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Involving just one department will not make your intranet successful. Who needs to become actively involved from the start? And what role do doubters and critics play? 

“We have a cloud first strategy.”

“We are a Microsoft shop and have to use SharePoint. SharePoint is free for us.” (Replace with Microsoft Teams or another favorite.)

I am pretty much convinced that most people who say this do not want to hear my arguments about why these explanations are not sustainable. The background of this is often much more trite, however: they are just excuses to hide other, much more serious problems.

Often, the company lacks extensive internal support for an intranet solution. And instead of creating a foundation for it, arguments are used to kill it. These excuses help to hide the fact that a common strategy doesn’t exist. For example, it suits the IT department that the company only uses Microsoft products. This allows the discourse about other systems and ideas to be nipped in the bud without any further discussion. For corporate communications, for example, the cloud first strategy, in turn, serves as a justification as to why IT is not asked about the matter or does not have a say. The pattern of thinking behind this is that we want to host everything in the cloud anyway, because it no longer makes us dependent on a rigid IT department. Let’s make a strategy out of it: a cloud first strategy.

And yes, it works. A policy like this with arguments like these allows you to push through systems in the company or nip them in the bud. I’ve seen this happen several times. What is fairly certain, however, is that a solo attempt of this kind undertaken by part of the organization will not be sustainable. It doesn’t really matter which arguments are put forward and by whom. 

Only a system that is supported equally by all key groups in a company has a chance of being really successful. 

Decisive as a rule here are the management (i.e. upper management), the IT department and corporate communications. The HR department or marketing can also be important. In most classically managed companies, the system content is populated by the last three departments. Ideally, everyone is sitting in the same boat. 

If a company has a corporate communications department, it functions mainly as the essential driver for the success of an intranet. The IT department and management are fundamental in much the same way. Internally, we say in simple terms: 

The intranet belongs to corporate communications. IT has a veto right. 

As part of the intranet team, you should be keen to build consensus within the company for a system. A bad solution may not be received well by end users, but with really good content it can still work. If everyone pulls together, it may be even better to use software from the “just about okay” category. 

A bigger problem in a company, however, is the people who are spurned and ignored. By this I mean, in particular, not only individual people (primarily in management positions), but also entire departments. A “not invented here” syndrome can nip the motivation of the people who are meant to create the content in the bud. I have rarely seen someone who was not asked and who has now had a collaborative software solution forced onto them answer, “So, I managed to find a couple of hours to put your software through its paces and it’s really good. I find the process a little messed up, but the solution is very good. So that’s why we’re going to ramp everything up and continue at full steam ahead!” The usual response is, “As long as I’m still responsible for anything in this shop, we’re not doing anything with this tool.” But nobody ever says that. We just stay muted and intransigent. I know that May, Miller and Smith do the same in their departments. We’ll just sit the problem out.” And suddenly your intranet project has turned into a suicide mission without you knowing it.

If you hear someone in your organization using long-winded arguments like “cloud first” or “mobile first” in an attempt to nip your project in the bud, then it’s certainly worth taking a closer look. After all, your intranet will be on the corporate stage for the next three to five years before you can officially embark on a relaunch. And who wants to admit after a few months or a year that the project was a complete flop and needs to be restarted? As long as nothing has been decided, it’s worth it when your intranet team makes an active and constructive contribution and, above all, approaches stakeholders and colleagues in order to get them on board right away, so that defensive attitudes like this do not crop up in the first place.

And the good news is that in reality, every department in the company wants an intranet! The problem is that most people just don’t have any time to deal with it or have other priorities. The thing is that with an intranet, everyone benefits overall from better communication and collaboration, and more efficiency and more effectiveness – the individual employee, the different departments and the organization as a whole. I’m genuinely interested in hearing the factual arguments that departments have for why they want to distance themselves from an intranet!

I think it’s okay if someone decides that they don’t have time or are happy to live with the consequences of their inactivity in their area of responsibility. If this will result in an open or tacit refusal to use the intranet later on, however, then the intranet team should seek closer contact with the department concerned. 

And it’s true that if you want to introduce an intranet at a huge corporation, you will have a lot more work to do than someone who just works in a smaller organization. And, of course, you can’t ask everyone. But don’t tell me, for example, that you “can’t bring in the works council at this point.” 

One thing that you must be clear about is that the people in the works council will have known about your project for ages and the longer you hesitate, the greater the risk of reprisals if you fail to seek their support early on. We have had to wait months in the past for the general works council (in German companies) to sign the works agreement at a large corporation. What a crazy amount of time to delay! The decision to get the works council involved was made for the first time at the very end of the project “for tactical reasons” apparently. Such a move is not uncommon. It’s not for me to say whether this is actually a good idea or not in individual cases. But for us, it always felt like a big mistake not to involve the works council right from the start, when it is as strong as usually in large German enterprises. 

We’ve also worked on projects in complete harmony that were totally uncomplicated, even though the works council made some bold demands and enforced some pretty idiosyncratic restrictions. 

If you are somehow having difficulty making progress with your intranet project and think that you might be able make it move faster and better on your own, then think again! A good and really smart friend once told me about a phenomenon from Japan. Companies there have something that is called “caring for the grass roots” or “nemawashi.” This approach is particularly successful at Toyota, the Japanese company celebrated as one of the key pioneers in agile management. The approach is all about caring for the roots (of a company) for so long that when the decision about something is actually made, everyone already knows what’s going to happen. For this reason, it often takes an incredibly long time to make a decision at organizations like Toyota. But the moment the decision is made, the time it takes to implement it is really quick.

An approach like this is pretty smart, because as long as you haven’t committed yourself to anything, you can still make a U-turn. But if you do commit yourself and others do so too, the likelihood of receiving broad support is greater. 

Remember to care for the grass roots. Take the time to get everyone on board and establish a broad support base. 

To be honest, it pains me a little to recommend this approach to you, because it’s natural for me as a software vendor to want to make a quick and easy sale. That makes for a quick profit. All the consultants out there are often only really interested in a long, drawn out selection process, especially, if they make money from the evaluation process. And software vendors like to push for quick decisions.

Without any pangs of conscience this time, I recommend that you start testing the software solutions on your short list immediately, because real experience always forms the best basis for decision making. Excel tables and utility value analyses are no match for this. In fact, they are often actually counterproductive. But if you start testing right away, it doesn’t mean that you have to test them out immediately on all of your employees. It’s fine if you only involve your intranet team first. Five to ten people will suffice.

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