The corporate intranet is a complex organism. This prettier, younger sister of earlier knowledge management tools is now ever-present in many larger enterprises. While intended to tap into pre-existing employee engagement and insight-sharing behaviors and encourage the peer-peer sharing that happens in hallways and on phone calls, relatively few intranets have succeeded at bringing much in-person vibrancy to these online exchanges. There are few successful poster-children – such as Thomson Reuters’ Hub, which united 60,000 employees across 111 different locations with the express goal of driving innovation, aligning everyone with company strategy and generating a more collaborative working environment (Disclosure: They are a client) — and Deutche Bank’s intranet, which was established in 2009 and since then 36,000 employees+ use the internal community to “work outloud” sharing ideas, questions, best practices and content across more than 70 countries.
However, research data show most intranets are underused and overlooked by employees, who do not hold them in high regard as a source for quality information and interaction. The result is intranets have become dumping grounds for “nice to save” corporate content with some instant messaging capabilities.
At firms who have – so far – failed to animate their intranet with purposeful exchanges, the root issue can be found in an ill-defined or under-developed strategy for motivating and engaging participants. Consider how “What’s on your mind?” turns the intranet into Facebook for the organization, rather than a more purposeful “What problem are you trying to solve” or “Whom do you need to connect with? In what ways?” The arc of intranet “engagement” efforts goes something like this: At launch: Here, have some content; 2 month later: Look, we just posted lots more content; 3-5 months later: What kind of content do you want? Within a year: You all better start posting some content!
What these struggling intranets lack is active leadership and persuasive behavior examples for employees to follow. Even the most promising intranet won’t survive its first 6 months if senior leaders across the organization don’t step up and use the intranet wisely and persistently. Absolutely! I will get to it! — says the leader with his outside voice. OK, I will but isn’t this just about employee engagement anyway? I don’t really need to do this – much – with his inner voice.
Leadership doesn’t happen just in the face-to-face world, it takes place everywhere your employees interact online — inside and outside of the firm. Leaders who bring their authentic voice onto the intranet validate its’ legitimacy and also pave the way for others in the firm by modeling the desired behaviors.
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Here are a few ways executives can increase the value of the corporate intranet for everyone’s benefit (including themselves):
You have spent countless hours developing a strategy for the business. You know it is absolutely flawless. But is it, really? Use the intranet to share aspects of the strategy for specific feedback to help refine your ideas. This is one way to see if the plan will withstand the acid-test of employee acceptance. After all, they are the ones who will be responsible for executing on it.
Once the organizational strategy has been set for the coming year or quarter, it is up to the managers and teams to execute on it. Future success depends, in part, on how well they communicate this strategy to staff and various outside stakeholders. But there’s that nagging worry … Do they really understand it? Are the nuances and impact well understood? The intranet is a perfect channel for opening up this topic for feedback, questions and discussion to learn how well the strategy has been internalized. Reviewing the gist of the questions can shed light on what has – or has not — been communicated effectively, and what steps should be taken to assure success.
Reward exemplar performance:
Attracting, growing and retaining skilled staff is an art. Showcase best practices behaviors and individuals to help employees understand what best-in-class looks like. This will motivate the star performers and inspire others to get in the game.
It is no secret that innovation can often be found in the shared wisdom of the group. Identify a problem area and invite others to brainstorm a solution in a safe environment. You may discover the answers in unexpected places and from unlikely people.
Teach or inspire change and new thinking:
Leaders bring a special set of ideas, experiences and knowledge to bear issues facing the firm, and sharing those insights within the organization is a crucial task. Delivering an educational or inspirational message in 1:1 meetings is too time-consuming, but reaching hundreds or thousands of employees via an intranet online channel is powerful and efficient. Video can work especially well here to convey a sense of immediacy as well as the message.
Trendspot by listening:
If there is a problem with a product or service, often staff may know before leadership does. A keen ear for “the word on the street” – the intranet in this case – can identify a potential crisis. Leaders who establish a profile and a regular presence online can benefit from following (listening to) the conversations to see what is on the minds of people around the firm. Insights gathered this way can be brought into core operations to effect change (if needed) before real problems occur or, better yet, identify an opportunity to innovate and improve the bottom line.