Monday, January 08, 2007

Expand your intranet leadership box

Your intranet is STILL unimportant

It’s tough working on intranets. Much of your organisation may not understated what the intranet is, hate using it if they do know what it is and even though everyone wants it improved you are likely to see much of the potential budget or resourcing being diverted off into some nifty new web 2.0 folly for the external website.

So we all know the negatives no respect, no cash, no people…

What about the positives? Well it is likely that you (or if your really lucky your team) are pretty smart (based on the purely ad hoc experience of attending intranet conferences) with some good communications/IT/information management/usability/organisational/design etc skills and it is also likely that you (or your team) have a foothold at various levels across the organisation even if in some areas it’s only at an administrator content editor level.

How can you best utilise those skills and connections?

Now at the moment the intranet I’m managing isn’t fantastic (the reasons too vast and painful to go into here) but the problems are slowly being rectified as time and resources permit.

However instead of keeping quiet (or improve the same thing over and over again) while the work continues I’m laying the groundwork for the future by getting involved in projects across the organisation which will have some future bearing on the intranet or on things that will.

Intranet ideas go across internal borders and job descriptions

Basically if you don’t get yourself involved it is likely some nasty surprises may be forced on you at a future date and intranet focuses need to get beyond content and new functionality.

Most of the improvements to an organisation I’ve seen intranets make are actually not directly related to the site itself but on processes or problems that have been revealed because of the intranet.

Example 1 - source organisational structure, administration and employee data issues where all revealed because of a new intranet staff directory. The problems weren’t caused or will be resolved by the intranet but it was the intranet that clearly exposed the issues which have led to a major project of improvement in the area.

Example 2 - fundamental holes in the way policies were being managed and developed were exposed by the intranet and again the resolution of the problem had very little to do with the intranet but the improvements were fundamental to the organisation (government sector).

Don’t wait to be invited to participate - tips on expanding intranet leadership

In large organisations networking is obviously key for intranet leadership.
The people I have found best for this are the really smart individuals who may or may not be managers (usually lower or mid level if they are) but someone that everyone knows is essential to the running of the place.

These are the people their managers go to for specialised advice and it is these people that suggest others in the organisation who may be useful in a project team. Become one of those people the specialists know and respect.

  • Get into IT projects such as enterprise software – link everything to how the intranet can help (even if it is just a ‘link’).
  • Make sure the web/marketing team aren’t the only ones driving online style guides that also affect the intranet
  • Become a strong broad advocate for things others may not be touching such as accessibility, usability and good information architecture processes. These areas are still surprisingly under advocated in most organisations. Remember they apply equally to the intranet as they do the external site so don’t just sit back and watch them happen without you.
  • Don’t just harp on about things in an intranet context but take a best practice viewpoint that can set standards for various tools and systems. If people can see you making linkages across the organisation they are likely to see you as worthwhile in those things not directly related.
  • Say sensible things at sensible times in front of the right people. The intranet will languish unless someone is being a leader.
  • Set-up your own communities of practice if one doesn’t already exist in areas that are related to the intranet.
  • It’s not about being liked but about getting things done. Because intranets are tough you need a thick skin. Having said that being negative, dismissive or arrogant isn’t going to help you. Be positive, firm and useful. Say I can help you with that.
  • Meet regularly with those in the know and meet-up with newcomers who may become them.
  • Work for an organisation that understands that strict job descriptions and boxing employees into certain areas is not really a productive process in this day and age.

Stop the moaning and get out there

Yes working on intranets is a hell unbeknown to most and you have the visibility of the ivory-billed woodpecker. But so what? Toilets are essential to the running of all organisations (don’t tell me they aren’t). Do you know the manager of the building services team? Probably not.

If you want the intranet to be at the centre of the organisational universe (and we all know it should be somewhere near there) we need to network enthusiastically, boost the user and communities of practice connections and swallow a lot of crap while continually working behind the scenes with the real influencers and decision makers.



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