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Three themes came through strongly on Day 1 of Intranets2016:
– focus on the work, not the technology
– consider your intranet in conjunction with your external internet presence because work stretches outside the organisation
– your organisation is human so engage them and help them with change to new ways of working
Work, not Technology
No intranet should exist as a cool piece of technology. No intranet should exist solely as a channel of communication.
We come together to work. We want out tools at work to help us to do what we need. We need to connect, share, solve or innovate together. These use cases should be the focus and the source of value of any work tools.
Work goes Outside
Intranets need to connect with Internet assets because work goes outside and involves external communities. Examples were everywhere consistent navigation between internet sites and intranet to encourage architects to update the external status of projects, Australia Post using a public intranet to engage all its communities and the integration of external social content and other content into intranet experiences.
Our work involves stakeholders inside and outside the organisation. We need to have consistent conversations and share the same information to work effectively in a transparently connected world. Importantly, it makes no sense to be recreating materials and managing distinct solutions with the same information. Transparency in this way is a great way to address remote working and mobile worker needs.
Great tools need to be used. We need to help people to adopt the tools and use them in their work. Importantly change starts before the tools are designed. Using collaborative design and deep data analysis we should understand the work, the challenges and how use cases can align to business needs.
Organisations then need to invest in ongoing support for leaders, champions and users. New ways of work are not launched they are fostered, role modelled and rewarded.
We can go into the weekend fulfilled.
We look back on a week that is a celebration of purpose and meaningful achievement to benefit others.
We know we cannot have done better this week and that our efforts were well directed to effectiveness.
We have enjoyed a week of the freedom to do the best work we can supported by our peers.
We can rest tonight comforted by the fact that all our work is up to date and the open issues are next week’s work.
We aren’t waiting for decisions and we have made all the decisions that we needed to resolve this week.
We are excited about the opportunities to learn, to experiment, to create and grow next week.
We have the transparency of our performance, our peers’ performance and our organisation’s outcomes to be confident on what is ahead and ready for the new challenges that the next week will bring.
We know that our accountabilities are clear and that the culture of accountability means colleagues won’t send a flurry of last minute emails dumping problems on others.
Our week will finish with the thanks and congratulations of a team and an organisation that understands, respects and values our commitment and efforts.
We know this is not a dream. We know this is possible. We will make it happen. Thank God it is Friday.
As your organisation adapts to the future of work, your models of leadership need to change. Leadership needs to be as adaptive as the the organisation you are seeking to create. Otherwise the potential of your people and the business will be lost.
You can’t command experiments. You can’t control networks. You can’t command customer collaborations. You can’t command engagement or purpose. You can’t control transparency. You can’t command autonomy.
Organisations that implement new agile ways of working need new leadership models. Activity based working, digital workplace tools, collaboration solutions, innovation hubs, agile projects and product management and lean continuous improvement all require leaders to work in ways that build the capability of people, manage the whole system and value the contributions of others over a leader’s rank and expertise.
As you change to the future of work, change what leadership means in your organisation. Build the leadership capabilities in leaders and the whole team to prosper in new ways of working. Make your leadership as adaptive as your organisation.
Intranet projects are still popular these days. There is great new technology platforms & many new features available. Internet designs have moved on a lot so your old intranet is starting to look a little tired. Now your employees have new devices so your intranet needs to be mobile first and responsive. Think of the opportunities for new branding, a new name, better search and a refresh of all the content. Finally the intranet could be at the heart of the knowledge management and collaboration in the organisation. Delivering a new intranet is a signature career achievement.
Stop. Are you sure you need that new intranet?
New intranets don’t come cheap. Even after the technology solutions is acquired, the expenditure has only just begun. All that wonderful new design is going to cost money. You will need personas, card sorts and then branding advice. Getting the information architecture right can make all the difference so you will need a lot of time spent on the taxonomy of content, hierarchies of information, businesses and users. Glossaries and other reference materials will need to be reviewed and updated. Search will need to be tuned to make sure that it delivers the right options. All your existing content will need to be reviewed to fit into the new design. Throw in a policy and product information refresh and the costs and time skyrocket. Then there is the maintenance costs of all that content. Add in personalisation, collaboration and social features and the work never ends.
What is the Intranet really for?
To senior managers, an employee communications or HR team, an intranet is a showcase of the organisation, its business strategy and its knowledge. It is the one source of truth. It is the hub of collaboration and a critical place to share messages with all employees. This perception can create a whole lot of politics that disrupts the effectiveness of your new intranet. People become focused about the need to control the design and the content. User focus is swapped for the desire to meet the needs of the hierarchy. That control has real consequences when it disengages users. Worse still it can force one template on everyone and make everyone into ‘content providers’. The costs of this control are in content that gets out of date and grey market sites that spring up to break the shackles. Soon the efforts to get around the intranet are drawing investment, effort and attention away from the platform. Confusion escalates and the intranet site is on its way back to being a stale reservoir of knowledge.
To an employee an intranet is where all the links in corporate distribution emails go. Usually the intranet is the last place they go to look when they and their colleagues don’t have the answer to hand and local searches have turned up no relevant ideas. Often the intranet is the place where knowledge is tied up in clunky processes & policy that don’t reflect their day job. Everything is anonymous. The context and authority that comes from human connection is lost. An employee does not care about single sources of truth or showcases of corporate messages. They care about findability and usefulness. Nobody browses an intranet willingly.
I know many organisations who have built elegant product sites on their intranet to explain all the features, process and policy relating to their products. Too often they discover that their teams use the customer facing website for product information. The structure of customer facing product information is usually better suited to employee’s roles in explaining that information to customers. It is indexed for Google search. Legal requirements ensure that product teams keep the external information that matters up to date. Also the employee can send the customer a link if they need to explain lots of detail. The pretty intranet is a showcase but the internet is the workhorse. How much of your intranet site could you do away with by directing employees to external sites?
Are the behaviours going to change?
In our work, we create value through our actions. If the behaviours aren’t going to change, then don’t change the intranet. Changing only the technology alone, will foster only cost and confusion.
If you do want to get better at collaboration, communication and knowledge management, start with a clear understanding of the value to the organisation and the value to the user. Look for ways to achieve your goals that involved changed behaviours and community, not technology. When you are clear on the value of changed behaviours, you will be clearer on what your technology needs to look like to support that work. Now you won’t be forcing an intranet as a solution and you will be able to look at the breadth of options from social collaboration, to working out loud more, to using external internet sites and other tools of helping employees to find what matters most to help them do their job.
You will also have built a case for the whole organisation to align to working in new and better ways.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion on how blockchain technology will revolutionise our approach to trust. Most of these pieces glide over the design of blockchain, the distributed ledger at the heart of bitcoin. Blockchain is designed to be trustless. Human behaviour in high trust scenarios is very different to behaviour in trustless ones.
Enthusiasm for blockchain as a technology solution is growing. Bitcoin has a thriving payments ecosystem and many clones. Global financial services and professional services firms are exploring the potential of blockchain as a transparent distributed ledger system. There are potential applications for blockchain to further reduce the friction in payments systems, to support smart contracting systems and to provide registers of asset ownership. At the same time there are issues that need to be addressed, particularly how the computing power demands of a distributed blockchain ledger will be managed without a currency like bitcoin to be mined in payment for processing.
Transparent distributed ledgers may revolutionise our approaches to recording and exchanging assets. Because the intermediaries who help us exchange assets today often rely on trust to sustain their intermediary role it is common for people to see blockchain as revolutionising trust. Banks, brokers, registrars, accounting firms, and trustees all depend on the market’s trust to provide a viable service. Changing to a trustless distributed ledger will have a significant impact on these industries.
Putting aside technological considerations, trustless exchange is not necessarily an improvement in human relationships. Bitcoin is trustless because it was designed to be anonymous. That has encouraged its use in capital flight from controlled markets like China and also a currency of choice in black market transactions as well. Because the system does not rely on the identity of the owner of bitcoin, once it is stolen or defrauded the currency is irrecoverable.
Perhaps the new applications of blockchain will factor in new less anonymous usages. However, trustless behaviour in human society is generally poor. The institutions blockchain distrusts were social innovations to address the flaws of the trustless exchange before that point. Stock markets were easily manipulated when shareholdings were a mystery. Property ownership disputes dominate the history of legal affairs because of the mystery in ancient ownership systems.
Many organisations creating new global frictionless markets have found they need to implement new systems to reduce anonymity and create trust proxies to balance exploitative human behaviour in an anonymous trustless world. Auction and ecommerce sites’ seller ratings are an example to cut down on fraudulent behaviour. The trolling problem on social media sites is another consequence of trustlessness. Look at any failing state and you will see the banditry, violence and corruption that comes with breakdowns in social trust. Solving the technology challenges of blockchain is only one part of the challenge. We will need to address the social innovations to support a trust based economic exchange as well.
We need to remember that trust is a human decision. The trust algorithm stays in the human brain and works on human relationships. Technology can support but will not replace that decision. The future of trust is likely to remain independent of blockchain, but it will provide useful insights into how far we need new social behaviours to manage in a trustless commercial world.
Traditional management is designed to suppress tensions. The future of work demands we embrace tensions to create new ways of work and to create new value.
Many of the elements of traditional management suppress tension. Hierarchy, silos, decision making rights, carefully managed flows of information, narrow roles, tight process are all efforts to reduce uncertainty, variation and tensions in the coordination of people. You only look to the loom-smashing, violence, strikes and street riots of the late 19th century and early twentieth century to see why we may have preferred to manage in a predictable safe low tension environment. However, practices designed for low information and high barrier to communication start to break down in an era of greater connection and greater visibility of the surrounding systems.
The art of management in the future of work is leveraging the generative potential of tensions. The tension that comes with uncertainty and doubt is a signal to learn more through experiments and engagement. Customer tensions are insights to improvements in experiences, products and value. Employee tensions are sources of insights into new ways of organising and working. Community tensions are ways to shape a new role for the organisation and to engage with its purpose. Supplier tensions are the platform for new partnerships and new approaches to the entire supply chain. Conflicts between these stakeholders is the ground on which truly new value is created. At an individual level, flow occurs when the rising challenges of our work meet our rising capabilities. Generative tension creates new human capabilities.
Leveraging tension requires new practices in management and new ways of leadership. We need to surface, engage and explore these tensions in conversations and in our work. If we aren’t working against some tension, then we are going through the motions. That is now or soon will be the work of robots and not worthy of the creative talents of humanity. In customer experiences, employee experiences and community engagement, an absence of challenge and debate is a sign of entropy. We are most comfortable passing over the peak to decline.
When we step into the discomfort of tensions, value, learning and growth await us.
PS. Thanks to David Holzmer for prompting this piece on his comments on yesterday’s post. Thanks also to James Altucher for the reminder “Don’t Be Easy”