Digital Strategy for Intranet & Web

Sharing insights into strategic approach, new technology and solutions in the ever-changing digital world of Intranets, Websites and Web applications.

Intranet Tips for Executive Leaders

Nielsen Norman Group’s Senior VP, Kara Pernice, has seen and tested hundreds of intranets. In a recent NN/g video, Kara presents her top 10 intranet tips for executives, lamenting the common fate of many intranets as “a neglected waste of money that hinders productivity”. But with support from company executive leaders, the UX issues that limit the usefulness of an intranet can be addresses or avoided altogether. In this article, we'll explore these 10 tips in more detail.

10 Intranet Tips for Executives

  1. Invest in your company intranet (not just your public website)
  2. Every intranet needs an experienced manager
  3. Intranets must be customised to meet organisational needs
  4. Your intranet needs to be designed to be device responsive
  5. Ease of use of your intranet (a better UX) will save you money
  6. Allow 'fluffy' features that enhance employee engagement
  7. Learn to manage teams with opposing visions for the intranet
  8. Your intranet is not the place for egos, e.g. self promotion
  9. When working with UX design consultants, communicate your goals not what you think the solution should be
  10. Your intranet team will be stronger with UX designers on board

Invest in your company intranet (not just your public website)

NN/g say, “The intranet should not be a second class citizen to the public-facing website.” Great execs know that people (your employees) are the most important asset that an organisation has. Richard Branson is famously an advocate for the employee, often quoted on the topic of employee engagement and how to build a great company by nurturing the people in your employ.

“If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”Richard Branson

Especially for larger organisations, the company intranet is in turn often the greatest asset for your employees; to support both their engagement and productivity. While your public website is important to engage and inform your external customers or clients, your intranet serves the same purpose for your employees, and so deserves an investment of time and money commensurate with the role it will/does play indirectly supporting your customers.

Every intranet needs an experienced manager

NN/g say, “The intranet needs a manager; a ‘the buck stops here’ person who has the final say.” Intranets are renowned for evolving to take on multiple different styles and multiple different IA structures, simply because everyone thinks differently about aesthetics and grouping. Having a dedicated intranet manager as the ‘gatekeeper’ to decisions will go some way to ensuring design consistency, findability and overall UX of the intranet.

The intranet manager should be responsible for helping to establish and maintain governance that defines roles and responsibilities, content management strategy, authoring guidelines and performance tracking.

Intranets must be customised to meet organisational needs

NN/g say, “There’s no such thing as an out-of-box intranet solution.” Whether consulting with an agency that specialises in the technology on which your intranet is built (or to be built), or working with a skilled in-house team, no solution OOTB - including SharePoint - is the whole answer for your organisation. The most ‘simple’ SharePoint intranet customisation is a custom design for pages, layouts and web parts. More elaborate customisations can include custom applications as tools to support specific business units or processes.

Over the years, we’ve designed and developed a number of custom applications built on SharePoint for complex operational processes such as staff onboarding, resource tracking, career development, and project management, incorporating Smart Forms, workflow triggers and 3rd party integrations. These are business tools that change the way people work, but they don’t come out-of-the-box!

Your intranet needs to be designed to be device responsive

NN/g say, “Responsive design does not mean one design.” Your intranet should perform equally as well across desktop, mobile and tablet devices, with some workarounds necessary as appropriate for the best possible UX within the inherent limitations of the device. This will support not only your office-based employees, but also remote and mobile workers, and the specific needs of their roles.

Ease of use of your intranet (a better UX) will save you money

NN/g say, “Ease of use means cost effective spending, and is critical for intranets.” When an employee takes a long time to complete a task on the intranet, or cannot complete it at all, that costs time (and we all know that time is money). A good UX will reduce the amount of time spent completing a task, and can also play a role in managing risk, such as legal issues resulting from an employee accessing the wrong/outdated information.

Allow ‘fluffy’ features that enhance employee engagement

NN/g say, “Allow non-business ‘fluffy’ features to appear on your intranet.” Socialisation features are important tools to encourage uptake and ongoing advocacy for your intranet. Popular and effective examples of this include peer recognition programs, classifieds, footy tipping competitions and social sporting team noticeboards.

Learn to manage teams with opposing visions for the intranet

NN/g say, “Recognise and put an end to in-fighting. Natural tension between teams is going to happen.” This can be a positive thing, Kara says, as it indicates that they know what they want from the intranet and care about doing what they feel is the best approach for their team. However it should never be allowed to get to the point where tensions and indecision begin to impact the overarching goals of the intranet for the business as a whole.

When we begin working with a client on a new intranet, we like to engage with representative users and subject matter experts from all stakeholder groups in a design workshop. This gives each team a voice early in the design process (design of the IA, features and functionality, but not necessarily the UI design at this point) and also allows them to hear the goals and challenges of other teams, establishing a base understanding of shared goals that should avoid conflicting strategy later on.

Your intranet is not the place for egos, i.e. self promotion

NN/g say, “Banish the egos. The intranet is not supposed to appease stakeholders.” While it's not uncommon to present executive level company-wide communications via the intranet, it's of more benefit to utilise your intranet to share stories from all areas of the workforce.

When working with UX design consultants, communicate your goals not what you think the solution should be

NN/g says, “Communicate your goal or problem you want to fix, not the design solution.” As a SharePoint specialist agency, we have the benefit of years of exposure to the good, the bad and the downright ugly in intranets. Without fail, the best outcomes come from starting with defining the challenge or problem to be solved - and that means really examining the problem, teasing out the details of potential constraints - and only then ideating all possible answers to come to a refined solution design.

To take full advantage of the investment you make in a consulting expert or agency, let them do the hard work in determining how to solves your problem(s) and help you reach your goals.

Your intranet team will be stronger with UX designers on board

NN/g says, “Shore up your intranet team with UX designers.” From the results of the NN/g Intranet Design Awards, a common observation is the participation of a UX Designer on the winning intranet’s team. For some companies, just having an intranet ‘team’ can be seen as a luxury. But the involvement of a UX Designer, or a UX trained team member, in the design and ongoing governance of the company intranet will return rewards in productivity, process efficiencies and togetherness of an organisation.

Summary

Your intranet can be an “outstanding motivational tool”, but if not done well, it can just as easily de-motivate your employees, which in turn impacts productivity. With executive support to pursue a user-centric approach to intranet design, your intranet manager or team can deliver a business tool that will positively impact both the operation and culture of your business.

If you missed it, here is the video from NN/g:

  10 Things Executives Should Know About Intranets
A good intranet increases productivity and can be an excellent motivational tool. Intranets are vital to an organization's success and requires executive support. Learn what management can do to support better intranets.