Twenty-two hours in an aircraft is a small price to pay for being able to work with James Robertson and his colleagues at Step Two Designs in the wonderful city of Sydney, Australia. However it is admittedly disconcerting walking around Sydney in warm sunshine watching workmen put up Christmas trees and lights. My reason for being in Sydney was that Robertson was holding a 2-day workshop for his Intranet Leadership Forum (www.intranetleadership.com.au).
This has been a very successful venture. There were attendees at the meeting ranging from major corporations to public sector organizations. The aim of the forum, managed by Catherine Grenfell, is to facilitate off-the-record sharing of ideas between intranet managers. Another innovation from Step Two Designs has been the launch of the Intranet Innovation Awards. These awards recognize individual intranet improvements—not intranets as a whole—with the winners in 2007 coming from Italy, the U.K., the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. (Full details can be found at www.steptwo.com.au/iia/index.html.)
For me, one of the most important insights that Robertson brings to intranet development is the need to make incremental improvements that bring visible and tangible benefits to a group of employees. Much of the discussion at the Leadership Forum was about how to go about identifying the need for such improvements. Delegates had a form to complete during the course of the 2-day workshop that did no more than divide the year into months. At the end of the workshop they could then walk out with a 1-year forward plan of practical improvements. Robertson has also written in more detail about his approach in his “6x2 Methodology for Intranets” report, which was published last year.
One of the key lessons about these improvements is that you do not have to try to find something that makes everyone think you are wonderful. Perhaps too many intranet managers are looking for the Holy Grail of being able to transform their intranet instantly into one that will win one the Nielsen Norman Group’s Intranet of the Year awards. Life, however, is not like that. Probably the only application that everyone in an organization will use is the staff directory. Whatever else might be of value it is certainly not a deluge of news. Intranet managers, especially if they work for corporate communications, see news as a way of showing how dynamic the intranet is. The reality is that we are only interested in news that has an impact on our work, and anything else is a waste of screen space.
The consensus of the Intranet Leadership Forum was that, in general, less is more. There is a tendency to put everything possible on the intranet as a precaution rather than making any conscious decision about the value of the content. This is where personas can be useful. In fact, one of the Intranet Innovation Awards this year was won by the U.K. Environment Agency for some immaculately developed and presented intranet personas. They had reduced the needs of the 14,000 staff members in this government agency to just three personas: field inspectors, new joiners, and line managers. That is quite an achievement and makes for some very simple decisions about how best to support the work of the agency.
The deadline for the 2008 Intranet Innovation Awards is March 2008, but even if you don’t decide to enter, it would still be a good exercise to review your intranet to see what you are doing to focus the limited (always!) resources of the intranet team into creating some instant wins for a group of employees. If you can come up with 12 ideas that in the course of the year make a difference to a different group of employees, you will have gained many friends and advocates that will be ready to back you when you do want to go for a major overhaul. These dozen improvements will probably add up to a major overhaul in any case. The Fiat entry that won the Intranet Innovation Platinum Award in 2007 helped transform the entire company.
Try taking 12 steps for intranet transformation in 2008. You won’t be disappointed. Incidentally, “Little by Little” was the B side of the Rolling Stones 1964 hit “Not Fade Away.” Rather appropriate for our so-often-struggling intranets.