When I run workshops on intranets, I sometimes put down cards on the floor labelled “HR”, “IT”, “Communications” etc. and ask people to stand on the card that reflects who sponsors their intranet. Typically there are clusters around Communications and IT, one on “Knowledge Management” and a few people that end up playing Twister trying to straddle multiple cards. Others merely sigh and shuffle over to the ‘Nobody’ card.
Sometimes people stand on a card because the Intranet Team sit in that department, but the head of that department has no active involvement. Getting somebody senior to be an intranet sponsor, owner or champion can be challenging. Getting them to be proactive in that role is harder still.
When we discuss what makes a good sponsor, people talk about enthusiasm, understanding and promoting the vision of the intranet, rather than just giving funding. That, for me, is the crucial difference between a real sponsor and someone senior that happens to have the intranet in their portfolio.
Evolving intranets require real leadership. Sometimes I hear from intranet teams that have been asked to make a business case for their intranet, or, even worse, show a Return On Investment (ROI). The team duly goes through the financial obstacle course to produce some numbers, get ritually mocked for saying time savings have monetary value, and at the end may get money for the platform but nothing else. They are unlikely to succeed.
There’s nothing wrong with ROI being a component of the decision-making process, but if it is the only process then all that comes out of it is money, not support. For an intranet to fly, it needs the emotional input of senior people too: they have to understand the vision ahead of everyone else because it isn’t practical to explain the benefits of the end-point to everyone up-front; they have to promote it so that it gets attention as a project; and they have to stand firm when there are obstacles or nervousness (the first outspoken discussion board comment, for example). This is leadership; the rest is merely management-by-accounting.