Involving just one department will not make your intranet successful. Who needs to become actively involved from the start? And what role do doubters and critics play? 

“We have a cloud-first strategy.”

“We’re a Microsoft shop, and we have to use SharePoint. SharePoint is free for us.” (Replace with Microsoft Teams or another favorite.)

I’m pretty much convinced that most people who say things like this don’t want to hear my arguments about why these explanations are not sustainable. The background of this is often much more mundane, however: these are just excuses to hide other, much more serious problems.

Often, a company may lack extensive internal support for an intranet solution. And instead of creating a foundation for it, arguments are used to kill it. These excuses help to hide the fact that a common strategy doesn’t exist. For example, it may suit the IT department that the company only uses Microsoft products. This allows any discussion of other systems and ideas to be nipped in the bud. For corporate communications, on the other hand, the cloud-first strategy serves to justify why IT isn’t asked about the matter or given a say. The thinking behind this is ”We want to host everything in the cloud anyway because it no longer makes us dependent on a rigid IT department. Let’s make a strategy out of it: a cloud-first strategy.”

And yes, it works. A policy like this with arguments like these allows you to push through systems in the company or nip them in the bud. I’ve seen this happen several times. What’s fairly certain, however, is that a solo attempt of this kind undertaken by part of the organization won’t be sustainable. It doesn’t really matter which arguments are put forward and by whom. 

Only a system that’s supported equally by all key groups in a company has a chance of being really successful. 

As a rule, the decisive parties here are management (i.e., upper management), the IT department, and corporate communications. The HR department or marketing can also be important. In most classically managed companies, the system content is populated by the former three departments. Ideally, everyone is sitting in the same boat. 

If a company has a corporate communications department, it generally serves as the essential driver for the success of an intranet. The IT department and management are fundamental in much the same way. Internally, we say in simple terms: 

The intranet belongs to corporate communications. IT has a veto right. 

As part of the intranet team, you should be keen to build consensus within the company for a system. A bad solution may not be received well by end-users, but with really good content it can still work. If everyone pulls together, it may be even better to use software from the “barely adequate” category. 

A bigger problem in a company, however, is the people who are spurned and ignored. By this I mean not only individuals (primarily those in management positions) but also entire departments. A “not-invented-here” syndrome can squelch the motivation of the people who are meant to create the content used to populate your intranet. I’ve rarely seen anyone who’s had a collaborative software solution forced on them with no advanced warning exclaim, “Hey, I put your software through its paces and it’s really good. The process is a little messed up, but the solution is just great, so let’s ramp everything up! Full steam ahead!” 

Instead, what people are thinking but not stating openly is more like this: “As long as I’m responsible for anything in this shop, we’re not doing anything with this tool.” They simply remain mute and intransigent, muttering to themselves, “I know that May, Miller, and Smith are doing the same thing in their departments. We’ll just sit the problem out.” And suddenly your intranet project has turned into a suicide mission without you knowing it.

If you hear someone in your organization using long-winded arguments, touting things like “cloud-first” or “mobile-first” in an attempt to derail your project, then it’s certainly worth taking a closer look. After all, your intranet will be on the corporate stage for the next three to five years before you can officially embark on a relaunch. And who wants to admit after a few months or a year that the project was a complete flop and needs to be restarted? 

As long as nothing has been decided, it’s worth it to avoid generating these kinds of defensive attitudes by having your intranet team make an active and constructive contribution. Above all, they should approach stakeholders and colleagues to get them on board right away, so that attitudes like this don’t crop up in the first place.

And the good news is that, in reality, every department in the company wants an intranet! The problem is that most people just don’t have any time to deal with it, or they have other priorities. The thing is that, with an intranet, everyone benefits overall from better communication and collaboration, in addition to greater efficiency, and effectiveness – the individual employee, the different departments, and the organization as a whole. I’d be genuinely interested in hearing any factual arguments that departments have for wanting to distance themselves from an intranet!

I think it’s okay if someone decides that they don’t have time or they’re happy to live with the consequences of their inactivity in their area of responsibility. If this results in an open or tacit refusal to use the intranet later on, however, then the intranet team should seek closer contact with the department concerned. 

And it’s true that if you want to introduce an intranet at a huge corporation, you’ll have a lot more work to do than someone in a smaller organization. And, of course, you can’t ask everyone. But don’t tell me, for example, that you “can’t bring in the works council at this point.” 

One thing you need to be clear about is that the people in the works council will have known about your project for ages and the longer you hesitate, the greater the risk of reprisals if you fail to seek their support early on. We’ve had to wait months in the past for the general works council (in German companies) to sign the works agreement at a large corporation. What a crazy amount of time to delay! The decision to get the works council involved was made for the first time at the very end of the project, “for tactical reasons” apparently. Such a move is not uncommon. It’s not for me to say whether this is a good idea or not in individual cases. But for us, it always felt like a big mistake not to involve the works council right from the start, when unions are as strong as they usually are in large German enterprises. 

We’ve also worked on projects in complete harmony with works councils that were completely uncomplicated, even though they made some bold demands and enforced some pretty idiosyncratic restrictions. 

If in some way you’re having difficulty making progress with your intranet project and think you might be able to make it move faster and better on your own, think again! A good friend of mine who’s really smart once told me about a Japanese phenomenon. Companies there have something known as “nemawashi” or “caring for the grassroots.” This approach is particularly successful at Toyota, the Japanese company celebrated as one of the key pioneers of agile management. The approach is all about caring for the roots (of a company) for so long that when a decision about something is made, everyone already knows what’s going to happen. For this reason, it often takes an incredibly long time to make a decision at organizations like Toyota. But the moment the decision is made, the time it takes to implement it is really quick.

An approach like this is pretty smart because as long as you haven’t committed yourself to anything, you can still make a U-turn. But if you do commit yourself and others do so too, the likelihood of receiving broad support is greater. 

Remember to care for the grassroots. Take the time to get everyone on board and establish a broad support base. 

To be honest, it pains me a little to recommend this approach to you, because it’s natural for me as a software vendor to want to make a quick and easy sale. That makes for a quick profit. All the consultants out there are often only really interested in a long, drawn-out selection process, especially, if they make money from the evaluation process. And software vendors like to push for quick decisions.

Without any pangs of conscience this time, I recommend that you start testing the software solutions on your shortlist immediately because real experience always forms the best basis for decision making. Excel tables and utility value analyses are no match for this experience. In fact, they’re often actually counterproductive. But if you start testing right away, it doesn’t mean that you have to test them out immediately on all of your employees. It’s fine if you only involve your intranet team first. Five to ten people will suffice.

Link to this page:

The Social Intranet

Foster collaboration and strengthen communication. Be effective with enterprise intranets mobile and in the cloud.

Virtual Collaboration in Companies: Social Intranets as a Digital Home 

Never before has the business world been so overrun by cloud software and specialized vendors as it is now. There is so much software out there that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of things. It is all the more important for the future of work to have a place for digital meeting - a reliable home port meaningfully networked with numerous other systems that makes it quick and easy to navigate. This will increase transparency in the company and make collaboration more effective. Based on many years of experience, this book tells you how it already works in today's digitalized world and which trends you probably should rather than shouldn't follow.

About the author

Martin Seibert was 17 when he founded the software company Seibert Media. Twenty-four years later, it has nearly 200 employees and generates 35 million euros in annual sales. He has been sharing his enthusiasm for technology in YouTube videos for many years - and now also in his new book about social intranets.

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This content was last updated on 03/31/2021.

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