Declining trust defines new role for intranets

Trust

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, published last week, finds a deepening sense of distrust in governments, businesses and institutions. The annual global study, which questioned 30,000 people in 25 countries, reveals a dramatic shift in the value people place in information sources – which, in turn, has some interesting implications for communicators and intranet managers.

Across the globe, blame for the financial and political chaos of 2011 landed at the doorstep of government, as trust in that institution fell nine points to 43 per cent. In seventeen of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right. In twelve, it trails business, media and non-governmental organizations as the least trusted institution.

The private sector fared slightly better: trust in business fell from 56 percent to 53 percent, with countries like France and Germany, in the heart of the Eurozone economic crisis, experiencing double-digit decreases.

“Business is now better placed than government to lead the way out of the trust crisis,” said CEO Richard Edelman. “But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit.”

One of the biggest changes over the past year is the decline in trust in CEOs, which fell by 12 points. Faith in government officials fell like a stone too this year, down 14 points to just 29 per cent. It’s not unreasonable to assume this is reflected inside organisations too, so many will want to look again at CEO blogs as a means of increasing visability and trust in senior leadership. Over on Intranetizen, Jonathan gives some sterling advice on making executive blogs work.

Employee advocacy could be one way out of the mire. The survey found that credibility in average employees rose dramatically this year, so they are now the most trusted resource within an organisation. To capitalise on this, organisations must work harder to ensure their employees are informed and engaged – and then trust them to talk on the company’s behalf. This approach – what Edelman call radical transparancy – empowers employees to drive the conversation amongst their peers.

But to do this, organisations and leaders need to trust their employees first; companies which block access to social networks are preventing their employees from advocating on their behalf, and so missing a huge opportunity to engage with customers.

The barometer found people need to hear the same information about a company three to five times before they will believe it. This emphasises the importance of a proper communciations strategy which mixes on and offline channels to ensure the message gets out there. 

At the same time, trust in social networks as sources of information grew  by 75 per cent over the past year. Smart companies, then, will take advantage of this and embrace the value of conversations (by employees and the public) as a means of establishing identity and trust.

One corollary of this is that the growth in use of social networks, both internally and externally, means news travels fast. Employees can easily find information about their own company online, and all too often will hear (and believe) news from external sources before they do from their own manager.

This has huge implications for company transparency; corporate communciations structures need to keep pace with the changes. A good, social intranet – and improved access to these from a range of devices – gives organisations the means by which they can get their message to staff before they hear it from elsewhere. But this isn’t just a case of building it – leadership buy-in, and changes to the way corporate comms work with social intranets are essential to make it work.

Edelman’s report sets out long- and short-term approaches to rebuilding trust. In the short term, trust in a business is firmly tied to the bottom line. But future trust is more strongly linked to softer, societally-focused factors such as business ethics, placing customers ahead of profits and treating employees well. In the current environment, informed, engaged employees are best placed to communicate that message to the public – and intranets have a vital role to play in building that engagement.

Photo credit: Thorinside on Flickr

Networking for #intranet managers

In my latest post over at Intranetizen, I’ve pulled together my recommendations for intranet pros on networking with others in the industry.

Always one to eat my own dogfood, this week we’re holding the fourth Internal Communications Teacamp. The theme this time around is internal comms and employee engagement.

As ever, IC Teacamp is open to all internal communciations practitioners, in any industry or discipline. No need to book or RSVP – just come along to Cafe Zest, on the second floor of House of Fraser in Victoria Street SW1, from 4pm tomorrow (18th January).

If you can’t make it, follow the action on the #iceteacamp hashtag.

Agile for communications

In my former life as a communicator, we planned communications campaigns using the ROSIE principle:

  • Research: Why is this needed, and what do we already know?
  • Objective: What (SMART) outcomes are we trying to achieve?
  • Strategy: How, broadly, are we going to achieve our objective?
  • Implementation:  Specifically, what are we going to do and when?
  • Evaluation: How will we measure what we’ve done and prove we’re successful?

 Diagram showing the ROSIE model of campaign planning

As the old adage goes, fail to plan and you plan to fail. But problems arise because projects, be they in communications or software engineering, can fail to deliver results when they focus on the plan and not on the objective.

ROSIE, much like PRINCE2 and other project management methodologies, works on the waterfall principle of sequential design.

Waterfall is the model which is used for the step-by-step production of physical products, in which after-the-fact changes are difficult or impossible. The problem with this approach is that by sticking to the plan you bet large, and if you fail, you fail bad.

So from the late 80s onwards, software engineers slowly came to the realisation that their products are fundamentally different, and so a different approach is needed.  The result was Agile software development, a group of software development methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams.

There are, broadly, three main reasons why agile methodology has taken off in software engineering:

  • First, there’s an increased awareness of complexity. There isn’t always one answer, and there’s rarely one means of getting people to where we want them to go. Realities are usually more nuanced. This means focussing on incremental progress toward goals rather than a ‘big bang’ win.
  • Secondly, there’s an understanding that work doesn’t exist in isolation, and its success (or otherwise) is often a result of factors outside of our direct control.
  • Finally, a realisation that we’re working with systems and people, not tangible things, so we need to stop thinking like engineers.

And here’s where I see many parallels with communications strategy. Campaigns, too, are not tangible objects, so we shouldn’t apply the same project management methods to them as we might for a car or a widget.

In creating and delivering a communications campaign, you’re dealing with people (notoriously fickle as they are), complex organisations and myriad factors beyond your control – whether that’s a cultural trend, a rival campaign or even some freak weather.

All this leads me to think that agile project management could drive success in strategic communications campaigns. By being aware of complexity and externality, communicators can free their resources up to focus on the objective rather than simply the plan.

So what does that really mean in a communications context?

When planning communications strategies, we treat the strategy as unmovable. But really, it’s the objective which should be the constant. Our strategy and our implementation plan should shift in the face of changing context in order to deliver the outcome.

Agile privileges individuals over processes and tools, outputs over documentation, collaboration over documentation, and responding to change over following a plan.

Twelve principles underlie the Agile Manifesto. And while these don’t easily map to communications work, there’s some broad principles here which could bring agility to communications campaigns (this borrows heavily from Catherine Howe’s session on Agile Policymaking at UKGovCamp).

Proposed model for agile in communications campaigns

Keep in mind your goal rather than your plan. Catherine notes the old army adage “no plan survives contact with the enemy”; keep the objective in mind but change the plan and circumstances change.

So in practice this could mean that while you have a series of printed communications planned for successive months, an agile approach would mean reviewing honestly after the first one and changing your approach in the face of success or failure. This means senior stakeholders need to sign off on the objective but trust their teams to deliver it as they see fit.

This means having a different attitude to risk. Agile breaks things down into smaller chunks to make it manageable. This means you can fail fast, but fail cheaply.

There are myriad examples of comms campaigns that just haven’t clicked at the off. But there’s often also an unwillingness to admit when things just haven’t worked, leading us to pretend all campaigns are somehow successful (this is especially true for agencies, in my experience). We need to be mature enough to admit failure and change our plans accordingly in order to achieve our objectives. That way we can support innovation and reduce the cost of failure (with campaigns failing early and cheaply rather than late and expensively).

And that means looking at small, incremental changes rather than a ‘big bang’ approach. For communications this makes a lot of sense – our focus is people and we usually want them to change their  attitudes or behaviours. That’s a slow process, and rarely should we expect anything other than incremental change.

Expecting a ‘big bang’ change in people’s mindsets or long-held habits is setting ourselves up for failure – real people just don’t work like that. We need to work in manageable stages and learn from success or failure as we go along. This way we can show incremental improvements while reducing communication failure.

And in order to do that, we need to test our work as we go along. Then you can adapt your approach based on evidence of what works or doesn’t.

Granted, there’s a world of difference between testing code and testing communications campaigns, but using things like metrics and pulse surveys we can begin to build a robust evidence base on which to plan our next steps. This, in turn, can reduce risk and reduce costs.

But testing shouldn’t be for testing’s sake; we need to work flexibly and adjust our plans in the face of new evidence. As Catherine Howe comments “Good ideas can be the wrong solution and serendipity can happen”.

In agile projects teams are usually cross-functional and self-organising with a flat management structure. Team members normally take responsibility for tasks that deliver the desired outcome. They decide individually how to meet requirements, increasing accountability.

It’s a team-based approach in everyone’s skills are valued and everyone has a responsibility for making it happen.

Central, too, is the end user or audience. In web development we use User Stories, which take the format of:

As a…

I want…

So that…

Using a similar user-centred approach to communications would help shift the focus from pleasing senior stakeholders to simply achieving the stated objective (for instance, changing the thoughts, feelings or behaviours of the target audience). In agile we constantly refer back to the user stories, placing the user – not the person with the purse strings – at the heart of what we do.

In employee engagement, we talk a lot about co-production as the engagement holy grail. Agile seems to me an important shift in the right direction, with campaigns and messaging driven by user (audience) requirements rather than the whims of stakeholders, and increasing their sense of ownership.

Finally, being agile relies on frequent, open communication, with people being kept in the loop every day. This is helped by working in small teams and open offices, with the aid of a quick, daily meeting called a stand-up. Communication should be open and honest, focussing on what’s going wrong as well as that which is going right.

But…

Like any project management methodology, there are dangers of sticking to it rigidly like some kind of cult. Practitioners can and should borrow those elements which work for them and adapt them to suit the circumstances.

The language of agile – with its scrums, stand-ups, smells, pigs and chickens – can be offputting. But the principles of making work more flexible and responsive to change have potential to drive forward projects in communications and many other fields besides.

In many, probably most, organisations, taking an agile approach to projects and campaigns outside of IT is going to mean a big cultural shift. The waterfall mindset is deeply ingrained in almost every project; changing that mindset so that stakeholders accept plans will constantly change isn’t going to be easy. It requires trust on the part of stakeholders and bean-counters, and getting that is going to require a hard selling job emphasising the rewards that come from reducing large-scale failure, and in some cases a big leap of faith.

Silly season

We’re all familiar with the concept of silly season in the media. With the World Cup well and truly over, politicians on recess, schools on holiday and the courts shut for a few weeks, the papers are left scratching around for something to fill what the Germans call sommerloch – the summer [news] hole.

And so, too for internal communicators. With so many colleagues away, decisions aren’t being made and there’s a dearth of campaigns, updates or announcements. This means publications are unfilled and intranet pages reek of last week.

But while the papers have an endless supply of celebrity trivia and the annual parade of attractive a-level students picking up their results, corporate communicators have no such luxury. So how do we deal with slow news days?

Catch up with old news. With some space and time to spare, have a look back at the past few months and think about projects or initiatives which didn’t get as much attention as they deserved at the time. Are there any updates? Can you report on progress? You might earn a few brownie points by giving them some publicity now.

Recognition. Hertzberg’s work on motivation found a significant proportion of people are motivated to work because of the recognition they get for it. With budgets tightening and under-inflation payrises talked about for many, now’s the time to focus on those non-financial rewards and motivations. By taking the opportunity to recognise the hard work our colleagues have been putting in, we can better motivate them to say, stay and strive.

Admit defeat. Silly season is an international phenomenon – one familiar in offices around the globe. With so many colleagues – especially those with children – away, making significant changes or announcements is always going to prove difficult; any important communications made now might be missed by those colleagues who are away.

Why not take some time to focus on some housekeeping tasks, to make sure your intranet is running smoothly, ready to hit the ground running in September (I’m tidying up our A-Z, which is proving more interesting than it sounds!)

How do you deal with slow news days on your intranet? Does it even bother you? Post your comments.

Organisational communication 2020

This was the 50th meeting of the London Communicators and Engagement Group, an informal monthly meetup of (mostly internal) communicators. After 50 meetings you’d think organiser Matt O’Neill would be out of topics to cover – but you’d be wrong.

This time, Matt invited David Galipeau (from eighty20.org /United Nations/Academia) to deliver a mini exposition into the future of communications. In a futuristic spirit he delivered his talk – on where he sees communications of the future heading – using a Skype video link from Geneva.

David Galipeau off Red Dwarf

In practice, this gave him the disjoined, disbodied appearance of Holly from Red Dwarf. But it worked surprisingly well – so that’s another nail in the coffin for international business travel, perhaps.

As Matt said in his introduction to the event, communicators are focussing on how we can use social media tools to improve organisational communication now and in the immediate future. But are the implications for the future? ‘Is this just the start of an emerging pattern that will fundamentally change the way organisations talk internally and externally?’ asked Matt.

He’d also suggested we take a look at some of Galipeau’s work ahead of the event. Alas, I was in a rush, and when I took a look at this, I thought ‘arrgh!’ and closed my browser tab.

Galipeau’s talk was almost as difficult to digest. I know he’s an academic, but I suspect I was one of the more geeky communicators in the room, and still quite a lot of what he said went right over my head. I’m not sure whether those who weren’t digital natives really knew what he was talking about for much of the time.

For example, Galipeau talked about the implementation of IPV6. For the lay reader – that’s most of you, I suspect – our IP addresses are currently based on IPV4, but we are fast running out of numbers. IPV6, Adrian Short told me via the Twitter back channel, will give us gives 6.5 x 1023 addresses for every square metre on Earth.

The arrival IPV6 will enable an ‘Internet of Things’ in which everything down to your slippers will have its own IP address. Your TV will speak to your fridge, and your supermarket trolley to your bank.

This, he contended, means the interweb is entering a new and much darker phase, quite different to the hippy free-for-all we’ve come to know. The internet is already slowing down thanks to tens of thousands of DOS attacks taking place daily. This, he said, is an early sign totalitarian nutjobs are engaged in cyber attacks and counter hacks, and the threat of industrial and political espionage is growing.

He gave groups that protested against Scientology as an example of this – yet didn’t really elaborate what was new about this threat other than giving people the ability to self-organise.

What was odd about the talk was that the speaker achieved the rare feat of going right over people’s heads while at the same time getting some real basics completely wrong. For instance, he talked about ‘crowdsourcing’, giving the example of “bringing people together to all dance in the station at the same time”.

This isn’t crowdsourcing, it’s flashmobbing. Crowdsourcing means drawing on the wisdom of the crowd in order to inform your own decision-making. It has a purpose, and increasingly it has real value for individuals and corporations. It can be as simple as putting a shout out on Twitter to gather some lazy reasearch, or as complex as wiki-style policy formation.

Simply framing it in terms of simply bringing people together for no discernable purpose really undermined Galipeau’s credibility, and this was reflected in the Twitter stream.

Galipeau went on to argue strongly what organisations are becoming more centralised, and in particular decision-making is becoming more centralised within organisations. But as he didn’t elaborate on why he believed this to be so, or what evidence pointed in this direction, I wasn’t convinced (particualrly as it doesn’t chime with what so many of us internal communicators are working towards).

I was glad, then, of the surprise appearance of engagement guru John Smythe. His excellent book – CEO: Chief Engagement Officer – focuses on how organisations can deliver increased engagement, and improved productivity, by opening up and moving towards a culture of co-creation.

When Smythe asked the speaker to give examples of research that proved the opposite, Galipeau muttered something about unpublished research commissioned by the US military, which didn’t convince me at all.

I am far more convinced by Smythe’s thesis than Galipeau’s, not least because the latter appears to run contrary to so much of what I see going on in government and business. There are already countless examples of companies successfully democratising decision making both with employees and customers.

Smythe has challenged Galipeau to a debate on this, which he very grudgingly accepted. I really hope this happens.

My objections to Galipeau’s thesis are, I admit, partly emotional. He presented a remarkably gloomy vision of the future, in which the individual is powerless and the corporate centre is an omniscient Orwellian beast.

Nonetheless, it provided an interesting counterbalance to the the highly positive future envisaged by theorists like Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater. Shirky, as I’ve blogged about before, sketches out future in which technology enables public participation on a scale never before seen. He says that ‘for the first time, we have the tools to make group action truly a reality. And they’re going to change our whole world.’

So there’s a concensus that techology will radically change our relationship with organisations and the state. For me, at least, the balance of evidence would suggest Smythe and Shirky’s culture of co-creation is on the rise.

If Galipeau’s talk got you reaching for the anti-depressants, check out Us Now, a film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet. It’s a rather more cheerful view of the digital future.

UKGC10 Session two: Socialising Internal Communications

The second session of the day was the one I was looking forward to the most, having discussed it ahead of the event with Kim Willis and Mark Watson.

Kim took the lead on facilitating, but as it turns out the discussion managed to veer though the full swathe of internal comms issues without the need for much facilitating at all. It seemed like we covered an awful lot in under an hour, and could have talked for at least another hour.

Almost everyone agreed  social media could play a much bigger role in internal communications, but within the public sector at least there hasn’t been widespread adoption yet.

Someone described social networking as “what intranets are supposed to be” – enabling you to connect and collaborate with colleagues, share information and improve communication.

A social intranet enables the recording and sharing of organisational knowledge. But while knowledge management looks at how we manage our intellectual capital, we need also to look at how we record, share and pass on social capital too – that is, sharing that knowledge of people and processes that we all build up over time.

Shane Dillion said we rely too much on traditional, top-down methods of communication that no longer suit the way we work. To become more effective, everything we learn outside the organisation should be bought back in and shared.

By enabling colleagues to connect with one another, and by making working lives a little bit easier, good social intranets have a positive impact on employee engagement too.

Many cited middle management as a barrier to adoption of social media. In some ways this is understandable, as social internal comms reduces the middle managers role as a gatekeeper of information.

Our current organisational structures are built for command and control, not collaboration. So the success of internal social media  depends on moving management towards a culture of co-creation.

The question of culture is a very important one. Technology cannot itself create a collaborative culture; if people aren’t talking to each other already, introducing social tools isn’t going to make them.

Other common barriers include silo culture and concerns around security, particularly in relation to things like Government Connect. Platforms like Yammer are incredibly simple to use, and have some great functionality, but sitting outside the firewall are considered too risky by many.

(As an aside, while I like Yammer, I find its default email setting – which emails for every notification – begins to grate remarkably quickly and is itself a barrier to adoption).

But as I blogged about recently, the business case for internal social media is strong and growing. Carl Haggerty gave an update on the Devon County Council social networking pilot he talked about at LocalGovCamp. They branded this ‘business networking’ to counter accusations of frivolity and timewasting. This succeeded in winning hearts and minds, and in evaluation recently he found it produced considerable (but non-cashable) savings.

So what do we do to hasten the adoption of social media inside the firewall?

  • JFDI. The old adage that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission is true to some extent, but it isn’t that simple when it’s your job on the line. But start with a small, agile pilot that can be scaled up if successful. If it works, the organisation will buy into it. If it doesn’t, you won’t have lost much.
  • If you want to promote new ways of working, switch the old ones off. Carl Haggerty said his team made a commitment to use their Business Networking tool for discussion rather than sending group emails. People like their tried and tested methods, so you need to provide incentives to change.
  • Dave Briggs said change needs to be dramatic to work – new tools have to do the same thing at least nine times better to win people over.
  • Get buy in from leadership, and encourage them to use social media internally to communicate, listen and lead.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives. Yes, some people will misuse social tools, but most will not. Posts have real names on, so are self-policed.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Adapt your code of context to say how it applies in an online context rather than write a new code from scratch – that way you avoid protracted negotiations.
  • Hug your CIO. Work with ICT to reach solutions to problems like security rather than focus on barriers.
  • Demonstrate value. Budgets will be tight for many years to come, so we need to set out the business case for social tools, though improving flexibility, sharing knowledge, and improving productivity.

Internal social media sits at the intersection of culture change, innovation and knowledge management. It has the potential to deliver innovation and collaboration, but to do that we need to adapt to the cultural and technological barriers in our own organisations.

This was a vibrant and varied discussion, and we could all have talked for ages. Phil McAllister suggested an internal comms barcamp, which a few of us have begun to discuss in more detail. Watch this space.

Intranets are key to recovery in 2010, say surveys

Each January, Jakob Neilsen’s annual intranet design annual is released. This showcases the top ten intranets of the year, and is a good indicator of trends in intranet design and usability.

This year’s Neilsen report found intranets are becoming a higher priority for organisations, intranet teams are growing in size, and increasing numbers feature mobile accessibility and social networking.

On the face of it, the improved functionality comes as no surprise. Mobile internet and social media has grown exponentially over the past few years. Our experience of using the web creates expectations of the kind of content and functionality we want at work too; as we rely on our iPhones to do everything for us when we’re out and about, we expect to be able to use our intranet on it too.

That intranet budgets and teams have continued to grow despite the long recession reflects a growing realisation that intranets can deliver real return on investment for organisations.

Significant and measurable returns can be made by making information easier to find – quite simply, less time spent searching for things is more time people can spend doing something worthwhile. Functionality like self-service HR can see sizable reductions in administration costs.

Less easy to measure, though, is the value of the intranet in improving engagement. Last year’s MacLeod Review on Employee Engagement (from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) found that more widespread adoption of employee engagement approaches could impact positively on UK competitiveness and performance, and meet the challenges of increased global competition.

Good intranets not only make life a little easier for colleagues, they improve communication, facilitate collaboration, enable people to connect and have their say, and help workers feel part of their organisation. This, in turn, encourages employees to say, stay, and strive.

Another study out this month, from communication research specialists Melcrum, would suggest organisations have heeded Macleod’s call for greater focus on engagement.

In the survey of 2,212 senior communicators, 40% said the business case for social media within internal communication was clear and that there is visible return on investment, while 53% of those who responded said they were planning to increase investment in their organisation’s intranet in 2010.

The results of this study show that not only are organisations investing in good intranet design, but also in functionality and content. When asked about channels used for internal communication, the intranet ranked as the most effective channel by 73% of senior communicators worldwide, with a clear majority believing webcasts and video would grow in importance in 2010.

Respondents highlighted a wide range of business benefits from investment in internal social media. These included improved levels of employee engagement (21%), better communication with remote workers (16%), knowledge management and collaboration (25%), improving employee feedback (20%) and making business leaders more visible and accessible (14%).

Both the Neilsen and Melcrum studies show intranets are maturing. Increasingly they’re moving away from being a simple repository of information and becoming instead a platform for communication, collaboration and engagement.

Victoria Mellor, CEO of Melcrum said: “There is a fundamental shift happening with how information flows inside an organization. Peer-to-peer online networks are enabling real-time feedback from employees to inform decision-making, not to mention facilitating collaboration between remote workers.”

With budgets tight, the pressure is on for organisations to demonstrate value for money. But with growing evidence of the business benefits of investment in intranets and internal social media, it’s clear they’ll play an even more important role in 2010.

Intranets and urban sprawl: a postcard from down under

This month I’m taking a bit of a break before starting my new job  in the new year. In desperate need of some sunshine, I jetted off to Sydney, Australia.

After spending some time lolling about on the beach, throwing shrimps on the barbie and wandering around town wearing a hat with corks on, I decided to head out of the city for the obligatory bush walk.

As I drove out of the city in search of some bush to hike in, I realised that Sydney is huge. It takes literally hours to reach the city limits. My (Australian) host explained that this is a result of Sydney’s short history.

Sydney

Sydney: this is where it all began

You see, although the area around what’s now Sydney Harbour was home to Aboriginal settlements for many hundreds of years, the modern city is a relatively new one.  The roots of today’s city began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. This was a ragtag band of soldiers, convicts and a few entrepreneurs looking to make a few quid.

They set up camp in the area that is now central Sydney, naming it New Albion. From these humble beginnings the city has grown. And grown. And grown.

As a city built largely in the age of the car, on land that is seemingly limitless, Sydney has  become characterised by urban sprawl. In fact, it’s now the third-largest urban agglomoration in the world.

It struck me that the story of Sydney is very much like that of your average corporate intranet. Most began life, like New Albion, as a bit of a side project, with no clear aims or objectives.

Sydney's urban sprawl

Sydney's urban sprawl 1917-2031: a bit like your intranet

And just as land and resources seemed limitless to those looking for their quarter-acre plot on which to build a family home in Sydney, so too does seemingly limitless server space encourage intranets to grow exponentially.

An explosion in car ownership enabled Sydney to grow to its present proportions. Similarly, the emergence of piss-easy CMSs meant that anyone can be an intranet’s content author, allowing them to add to the urban sprawl of your corporate intranet.

So, just like Sydney, the history of many intranets means they’ve become bloated and difficult to navigate.

But this is where my metaphor falls down.  Sydney householders would certainly be a bit miffed if you were to knock their homes down or move them to somewhere a bit more sensible. But for intranets, that’s certainly possible.

Here’s are some ways to prevent or fix urban sprawl on your intranet:

  1. Decide what your intranet is for. An obvious point, perhaps, but it’s important to set clear objectives for your intranet.  Think not only about what you want to achieve, but how the intranet will help you get there. Be both specific and realistic.
  2. Get to know your audience. The intranet should reflect the culture of the organisation. Adding discussion groups to your intranet will not make people want to participate if there is no existing culture of participating within the organisation. Find out what users want, but speak also to those who don’t use the intranet much to find out why.
  3. Best before end. Set expiry dates for all content pages, with owners or authors required to review them at set intervals to ensure they’re still accurate and up-to-date.
  4. Is this yours? Pages without owners are the intranet equivalent of those boarded-up houses along the North Circular. If no one cares enough about the content to take responsibility for it, it’s likely few would miss it if you were to delete it.
  5. Remember the law of diminishing returns. Every additional piece of content added to your intranet makes it a little bit harder for the user to find the actual information they need.
  6. Help people find their way around. Investing some time and money in getting your information architecture right will soon pay for itself.  Don’t just rely on the main menus, though: use the left-hand navigation lists and the footer of each page too. Help people get back to the section home,  the home page, and to other related pages. But people have different ways of looking for things, so a good search engine and A-Z are needed too.
  7. Raze your city to the ground. It’s not an option that’s open to city planners, but there are strong arguments for scrapping your intranet and starting again. A clean slate gives you the chance to get your information architecture and governance structures right, before developing your content from scratch so it really meets the needs of your audience. This nuclear option is an expensive one, but one that shouldn’t be dismissed entirely.

Over the coming months I’ll be thinking a lot more about intranets and how we can make them better. What are your tips for keeping your intranet fit for purpose?

Google Wave for Internal Communication

After my first post about Google Wave, I asked if any other internal communicators would be interested in trying Wave to see what, if any, applications it could have in our field.

And so a couple of weeks back I was joined online by BlueBallRoom’s Jenni Wheller, and Mark Detre, who’s responsible for Google’s own internal communications across the EMEA region (good to see Google eating their own dogfood here).

The three of us began by having a simple play around with the features, adding maps and pictures to the discussion. Once we’d got the hang of it, we began to think about how we might be able to use it to improve internal communciation.

Jenni asked “‘I’m not sure what it adds to the mix – i understand that it integrates various platforms that we all use but do we like keeping them seperate? do we need them all together like this? I feel like i’m skyping!’

However, by combining the live aspect of chat with the option of playback (asynchronicity) of email, it beocmes useful for dispersed teams.   In my last job, working for global charity, we had people working in pretty much every time zone. A platform that allows for people to watch the discussion before adding to it themselves, could be a real benefit to small but global organisations.

We talked about the potential for organisations to use Wave for specific communications. It would work very well for something like a live online chat with the CEO, where people could post questions in advance of the live event, and join in at the time or play back afterwards.

However, even with just three of us talking at once the conversation can be happening at several different points in the Wave, so it’s easy to miss bits of it.

Similarly, it’s quite easy to ‘zone out’ while on Wave. Tab over to an email, or answer a call, and it’s hard to remember where you left off.

Jenni, Mark and I agreed a Wave discussion, like a face-to-face meeting, would work a lot better with a chair or facilitator keeping participants on track.

You need different tools for different jobs, and this one would appear to work well for specific projects, allowing people to chat, email and share documents all in one place.  Mark said:

‘The main draw for me is that it brings everything together; for example, I do most of my drafting in Google docs, and I guess there’s also an easy way to insert those; it looks like Wave is best for businesses that do most of their work online or in the cloud’.

Few organisations are yet at that stage, though; this is a little premature for the rest of us, and would almost certainly be difficult to sell to colleagues. The potential is there, but we need resources as well as attitudes to catch up.

There’s still a long way to go before social media tools become the norm in the workplace. And even when they are, our existing channels remain useful. As I spotted when I visited Google recently, even in a high-tech environment the printed poster still remains effective.

Will it change the world? No. But will it help internal communicators? Possibly. We all have to make a call on what helps our own organisations to talk, listen and collaborate, and this is certainly a useful tool to add to the mix. Nonetheless, becoming more collaborative requires cultural change.

And that means changing our behaviours, not our tools.

If you’d like to read and join in the Internal Comms Wave, drop me a line and I’ll invite you in.