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Why Intranets Fail Reason #2: Unclear ownership and governance

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Simpplr Research

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January 22, 2019

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We’re continuing our Why Intranets Fail series. For more information on this extensive research project, read this post.

Governance is the #1 reason intranets fail

Based on our research report, fifty-seven percent of survey respondents who have seen an intranet fail faulted unclear ownership and governance. Surprise (or not), this was higher than any technical or functional issue mentioned!

What is intranet governance?

Intranet governance refers to a set of policies or an administrative structure that enables decision-making and planning processes. Governance is fundamental to your project because it allows your intranet to sustain a meaningful and effective system. Imagine a country without a governing body – it would be chaotic.

The most common barrier that many teams face initially when deploying an intranet is unclear decision-making roles and processes. We’ve talked about the importance of establishing the purpose, but it is equally critical to sustain roles and responsibilities and a continuous decision-making process across business functions. Without these, an intranet may still be deployed but is impossible to sustain down the road.

Since governance is such a critical topic and the primary reason intranets fail, we’ve decided to dedicate an in-depth governance blog series. For this post we want to highlight the most common symptoms that we’ve seen as a result of poor governance. Most failed initiatives we’ve discussed with prospects and a few former customers fell into one of these three buckets:

Mistake #1: The set-it-and-forget-it approach

Sound familiar? Set-it-and-forget-it may work in Ronco’s rotisserie oven, but not with intranets. There have been countless examples of projects that gained momentum, launched, and eventually were forgotten and unused. A typical scenario involves an IT project manager who becomes the point of contact for deployment. The IT manager works cross-functionally and scopes the project with different teams before he or she initializes and implements all requirements for various business units.

This is important to note: a project manager is NOT the same as an owner. Eventually, the intranet project manager will abandon the project after a successful deployment and move onto the next project. If ownership is unclear, your intranet is guaranteed to break, typically after a deployment.

Intranets need a dedicated ongoing owner from the business side. We’ve seen accountability usually in the Internal Communications department as a part of Marketing or HR.

Here are some tips to avoid the set-it-and-forget-it mistake:

  1. Teams or individuals accountable post-launch need to be part of gathering requirements. They also need to establish vision up front.
  2. Roles and responsibilities need to be delegated and agreed upon amongst the cross-functional and leadership teams. Accountability is essential.
  3. Make sure that all teams are well-represented. You’ll end up alienating a part of the workforce.

Mistake #2: The isolated, impulsive purchase

Think about a time that an impulsive purchase served you well. Can you?

This typically happens when one stakeholder purchases an intranet software without buy-in across the organization. When the time comes to implement the solution, the groups that were not a part of the initial decision-making process reject the initiative and ultimately blocks the deployment. Requirements differ across each department and it is essential to scope out full project details before making a purchase that impacts various stakeholders.

Intranets by their nature are built to connect and align distributed teams and locations, so the purchasing process needs to involve each of these groups in the beginning. This process is also crucial to learn about the varying efforts required from each department to maintain the intranet long-term.

Include stakeholders across all departments and collect requirements early on in the process!

Mistake #3: The Frankenstein intranet

Your intranet becomes Frankenstein when different stakeholders perceive different purposes for the intranet. We referenced this earlier in our Why Intranets Fail Reason #1 post.

The intranet can be used for different purposes depending on who you’re talking to, so it’s natural for different stakeholders to view the intranet’s purpose differently. For example, the Communications team views the intranet as a place to drive employee engagement whereas the IT team sees the intranet as a means to improve productivity. Although all teams start off with different uses for the intranet, all teams share something in common: the pressure to justify the software investment.

The problem isn’t that each team has different objectives; the problem is that the intranet has created many disparate objectives, leading to conflicting purposes. All of a sudden, the purpose becomes unclear and causes confusion. And employees and leadership won’t use things when they don’t understand the point.

Follow these tips to avoid creating a Frankenstein intranet:

  1. Align groups at the beginning. Establish purpose, roles, responsibilities, and decision-making processes up front!
  2. Involve the core group in your governance committee. Include HR, IT, comms, compliance, and the office of the CEO.
  3. Focus on shared outcomes among the group to clarify the charter. Alignment is important.
  4. Set up a federated ownership model across the organization where domain experts can own part of the intranet. Someone in Marketing should manage the Marketing site.
  5. Form a bench for all site managers and governance committee members so you have redundancy when people leave. Don’t be left in the dark.

We’ve received a lot of feedback from our customers and intranet practitioners in the space, and governance seemed to get a lot of attention. So we’ve decided to start and write a series of blog posts on governance. Check out the first part of our Governance blog series here.

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