The subtle art of making a great intranet: a perspective from HR

If there’s one thing many case studies agree on is that intranet project is a team effort. The more subtle truth is that anyone can be the initiator and key driver.
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Whether you’re in corporate communications, HR, IT, or a specific business unit, you’ve got the power to successfully initiate an intranet project and build a digital workplace.

What happens next is a methodical set of activities to see it through completion.

Here is the perspective of how an intranet project got its roots in HR at a manufacturing company. Elena Bobyreva, Director of HR at Peak Products shares her valuable insight in my recent interview with her:

Background and Intranet Project Roadmap

  • [YP] Why an intranet?
  • [EB] What I like about intranet is that it helps our company to deliver information to the employees and internal stakeholders as well as collect their feedback. It is a forum for employees to communicate and connect and that builds engagement.
     
  • [YP] What was used previously at your company?
  • [EB] Previously we relied on emails, phone conferences or calls, and in-person meetings.
     
  • [YP] What were top things important to you in your intranet?
  • [EB] News and updates - a consistent place for company information to keep employees in the know.
    Employee Announcements - to keep everyone in the loop on who’s joining the team, who’s being recognized for their achievements, etc. This section was adopted quite quickly, we started seeing responses, comments, and likes right away. We see people from different departments recognize people from other parts of organization which encourages the culture of collaboration and performance.
    Polls and Surveys - one of our tools to give voice to our employees.
    Finally, informational sites for things like [Benefits and Career Opportunities], and a dedicated section for new hires to help them onboard with the company.

Intranet Project Planning

  • [YP] What were some of the challenges you had to overcome to get a buy-in for the project?
  • [EB] It was important to present decision makers with facts and numbers to help them understand the importance and value of the intranet.
     
  • [YP] What were some of your strategies?
  • [EB] I have seen and worked with many intranets before but there were parts needing expert input.
 Sample Twitter poll launched externally

Sample Twitter poll launched externally

First strategy was to determine the pain points. We launched an employee survey to collect the feedback at all levels about everyone’s communication needs, and pain points. We received a lot of ideas on potential solutions. The response was very positive towards having a tool like an intranet.

From there, our next step was to work with an expert to understand how everything fits together in terms of the process, features and capabilities so that decision makers see the return on investment.
These two were key to build a compelling business case.

  • [YP] Were the benefits you presented more along the lines of “time saved at work” or more soft benefits such as “reducing siloes”
  • [EB] It was a bit of both. Numbers are important and so are qualitative benefits related to eliminating errors through collaboration. We also put an emphasis on reducing the volume of emails to help people with time management.
     
  • [YP] How did you arrive at SharePoint Online as a platform?
  • [EB] We used Office 365 Platform already for email, so SharePoint Online was a natural choice.

Process

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  • [YP] What was the process around building the intranet?
  • [EB] First, we started by clarifying roles and responsibilities of who will create and maintain the content on the intranet. This formed our core team. Then, we moved on to brainstorm what is needed on the intranet and what employees told us they want to see based on the survey we collected earlier.
    We then engaged in a workshop with a cross-functional group of employees and the SharePoint expert to select the right features we need to deliver the content.
     
  • [YP] What were the constraints?
  • [EB] Whatever features we chose, they needed to be easy to maintain so that the learning curve for new content authors is smooth. Also, the design of the site needed to reflect company’s external website and brand.
    Finally, we needed something that we can maintain in-house with our own resources. We needed to ensure the system is supportable and maintainable.

Intranet Adoption

  • [YP] How did you roll out the site?
  • [EB] The content was reviewed and approved by the key stakeholders. Once that was completed, we soft-launched the site. Gradually we started transitioning communication and sending newsletters highlighting key content on the intranet in various areas. People started getting used to checking the site more and more often.
     
  • [YP] What are some of the things you’re glad you did when planning?
  • [EB] Having an expert to take us through the process. Going alone would have been much more difficult. Having a matrix of who will maintain the intranet and draft, author, and approve content was crucial because it gave everybody clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
     
  • [YP] What’s Next?
  • [EB] Having a co-author or someone who shares passion for driving interesting content and engaging people. Move more content and processes to the intranet, things like reports, documentations, guidelines, LMS.

In summary, Elena captured an opportunity to bring digital to an existing workplace and highlighted those benefits to her leadership. One of the tools she used to back up her assumptions were employee surveys. This has remained on the agenda all the way throughout each brainstorming session and every decision made.

When employees see that their feedback is brought to action, it builds trust and buy-in, even if decision making team is a much smaller group.

Using the insight from Elena and how Peak Products benefited, see how you can kick off a transition like this in your organization.

What area of the business are you coming from? Are there items not considered in this post you'd like to mention?

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Yaroslav Pentsarskyy is the founder of OrigamiConnect, a rapidly growing service and product offering which enables organizations to get an intranet designed for them without starting from a blank page. He's also 8 time Microsoft MVP, speaker at many local and worldwide tech events, and a published author of several SharePoint related books.

@spentsarsky