Why Communications Plays a Starring Role in Enterprise Search Success
Enterprise search is still considered a plug-in-and-use tool by many organizations: install, deploy, do some configuration — and it’s “done,” ready to go and easy to use.
Many great posts and articles have covered the complexity of implementation before (for example, on this site, Intranet Focus, Search Explained, etc.) — so let’s use this article to discuss communication and the soft skills needed for implementation.
The first question is when do we need to start communicating about enterprise search? Do we involve our users before the rollout? Or before the detailed planning phase?
Or is it enough to let them know when the rollout occurs?
Also, what do we need to communicate before, during and even after the rollout — or is it not necessary?
What Do You Need to Communicate Before an Enterprise Search Rollout?
Rolling out a new search application or a significant update requires preparation. And it’s much more than an IT challenge to solve.
Let’s suppose that every search project (be it a new implementation or 'only' an enhancement) begins by identifying the pain points and needs. Once the decision to move forward is made, it's time to start communicating.
Some organizations make an all-company announcement to inform all employees about the big news. Others prefer to keep it secret until the implementation is done, or at least enough is done to demonstrate.
In any case, it's critical to involve selected end users when collecting detailed requirements. These are the people who know what they really need. They’re the ones who know how they would use the relevant results. They’re the ones who know what is relevant and what isn't.
Of course, management always has opinions about search and findability, as well as needs and expectations.
But so do the end users.
Search is always a special application, because it’s used organization-wide, across business units, divisions, departments and job roles. It needs to provide help to everyone. This is why search requirements also have to be identified from multiple angles.
Selecting the end users for requirements gathering is a careful process. Internal communications teams may have a good idea of who to invite, but then ask the identified people in turn who they would like to invite. This way, the group of end users involved in requirements gathering is not limited to only people directly known by the comms team.
While interviewing these key users, doing surveys and workshops, the facilitator also has to watch for exceptionally engaged participants who will be good candidates for becoming Search Champions or Ambassadors later (see below).
And then, Internal Communications has one more very important responsibility: to prepare for the rollout, communicate, and set the end user expectations. The primary role of communication in this phase is to prepare the end users for what’s coming and what they can expect. It’s important to define and explain the goals of the project (or this phase), the features and/or enhancements to be implemented — as well as the boundaries, and what’s not included now.
This way, the end users will have realistic expectations — and if the communication is done well, they’ll also be eager and excited by the time of rollout, which can help a lot with general user adoption as well as the overall success of the project.
Related Article: Can Enterprise Search Be Reduced to Two Dimensions?
During and Post-Rollout Communication Needs
During the rollout phase, what the users need is three-dimensional:
Information: Any communication needs to be clear, easy-to-understand and focused. What can users expect, when and how? Where can they go to learn more or access support if needed? Who should they contact and how if they have a problem or question? (Which is where your search champions can help, too — more on them below).
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Education: Believe it or not, people will need search education. It could be as simple as a few quick videos or how-to posts or as involved as formal and informal training courses (online or in-person). There are many options to provide education. Whatever format you choose, people need to know where and how they can get education about the in-and-out features of search.
Support: End users need to know where and how they can get their questions answered. Whether it’s a central email address, a channel in Microsoft Teams, a forum or any other format — the way to secure support has to be clear and accessible for everyone. This channel should be monitored regularly for questions and to update any informational and educational materials.
All of your communications need to reach everyone in the organization, regardless of location, business unit, division, department or business role. Therefore, we need to create a multi-dimensional communication framework.
Related Article: Enterprise Search Procurement: Proof of Concept or Pilot?
How Do You Communicate?
Internal communication methods vary from organization to organization. For some, the intranet is the primary tool. Others still use email. Still others transitioned to Microsoft Teams. Some still hang flyers and posters in the lobby and kitchenettes (in physical offices it’s still a thing!).
The list of tools goes on .... And of course, most organizations use a combination of these.
The most important thing is to know where and how you can reach people.
Many organizations fall into the trap of believing search is self-explanatory. It is not! People need a clear message and to understand the (new) features and capabilities. If the message is unclear, or the communication isn't visible, search will be under-utilized — and users will never be satisfied with it.
And know this: The message “search sucks” flies with the speed of light. Go to the coffee machine and listen. You’ll always find someone complaining about search. Your official communications needs to compete with this!
Search Champions and Ambassadors
Besides internal communications (and IT), one more group can do a lot for the success of search: the search champions and ambassadors.
These people work in various roles across the organization. They’re engaged. They’re excited. They’re eager to learn. They’re happy to share feedback.
And they’re happy to be your allies to communicate with their colleagues.
Keep your eyes open and find the potential champions. Educate them. Socialize with them. Engage them. Support them. And they will amplify your message. They’ll be where the end users are and support them in-context and on-the-spot. They’ll be at the coffee machines and notice all the feedback — good or bad. They’ll be your formal and informal partners to achieve search success.
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About the Author
Agnes Molnar is the CEO and managing consultant of Search Explained. Agnes is an internationally-recognized expert in the fields of modern search applications, information architecture, and Microsoft technologies.