need with the help of why (motivate the employee), how (describe the process with the help of procedures, training materials, FAQs, support contacts, app links) and what (help your employee by managing their tasks) model.
So, for any relevant topic within the company, the employee can easily find all the topic related resources in one place.
Such a system isn't built around top employee tasks. Think for a moment how a watch is built. The watch maker does not focus on the top cogs to work properly, but rather all the components must work well in tandem to deliver a good output. The same approach must be applied to an intranet.
The word “content” is used almost exclusively by the communicators and IT while businesspeople seldom use it. Instead, they speak about processes, procedures, operational changes, training resources, support requests, compliance, quality, change management and so on.
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The content review process has a totally different approach. You do not publish something only to review it after six or 12 months. All topic-related content exists on the intranet with a single purpose, to facilitate all the topic-related tasks. If business has changed, the content must change immediately as it affects task execution. If an article is obsolete, you discard it right away because it might confuse employees.
Intranet management here is decentralized to every process owner as the intranet is their communication and delivery channel for their process.
On top of this structure there must be a governance body. Their task is a lot easier as the process owners have a more natural drive to maintain their intranet content as it helps them do their job better and easier.
The governance body should have a strong representation of core business functions, as it's there the company creates its value.
The metrics for such a system go down to the level of each process: productivity, task completion rates, rework or support costs, compliance levels, easy of change management, awareness of some important topics, ease of integrating new employees and so on.
These indicators are very easily linked with most of the company’s KPIs and, as a result, it is very easy for the management to support the development of such an intranet.
Look again at the indicators I mentioned for the first kind of intranet: are they still relevant here? Traffic is not necessarily a relevant indication. Take as an example a page where employees could report a security breach. Such a page would have a minimal traffic over an entire year, yet it is critically important that when a breach is suspected such a page exists. Also, a piece of news regarding a change in time-off policy might not have significant views when it is published, but it will be viewed mostly before the holiday season when people will be very interested in this topic.
Because the design of the intranet is aimed at improving process execution, the impact on the company results is a lot more visible and easier to quantify by management. Your intranet initiative is more likely to receive executive support and funding because they understand the relationship between a good intranet and the execution of company processes, including the critical topics of customer and employee experience. The intranet will provide with support for all customer-related processes. Also, improving the execution of all tasks within the company has a great impact on the experience of the employees, especially when working in hybrid scenarios.
Related Article: Why Asking Employees What They Want From an Intranet Might Not Be the Best Idea
Does the Role of Internal Communication Change in a Process-Centric Intranet?
Seeing the intranet as a critical business system does not reduce the use of the intranet for the role of general internal communication. On the contrary, internal communication is a process like any other internal process. Also, because the intranet is helping the employees do their work better, its value as an internal communication medium in the eyes of the employees is increasing.
How About Employee Apps?
These apps basically perform the same role as the intranet for deskless employees, yet the delivery medium is different. So, both design perspectives apply here as well.
The Role of Enterprise Social Networks
Such functionalities are essential to the success of an intranet, no matter which approach you take. In a process-oriented intranet the ESN provides an additional, less formal communication layer to not only help employees with their work, but also makes them feel like they are part of something bigger than their own (home) office.
Every intranet aims to support company’s processes to a certain extent. Yet, having a comprehensive approach will help you better focus your efforts on having the biggest possible impact on your colleagues and your employees.
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About the Author
Cristian Salanti is working as a Digital Employee Experience Architect at Zenify.net. He has been developing Intranets for the past 20 years. He is advocating for a more practical, managerial approach to Digital workplace design.