The importance of why for intranets

Samuel Driessen (Entopic)

In his presentation “The importance of why for intranets” at Intranätverk: Stockholm, Samuel Driessen shared his experience with helping large organizations to define their intranet goals and strategies. He also provides us with valuable information about how to distinguish between a good and a bad goal as well as how to set up a strategy that successfully drives the intranet development.

Why do we need an intranet? Or why don’t we need an intranet? According to Samuel Driessen from Entopic, we should always be very open to the “why-question”. Asking the question “why” helps us think and find out what’s essential – something we should do more often with our intranets and digital workplaces. Samuel points out that the current research basically says the same. The value that we get out from our intranets is much lower than it could be. But if we answer the why-question in a better way, we would have more ambitious, realistic, valuable and useful intranets.

Metaphor – the tree

According to Samuel, the hard truth is that the why-questions isn’t asked at all in many companies today – there’s no real intranet goal defined. A lot of people just jump over the question about goal and strategy and put all their energy into functionality. And in those cases that the question actually is brought up to the surface, it’s usually done in a small group within the company. To explain the importance of why, Samuel uses a tree as a metaphor. If you have asked the why-question, the tree will have much firmer roots and the branches will reach higher towards the sky. The tree will also be more sustainable and stay alive for quite a long time. Not asking the why-question will, on the other hand, make the tree more fragile and it wouldn’t be able to grow to the same heights.

Why an intranet?

If you have an intranet goal – how do you define it? Samuel explains that a lot of people believe that having news, profiles, project spaces and microblogging is a good definition of an intranet goal. But they have forgetting to ask: Why do we need this? These things are more about functionality than the actual goal itself. Other organizations say that they have an intranet to improve internal communications or knowledge sharing. In these cases, the why-question is also forgotten. Internal communications could also be improved by e-mails, meetings etc. Samuel explains that one of the reasons why intranet projects fail is because the employees aren’t sure why they should use it. How does the intranet help them in their daily work?

A good intranet goal

According to Samuel, there are four elements that together create a good intranet goal:

  • The goal has to be specific and measurable, and not necessarily about money.
  • The goal has to be inspirational.
  • The goal has to focus on both the now and then.
  • The goal must relate to the business goals and the employee’s work.

If one of these elements doesn’t relate to the goal – the goal has to be improved.

How to get to the why

Defining the intranet goal is really a team effort. Therefore, according to Samuel, it should be done in a broad group within the organization. Instead of just discussing the matter with the people in communications, you should go out in the company to find out how the employees are getting work done and how it can be improved. Try to work with them and define what the intranet should be about. A good way to get everybody’s opinion is to do a mix of one-on-one-interviews and workshops. The main questions should be: How can the intranet make the employees do their work in a better way? And how can it improve the organization? Samuel explains that this, in practice, often leads to more realistic and achievable goals. What the communications department thinks about the intranet usually differs a lot from other departments. Going out in the company generates a broader consensus and also creates a lot of enthusiasm among the employees.

Ask why more often

To summarize, Samuel points out that it’s important to distinguish between why and how. The goal itself is why we have an intranet. The strategy is how we get there. By making sure that the goal is specific and measurable, inspirational, focused on both the now and then, and in line with the work of the employees, we are certain to have a great success. And do not forget to always ask the question: Why?

Biography Samuel Driessen

Samuel Driessen is Manager Projects and senior consultant at Entopic. Entopic is an intranet strategy, design and development agency based in The Netherlands. Before Entopic, Samuel worked for Oce, a large, international manufacturer of print and scan systems. Samuel’s blog: info-architecture.blogspot.com Samuel’s Twitter: @driessen