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Intranet Now (and intranet strategy) in three themes

Intranet Now 2019 crowd and stage.

Intranet Now (and intranet strategy) in three themes

Intranet Now is like the UK’s family home of intranet professionals: bringing together people at all stages of their projects and seeking advice or to pick up ideas that they had no idea they were looking for.

The focus for this conference was on intranet strategy, something that many of us know we need to do but sometimes it can fall to the back of the pack. As my colleague Wedge put it, in a blog piece of the same name, sometimes we’re “too busy working to be strategic”. But the speakers stuck to the topic of strategy like glue and gave some excellent advice and case studies.

I spotted three themes, within the overarching strategy topic, which interlink like a Venn diagram. As John Baptiste-Kelly argued, building a “digital thing” comes down to three elements that have to join together and complement each other. My themes are: users, content, and overall business strategy.

Users: put them at the centre

Strategy can sometimes feel removed from the very people it, ultimately, will be supporting. This is partly why is can be difficult to spend the time being strategic, as the day-to-day feels somehow more important due to its time sensitivity. Fintan Galvin opened the conference with a keynote presentation where he explained that Invotra aim to “be obsessive about embedding customer focus in [their] culture”. Although Invotra’s focus is external (towards business customers) it’s important to remember that our users are our customers and so we should obsess about our colleagues in a similar way.

Gathering requirements as part of the building process is a sensible way to really put users front-and-centre in a strategy. Greig Rutherford gave a great lateral thinking example of gathering requirements: ask a group of users to keep a digital diary, where they track every interaction they have with any digital tool – work related or not. This will help you see what people are doing, where, and how. I’ve done this in the past and added in an extra step of asking them to give an indication of how they felt when they were interacting with the tool (just in the form of an emoji). Although this is simple it’s quite effective at giving you a good steer in a strategic planning direction, as you can see any pain points and unofficial workarounds people have put in place to do their day-jobs.

By gathering user information, from digital diaries or employee surveys, you can build personas. Mark Owen explained that Affinity Water created personas as part of their digital project. Understanding their users in this way helped focus their attention on the areas that needed developing first.

Once you have personas you can plan your communication channels from your users’ point of view, as discussed by Charles Fenoughty from Sequel. Charles said that “the digital workplace has blurred so many lines it’s hard to tell who owns what anymore”, but that shouldn’t stop you from working out what your users want and then put the right content in the right communications tool (and in the right way). If you can also give people the tools, and more importantly the permission, to customise their way of working then you’ll have a truly user-focussed approach to your digital workplace.

Intranet Now 2019 crowd.

Content (and content audits)

Melissa Masterton, Annette Corbett, and Kelly Freeman discussed the importance of good intranet content. There were three stages covered here too.

The first links back to the previous theme, as understanding your audience’s needs begins the steps towards good content and good content strategy. In order to establish the need, you will have to ask the right questions of your colleagues, then listen to the answers and develop a content end-goal from this. Without establishing what your audience wants, and therefore your content goal, it’s tricky to complete the next steps properly. Most importantly you need to explore what you don’t already know, as assumptions can be dangerous.

The second step is to audit your existing content. Content is supposed to be king, but an audit will check whether this is in fact still the case. Annette was kind enough to share her content audit template (Google Sheet), which will help you identify what is / isn’t working and what actions you need to take next. You must leverage your audit findings to build robust governance, content accountability, and also a content strategy. You can then turn your audit into a working document to track changes and content plans as your intranet develops.

Once you know what you need to do with your content, you then need to write it or facilitate the writing of it. Kelly shared a couple of good tips on how to “zhuzh up” your content. Where you’re unsure of the clarity of a document:

  1. Print it out and give it to a group of users
  2. Ask them to highlight in green the points that give them confidence in whatever it’s asking them to know / feel / do
  3. Then ask them to highlight in red where they get lost or confused
  4. Look at the results and address the red areas.

The other tip around content creation can only really be shared through this excellent slide!

A dog and content:
Head: Priority 2 content.
Body: Priority 2 content, context.
Tail: Priority 3 content, further reading.
Interact’s content layout slide, from the Intranet Now conference.

Business strategy and goals

It seems obvious, but this also seems to be one of those points that’s very easy to forget: the easiest way to generate a digital workplace strategy is to align it to the overall business’ strategy and its goals.

Hannah Moss explained that Wilmott Dixon’s business aim was to attract and retain the best talent. This then translated into an Internal Comms, and intranet, strategy to “engage, inspire and excite people so that they had a sense of pride and purpose in working for the company”. They then used user feedback and developed a content approach to facilitate this strategy.

Aligning to business goals is particularly important when going through a big period of change. This is something that Martin Stubbs-Partridge spoke about, as Scottish Natural Heritage has recently been going through an unsettled time. He said that there is a need for an intranet to be “useful”, which in this case started as a way for the CEO to post a blog as she went on a cycling challenge. But then by showing the value of the tool by reacting to business needs, their intranet has become a lever for transformation within the company.

Jon Ingham argued that a digital workplace needs to do more than just align with business strategy though. He suggested that those of us who manage this space need to go back to the business – either to senior management or individual departments – with new or stretching opportunities where they can develop their areas. This would give true value to the business from the digital workplace and solidify its importance.

What this also indicates is that there is a need to have senior management support when it comes to the digital workplace. Kurt Kragh Sørensen spoke about this in his presentation, but I was lucky enough to get a copy of these results a few months ago and wrote an analysis of what we found. It’s interesting to see the differences where there is or isn’t senior management support, and this is the first time I’ve seen this common-sense, but theoretical, argument presented in the form of statistics on paper.

Kurt Sorensen and Wedge Black with Kurt's Diamond Award.
Kurt Sørensen (left), presented with the Diamon Award by Wedge.

And finally… Kurt was also the recipient of this year’s Intranet Now Diamond Award; nominations were opened up to the intranet community and the shortlist was full of brilliant people. Kurt was nominated because he “has tirelessly run an intranet community in Denmark, with a genuine passion for the space, and conferences (with wide influence), intranet awards, and posting collections of articles.” He was amazed to have won, although many of us have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with him and he truly is a worthy winner.

Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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