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Social Intranet Best Practices – Balancing Sensitive Information With Organizational Culture

Sean R. Nicholson

Sean R. Nicholson

Building a great social Intranet environment is often about balance. Balancing acts like those between openness and security,  corporate needs and individual desires, and the balance between content and culture often make for long meetings and tough decisions. Internal communicators and Intranet managers often have to determine how much to share and the right format in which to share it.

Take, for instance, the topic of how much strategic corporate information should be shared internally with employees, and at what time.  Some organizations are willing to post strategic information like corporate earnings and key performance indicators on their Intranet in real time or prior to formal announcements.

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Others are concerned about employees sharing strategic information outside the firewall where it could impact stock prices or competitive behavior. Usually, the key cultural component as to whether this information is shared with employees is one of trust. 

It boils down to whether the organizational leaders trust that employees understand the critical nature of the information being shared.

good_chartsIn situations where a strong bond of trust has been formed between the executive layer and the employees, leaders see the sharing of this information as critical to the success and growth of the company since it tells employees where they are doing well and points out where they can focus their energies to improve.

These organizations often use the Intranet to openly share corporate goals and strategies, as well as the performance metrics to measure success. Along with the communication comes a consistent message of the importance of using the information internally and only sharing when and to whom it is appropriate.

At companies where that bond of trust has not been formed or has been previously violated, executives often feel that employees simply don’t understand that sharing earnings or performance information prior to formal announcements can have an adverse impact on the operation of the organization?

In these cases, Intranets are often void of critical performance measures and are used, instead,  as communication vehicles for corporate events, product announcements, and HR information. Each of these are important functions, but of little value to the employee in determining whether their day-to-day activities are helping the organization advance its corporate goals and strategies.

bad_chartsIn organizations where executives prefer to guard the information and release it to employees at the same time they announce to the public, employees often feel as though they aren’t “in the loop” and, at times, learn about important corporate strategies online, from local news sources, or colleagues at other companies.

Hearing corporate performance news and announcements from third parties, rather than hearing the news directly from their executives, often propagates a feeling of mistrust between executives and the employees.

Realistically, it would be naive to state that the best practice is to always share strategic information with employees via the Intranet. The reality is that in large organizations or those with little governance, it just may not be reasonable to assume that providing real-time feedback on performance indicators is possible without having the information leak.

Even in small organizations, disgruntled employees or accidental disclosure may result in the information leaking.

Therefore, the best practice for when to share key performance metrics will have to be based on the balance of trust within the organization and the employees’ understanding of when/where/to whom it is appropriate to share. As a result, Intranet professionals will have to work to educate employees as to the importance of keeping the information secure and disclosing only when their organizational culture dictates.

Thoughts, comments, or experiences? I always welcome feedback via comments!

Beth Gleba

Monday 21st of September 2009

Hi Sean! Great post. If you haven't checked out the writings by Paul Chin on the topic of cultural influences in Intranets, it's worth a look. He has a fantastic point of view which aligns to many of the comments you've made in this post. Keep up the good work. See you on Twitter! /Beth

Sean R. Nicholson

Wednesday 23rd of September 2009

Thanks Beth! I have seen some of Paul's work on Intranet Journal and particularly like his article on the "soft" costs of allowing an Intranet to fail.

I'll search for his cultural influences articles. Thanks for the pointer :)



Sunday 13th of September 2009

Hi Sean. I'm very interested in reading your article, but it seems to be cut off halfway through the first paragraph. I would have sent this message via email, instead of putting it in the comments, if I could only find your email address... or any contact details for your organisation!

Sean R. Nicholson

Sunday 20th of September 2009


Thanks for letting me know about the issue. The articles has been fixed now and I hope you enjoy!