It never ceases to amaze me how few people trust their organizational intranets. A tool that was designed specifically for the purpose of helping employees do their job better and faster is often the joke of the water cooler. Yet organizations knowingly ignore the fact that employees don’t use or trust the information stored on their intranet.
Periodically, I have the great opportunity to sit in front of a group of employees and ask them about their intranet experiences. Often, it’s in anticipation of an intranet revamp, so the need for a “do-over” or an evolution has already been defined at some level. While the individual users and comments might be different, they usually go start with something like this:
Me: Who here uses the Intranet fairly consistently? (half the hands in the room go up).
Me: For those of you whose hands aren’t up, why don’t you use it?
Response #1: The content stinks.
Response #2: I can never find what I’m looking for.
Response #3: Yeah, and when you do find something that looks right, it’s two years old.
Response #4: The last time I searched the intranet for the latest information on new Java libraries, the first five search results were the hours and
specials at the local coffee shop.
Me: For those of you with your hands up, (you can put them down now) tell me how you choose to use the intranet?
Response #1: I use the employee directory. It’s right most of the time because it’s tied to our active directory and employees are added/removed as they join or leave the company.
Response #2: I use it to see what’s being served in the cafeteria. They do a good job of updating the menu each morning.
Response #3: I used it to download the forms to change my 401(k). I did have to choose between last year’s forms and this year’s forms, but I navigated directly to the HR landing page, and didn’t use the search tool.
…and the conversation goes on for another hour. Each employee sharing their stories of frustration or limited successes with the intranet platform. One failure feeds another employee’s stories and the negative sentiment in the room grows. Frustrations often include multiple logins, confusing navigation, multiple windows, and ugly design but the vast majority of their frustrations are around the relevancy of content, outdated information, and poor search results.
Now, imagine for a moment that, instead of the corporate intranet, these comments and stories were being said about another employee. If an employee had a history of providing inaccurate information, was behind the times and slow in their responses, and didn’t collaborate well with other employees it’s highly likely that they wouldn’t survive their next performance review. Yet organizations continue to ignore the fact that a tool that is key to their business success is unable to provide employees what they need. In fact, many companies invest more money in licensing fees and servers for their Intranet than any single employee in their company. Yet, the investment in keeping the content fresh and relevant is minimal. When you present your Intranet in this light, it seems like a logical deduction that an annual review of the performance of your Intranet is worthwhile.
The conversation continues to get more interesting as the focus shifts toward what the employees would like from their Intranet:
Me: First, are you interested in having a functional Intranet? If so, why?
Response #1: Definitely! It would make my job a lot easier if I could find updates to our products and pricing easily.
Response #2: Not really, we purchased a different tool for our group to store information because the Intranet is is bad.
Response #3: I would use the Intranet if I knew the search worked. Right now, it’s just too hard to navigate around a hope that I find what I’m looking for.
Response #4: I think a good Intranet would really help the company do business. It just needs to be a lot easier to use. No one asks the employees how they want it to work, they just give us a tool and say “Figure it out”.
Response #5: They should probably just start over and build something like Facebook. I’m already friends with most of my co-workers, anyway, so it would be easier if we could just make a private place on Facebook where we could share company information.
From these responses, it clear that the desire for an intranet exists in some format. Even responses #2 and #5 indicate that there is a need for a tool, they just opted to use something else or want a different tool since the organizational intranet wasn’t meeting their needs.
Steps To Develop Organizational Trust In Your Intranets
1) Ask Your Employees For Input
Most employees that I talk to feel like they have no ownership or input to the Intranet. They view it as a tool that is given to them by the organization and its structure and content are set in stone. They are, however, interested in making it a better tool and have plenty of input on how to improve it. Some of the input is good, some of it is wishful thinking, and some of it is so focused on their specific job that it may not be useful to others. Little changes to navigation and content, based on their feedback, does increase positive sentiment and gives employees a sense that they had an impact on organizational change.
2) Give Employees The Chance To Shape Content
Because content woes are top of the list when it comes to frustration with their intranet, many employees would welcome the opportunity to contribute content or, at the minimum, provide feedback on the value of the content. Although most aren’t interested in writing blogs, they would like to be able to suggest content or changes to ensure that information is accurate. To accommodate this, feedback forms, commenting systems, and content rating tools can help employees flag or suggest content. By providing these tool to employees, organizations remove the excuse that “content isn’t useful” and put the onus on the employee to shape the quality of the content.
3) Conduct Scheduled Content Audits
Empowering your employees to help shape the quality of the content doesn’t mean that employees responsible for maintaining the Intranet can sit back and relax. Consistent auditing of search logs to find failed searches (those with zero results returned) can help determine a need for creating or re-purposing content. In addition, face-to-face conversations with your employees to ask what they would find valuable can result in a gold mine of content requests. Obviously, the need to evaluate future functionality is a key responsibility, ensuring that employees are armed with tools and features that will help them in their daily activities.
4) Optimize Your Pages To Work With Your Search Engine
Although it’s tempting to blame the technology behind poor or failed search results, it’s usually not the intranet search engine that’s causing failed searches. Instead, it’s likely poor search optimization or old content that results in failed searches and employee frustration. Taking some time to understand the fundamentals of search engine optimization and tuning your pages to meet the search patterns of your employees can make a huge difference, without having to rip out and replace your search engine.
Just like any employee in your organization, neglect of your Intranet will result in poor performance and dissatisfaction. If you’re really interested in improving your business processes, doing more with less, and helping your employees do their job try investing a little more time and energy into ensuring that your content is good and is able to be found.