intranet

From control to influence – the evolution of internal communciations (#internalcomms #IEC14)

John is a press officer in the media relations team at Blah Blah plc. Like John, most of his peers are ex-journalists. They all started their careers in local newspapers, writing about village fêtes, lawn mower thefts from back yards, court news and their local football team. One by one, they all got promoted and specialised in a particular field and covered a larger patch, before moving to regional media outlets and finally on to the nationals. John worked for ten years at a popular national tabloid newspaper.

The conversation around a piece of content which creates context and brings it to life becomes more important than the original content itselfJohn and his colleagues all progressed based on the quality of their end product – articles; broadcast media segments – essentially, a presentation of some kind. The quality of their end product depends upon things like: how good their sources are; how skilled they are at writing and crafting narrative; their research skills; and also their instinct for sniffing out as good story.

Then one day, John saw a job advert for a press officer at Blah Blah plc. It offered a better salary and benefits, more secure employment and a far less claustrophobic/nepotistic culture. So he applied, got the job and made the switch from journalist to spokesperson.

John soon found out that, while all his old journalistic skills are still very valuable in his new role, success is measured very differently. The output or end product of John’s labours shifted from being a presentation for a mass audience to his ability to influence a much smaller set of identifiable individuals. So the presentation subtly shifts from being an end in itself to a means to an end. That end being influence.

So, what’s all this got to do with internal comms? I believe the journey that John has undertaken above, is exactly the same journey that we as internal communicators must now make to remain effective in a social organisation – by which I mean an organisation with internal systems which support commenting and conversation and which are used widely by employees.

In organisations which are strongly hierarchical and where on-line, social engagement functionality is not available, employee communications is highly managed, structured and controlled. What employee comms people produce in these types of organisations is well crafted presentational material – be it a news item or a communication from the CEO or senior manager. This is akin to journalism inside.

As an organisation introduces functionality which supports connection and conversation, employee comms people need to compete with other information providers to attract attention to their content through the noise. This will never be achieved by continuing to produce corporate presentational material – however well crafted. The conversation around a piece of content, which creates context and brings it to life becomes, arguably, more important than the original content itself. Influence comes from being part of that conversation and change happens as a result of it. So the presentation subtly shifts from being an end in itself, to a means to an end. The end being influence

Being part of the conversation, explaining – sometimes defending - the company’s position to employees and trying to influence behaviours is much more akin to being a spokesperson for your organisation, inside your organisation. This means no more hiding behind a wall of content and being invisible to employees. It means stepping in to the limelight, being the most connected person in your organisation and discussing openly and honestly the messages you have been tasked with delivering and describing and exhibiting the behaviours you are trying to promote. It also means being accountable in a much more transparent way than we have ever had to be before.

Pretty scary? Certainly. Very exciting? Definitely!

The great news is that, as employee comms people, we already have a fantastic set of skills to help us flourish in this new environment. All we need to do shift our thinking. There really has never been a more exciting time to be in employee comms … and a social organisation is the perfect environment for us to flourish and grow.

The moral of my medieval fable ( #intranet #digitalworkplace )

Following my last post, several people asked me to explain further what I meant by my Medieval Fable … some even seemed a little upset (<- sorry about that) … so, here goes!

Evolution of the intranet

Simple diagram on the left

In May 2011, I published the simple diagram on the left asking the question about the relationship between the intranet as we then knew it and this new-fangled Digital Workplace thingy which people were beginning to talk about (if you have time to read through the comments on the original post, they make quite interesting reading).

You see the ‘graph’ on the right of the simple diagram on the left … er … well, that’s the moral of my fable.

WHAT, you need MORE explanation??? Seriously, what’s not to get???

OK … I’m going to go out-on-a-limb here and make some assumptions (<– I realise that this is tantamount to sticking a ‘Kick Me’ sign on my own back, but here goes …!)

Assumption 1: Any company worth its salt has an intranet of some description.

Assumption 2: An intranet is an environment/platform/whatever where content is published (<- I know the word published is a bit 1990s, but it still pretty-much covers what has to happen to stuff for it to become visible to other people on an intranet).

Assumption 3: Most – maybe all (?) – intranets have an Intranet Manager of some description.

Assumption 4: Intranet Managers are appointed because they know something about intranets (even those who don’t could pick up the basics from half-a-day’s reading of a handful of great intranet blogs). Intranet Managers know stuff like: good governance is essential; intranet strategy needs to support the business objectives; put users at the centre; business- not technology-led; blah blah; etc. etc.

Assumption 5: Given all the above, being an Intranet Manager is not rocket science (<- that doesn’t make it easy by the way!).

Assumption 7: Intranet Managers can’t count (<- just checking you’re still paying attention).

Assumption 6: As a company’s intranet matures, the list of stuff in Assumption 4 becomes business-as-usual and things start to run themselves to some extent.

Assumption 7: lots/many companies have probably got to Assumption 6 in their maturity cycle (<- OUCH … who kicked me!?).

Assumption 8: So, the more effective we are as Intranet Managers, the more invisible we are to users and, ironically, to senior management who only really take an interest when something goes wrong and they are looking for someone to blame (<- that probably came across a little more cynically than I intended but you know what I mean!).

… and then, along comes the Digital Workplace Monster. As my simple diagram on the left shows, the Digital Workplace Monster gobbles up the intranet. By gobbles up, I mean the intranet as we now know it, suddenly becomes a (small?) component of a bigger ecosystem known as the Digital Workplace.

To put it another way, the intranet becomes the utility cupboard under the sink in the Digital Workplace kitchen … the place where stuff (content) gets put so you can grab it when you need it. The stuff in the cupboard under the sink is important if you need to unblock the plug-hole, descale the kettle or clean the sink etc. … but, frankly, it’s not very exciting. It’s reliable … always there … and useful when you need it.

So, here’s the thing … six months ago you were the Intranet Manager – the go-to-guy (or guyette) guiding your organisation digitally into the twenty-second century. Today … you manage the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

It’s worth thinking about … that’s all I’m saying!

The fall of the house of intranet – a cautionary fairy tale for intranet managers

[Allergy advice: written in an office containing nuts; may contain sentiment offensive to intranet managers]

MonsterOnce upon a time, workers lived among reams of paper – newsletters; memos; phone books; and much more besides … as soon as these bits of paper were spewed out of printers, they were out of date … the cunning and ruthless Sir Lever Arch infiltrated himself into every aspect of corporate life.

Like rising damp, armies of managers emerged from under rocks and from within cracks to manage each other and all sorts of other stuff which oiled the wheels of the corporation, but which were ultimately pointless.

This was a pretty poor state of affairs so, one day, a very clever wizard – no one knows exactly who he was but his magic wand and pointy hat were very magic and pointy – decided that all this paper could be replaced by the interweb.

Not the big-wild-west-interweb-dominated-by-porn-and-gambling-since-discredited-by-Tory-MPs-who-wouldn’t-know-the-interweb-even-if-it-donated-squillions-of-pounds-to-their-evil-cause … but secret interwebs owned and managed inside companies only accessible to those in the pay of the big bosses who were the direct reports of King Arthur himself – for it is he …

And so the intranet was born.

Soon after, it became clear that these secret interwebs needed a firm hand and a stout heart to keep them in order and make sure they delivered shareholder value, met the needs of users and supported business objectives … and lo-and-behold White Knights, or intranet managers, strode confidently from the magic forest to pick up the gauntlet.

These White Knights rode on stallions named Governance, vanquishing unofficial servers … ruthlessly slaughtering poor user experience. For a while, the White Knights ruled supreme – proclaiming the word of the intranet … ‘governance; cost savings; user testing; cost savings; usability; cost savings; business requirements; cost savings; and many more black-magic-type-cost-savings which were lapped up by the men-in-suits who pandered to King Arthur himself’.

All-the-while, in a dark cave high in the mountains of IT-shire, a strange and unknown creature was emerging called the Digital Workplace. At first, the intranet managers hailed the Digital Workplace as their saviour … they saw it as a way to ingratiate and elevate themselves to the Great Round Table at which King Arthur himself sat. Fortified by PowerPoint and buoyed up by free trips to exotic lands in which they supped at the famous and unlimited Fountains of Conference, they enjoyed the good times and grew complacent – talking up the great Digital Workplace and their perceived control over it.

However, the unwitting intranet managers, in feeding the Digital Workplace, were unleashing a power beyond their wildest dreams … a power so strong it would one day turn on them and swallow them up … coughing up their semi-digested remains in a tangled furball of BYOD, tablets, real-estate, smart phones, work-styles, collaboration, network access and slimy social media …

However hard the White Knights fought to untangle themselves from within this furball of complexity, they could never free themselves … and their power and influence was lost forever.

[The End]

Back from blog black hole …

It’s been a bit quiet around here recently … sorry about that. Inspiration has eluded me … smothered by the thick woolly blanket of work!

We’re *still* in the midst of an intranet migration to SharePoint 2010 … which actually means we haven’t really started yet but have done the ground work – the only small nut to crack now is how to get tens of thousands of pages out of existing content management systems into SharePoint 2010 while causing everyone – users and publishers alike – the least amount of pain possible … answers on a postcard, please! :-)

I’ll probably share more about this over the coming weeks …

The impact of social media on internal communications seems finally to be creating some buzz about the place … which is great news. On that note, I recently made a small contribution to a free eBook about how internal comms is changing in the modern workplace – it’s a light read and I think worth a browse.

I’m also speaking at the annual conference of the Institute of Internal Communications (May 23-25) which I’m really looking forward to … although I seem to be the last speaker of the whole event just before lunch on Friday … not sure what to make of that! If you’re going, please say hello …

Anyway – just thought I’d pop-up for air to reassure myself that I still exist … more soon … promise … maybe …

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In conversation: social media and the BT Intranet

The second in the series of in conversations with Red Sky Vision – this time a short sound bite or two about why we introduced social media onto the BT Intranet (this one is much shorter … only 1 min 20 sec :-) ).

In conversation with Richard Dennison – Social Media and the BT Intranet from Red Sky Vision on Vimeo.

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Social media at work video

Last Friday, Red Sky Vision launched a video about social media at work. Amazingly, I was asked to be part of it! It’s very well produced and the key strength of it for me is that it’s not about hyping up social media and creating a frenzy. Rather, it’s a well-balanced and calm assessment of the issues and benefits of social media in work – with a particular focus on internal communications. It’s about 15 mins long – so grab a coffee and a chocolate biscuit and take 15!

As well as me, you’ll hear from the following:

Enjoy! I’d be interested to know what you think of it …

[If you can't see the embedded video - you can watch it on the Red Sky Vision site]

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Enough about the technology!

As intranet managers and communicators, we fought long and hard for many years to become technology agnostic and rather than talk in terms of specific technologies we fought to talk in terms of user requirements and user/business needs. Amazingly, we won!

SO WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED!?

Today, the world seems only to be talking about technology (99% about SharePoint) and we’ve ditched our agnosticism. While I understand that for many of us SharePoint IS the solution we are having to digest, we should still be talking about user needs and not technical functionality – even if we know we might have to compromise in some instances.

By focusing on the technology we are giving carte blanche to IT teams to present functionality/capabilities to us based around technical paths of least resistance for them and their platforms, rather than testing the technology to its full extent to meet business needs. As a result, conversations are almost entirely focussed around what the technology can do and not want the business needs.

PLEASE … before it’s too late … enough about the technology!

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You can’t run and you can’t hide … from Sharepoint 2010

It’s true … you can’t run, and you can’t hide. The inexorable roll out of Sharepoint 2010 (SP2010) is about to begin in earnest. From my brief and unscientific poking around on our trial instance, it looks like SP2010 answers many of the niggling questions I had about SP2007 – particularly in the user-generated content (UGC) space. The enhancements Microsoft has made to the social functionality compared with SP2007 are significant – better blogs, better wiki functionality, beefed-up personal profile and social networking-type functionality (within the constraints of the SP environment of course) all integrated into one platform … good stuff.

As it looks increasingly inevitable that SP2010 will power a significant portion of our intranet going forward – including our social media functionality – I should be excited … and I am … sort of … and sort of not.

I’m not sure why, but the prospect of SP2010 powering our social content leaves me feeling slightly depressed. It may just be that I’ll be sad to see all the lovely social tools I so lovingly helped to nurse into the business being replaced by the SP monolith … or it may be something deeper … more intuitive. I can’t help feeling that we’re going to lose something fundamental by institutionalising … or even corporatizing … our social tools in this way. While I always wanted our social and collaborative content to be fully integrated into the mainstream way of working inside our organisation, this wasn’t how I had imagined it would happen – it appears you just can’t please some people.

On the other hand, this could be the best thing to happen to corporate social content since its conception … and I may just be an old social media dinosaur … I guess only time will tell.

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