Over the last few weeks, I've been building on this idea of how to build a better intranet. On week 1, I discussed how you can tell if your users hate your intranet, including a free downloadable Rate Your Intranet survey. You have to know where you are today, before you can start working toward tomorrow. For week 2, I shared 4 reasons why your intranet is no longer effective. And last week, I talked about how luck could actually be the secret ingredient for a successful intranet.

build a better intranet

This week, it's all about the main course. I want to share 10 practical tips with you, that I believe will help you build a rock-solid intranet. Some of these you may have heard, and some may new ideas, but all are time-tested and have been proven effective. But please…as you read these…do not through common sense and due diligence out the window. Everything you do has to be analyzed objectively and viewed through the lens of your organization and its culture. In fact, some of these tips may not work at all for you, and that's ok. My goal is that while not all may be applicable, hopefully the plant some seeds and help you begin to think differently about building your intranet.

Know Your Neighbor

When I ask most leaders if they know the users in their organization, I almost always get a unanimous "Yes!" But then I probe deeper, asking things like "What percentage of your user population are millennials?", "How many use mobile to check email or Intranet?", "Which users are Baby Boomers with teenagers?" Why are these questions important? Because they can tell us a lot about how our users work and what experience they have. You see, building a successful intranet is less about technology and more about change and oftentimes getting users to do things differently. So you need to really get to know your neighbor, what they need, what frustrates them, and how they work.

Here’s an idea to get you started: Reach out to the youngest employees in your company, and ask them to tell you how they want to work with your processes in the near future. What should change? What’s broken? If they had their way, how would it be done? I promise, they’ll tell you.

Reorg and Rewrite

How many of you have ever received bad directions before? I sure have. And it was never intentional, but the way someone explained something, or missed something important, led me on a wild goose chase until I finally found my way. Well, I’ve got some bad news - we see a lot of bad directions when it comes to navigating the intranet. How you structure and organize your content is how your users navigate and get directions to the what they need. And if they can't find it quickly, they'll stop looking. Trust me. Here are 4 practical strategies to better organize your intranet content:

  1. Mega-Menus
    intranet mega menuThese have been around for a while, but most organizations with whom I speak have not looked at these. The idea is this - rather than have so many top-level navigation items, try adding a few action-oriented menu items, with many options for drill-down.

  2. Task-Oriented Grouping
    Most of you reading this likely have an intranet that is organized by department and follows the org chart nearly verbatim. This is an "old way" of thinking, because if we're honest, how many of you come to work to "work with HR" or "work with Engineering?" We come to work to do tasks - to get work done - so ditch the org chart and start thinking about the task rather than the department. Another reason why this strategy works is because new employees almost never know what every department does. So organizing by department can be confusing for new employees as well. Oh yeah, and what about age-old problem of "Where does that live…HR, IT, Legal?" This often minimizes or eliminates these issues. But be careful, sometimes org structure is all that your users know, so there may be change management issues with the task-oriented approach.

  3. Action-Oriented Labels
    action oriented labelsThis tactic relates more to links that are on pages, rather than navigation items, but we have seen behavior change when the language used on links is changed to be more action-oriented.

  4. Promote Top Areas
    Every intranet platform today has the ability to promote popular links or areas, yet many never leverage this functionality. The truth is, it's popular for a reason, so surface that information for others to see.
Avoid Another Silo

How many of you use only 1 application per week? What about 1 application per day? Crickets… We all use a lot of application, in fact the typical worker can easily find themselves regularly having to use 20-30 applications a week to get their jobs done (ZDNet). Is your intranet yet another application for your users to use, or is it well-connected - a bridge - between departments and groups, fostering communication and collaboration. I believe that the most successful organizations use their intranet as a bridge to connect islands of information across the enterprise.

Try this: Explore how you might use real-time data from other systems to give people better insight for faster decision making. What systems would be good candidates for integration with your intranet? For SharePoint, 46% have no integration with other systems, and are complete silos of information (AIIM).

Rethink Communication

How many of you still participate in multi-hour or multi-day training classes? Now, how many of you actually enjoy it? Training has changed, and I've mentioned this before, but we have to rethink how we're equipping and empowering our employees to use the intranet. We are bombarded with information, and can no longer rely on training our users the same old way. So I came up with an easy way to remember this, that I call Prepare and Proclaim.

prepare and proclaim - intranet training and communication

Remember this: Training is important, there's no doubt. In fact 44% of employees say that insufficient training is a barrier to adopting new workplace technologies (Clearbox), but I'll tell you something that's even more important than training...

People won’t care how,
if they don’t know why.

Less is More

The older I get, the more I realize the truth behind this statement. As I mentioned above, today we are overwhelmed with abundance – digital noise, inputs, etc. For example, an old way of thinking was to minimize clicks on the Web, but today we know that thinking isn’t always best. I've come up with the ABCs of keeping your intranet simple.

Attention Span - Keep pages clean and simple, not busy. A new employee should be able to visit any page on your intranet and know exactly where to click or go next within 2-3 seconds.

Bite-Sized Delivery - Your content should be delivered in a bite > snack > meal fashion. In other words, first give the user a bite (a simple link), then a snack (maybe a mega menu or additional options), then the meal (the entire page or content). See the example here of the White House site, where "Issues" is the bite, the list of top issues is the snack, and any one of the issues is the meal (where the "meat" is).

Consistency Is Key – Nothing drives users crazy like inconsistency, and this includes inconsistency in design, layout, navigation, terminology, etc. Familiarity breeds findability.

Manage your ROT

I'm still surprised by how many people don't know what ROT is. ROT stands for Redundant, Outdated, Trivial, and is a great way to classify your content. ROT is just what it sounds like, digital noise that almost always prohibits effective knowledge discovery and often leads to massive user frustration. And at first glance, you may think that the largest "cost" of ROT is storing all of the content that is not adding value, but that's the least of your worries.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You try to find something in a specific location on your intranet, but you can't find it, so you use the intranet's global search, but you still can't find it. So after spending nearly an hour, you ultimately have to ask a colleague, who then emails it to you. BUT, rather than store this in the intranet where it should be, you save it locally 9or keep it in your email), so you can quickly find it next time without the heartburn. Anyone? A lot of things have happened here. From user frustration, to low adoption, to circumventing the systems (storing artifacts locally so you no longer have to search for it), to restricting collaboration and knowledge sharing. And so it goes with ROT. It can cause a lot of grief. Start by identifying what the R, O, and T are in your organization. Our governance toolkit includes guidance, scripts and templates for helping you to identify ROT within your organization.

Question: How much ROT do you think you have? The average company considers 58% of their content to be ROT (AIIM).

Give Users a Voice

sharepoint intranet feedback add-in solutionI think it's a universal truth, but we all like to be involved and heard, and why shouldn't we; users have some great ideas We've already seen how important it is to get your users involved early in the process, but this is specifically talking about how to engage and listen to users once the intranet is deployed. How many of you have a formal way for users to give quick and easy feedback on your intranet? And no, submitting a helpdesk ticket or emailing intranethelp@company.com is not a sufficient feedback process. The key is to make it easy and "in the flow." If you do happen to be using one of these methods, are you getting a lot of feedback? We're all busy, and when users are on the intranet, they are working on a specific task, and the last thing they want to do is take time to stop and give feedback. So make it easy. If you're using SharePoint, we've actually created a method that takes less than 5 seconds to provide feedback, and it's available for free if you'd like to try it.

Loosen Up

Governance is one of those buzzwords that we all know is important, but are tired of hearing. When I talk about this tip, it often takes people by surprise, because governance, despite its perception, is such an important topic these days. We couldn't agree more. But from my experience, I believe that in many ways, especially with intranets, governance has gone too far these days, and it’s impacting not only the intranet but employee engagement as well. Every organization needs to apply governance in their own unique way, but we often see organizations apply a rigid governance model to the entire intranet, and this is almost always the wrong approach. I won't be able to get into the various intranet governance models in this post, but I want to share with you our rule when applying balanced governance to an intranet. We call it Rigid at the Core and Flexible at the Edges. The core is your non-negotiables such as retention policies, compliance, auditing, etc. Everything outside of your core, if your edges. This is where people collaborate and spend most of their time. Be careful not to let your core bleed into your edges, or people will find another place to collaborate (e.g. DropBox, Email, etc.)

sharepoint intranet governance

Keep One Hand on the Wheel

We see many intranets that are well-planned, well-built, but still fail. It almost always comes down to a "set it and forget it mentality" - and once the intranet is in place, it's on to the next project. But your users and your business are not static, are they? The intranet is one initiative that should never be “finished." Once you say it's finished, it's FINISHED, if you catch my drift. So organizations need to work hard to have a process for continuous improvement. But let me be clear, improvements doesn't necessarily mean enhancements. If you've set a roadmap and defined your why (you have done this right?), then you need to make sure your intranet is always pointing toward that goal, and if they goal(s) change, then your intranet should change to point there again. Many organizations do everything right and have a great intranet…for a while, and then the sizzle fizzles, and people begin to find better tools that work more like they do. It happens every day. One of the best things you can do to help this is to establish a Steering Committee early-on. Some leadership team, made up of multiple departments, that keeps "one hand on the wheel" of your intranet. If you don't, your intranet may crash and burn. AIIM research states that having a multi-departmental steering committee increases the success rate by as much as 30%. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Don't know where to start, try this: Every quarter send a quick survey asking your users for three things your intranet should START DOING and three things your intranet should STOP DOING. Make it simple. When you get the results, share the data and insights with the company. Learn from it. And do something about it.

Think Evolution, Not Revolution

This last tip I want to leave you with is one that I believe will serve all of us well. I know that everything we do today says go go go, new and shiny technology, achieve, disrupt, etc. But the last time I checked, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I can guarantee your intranet won’t be either. We see so many companies that want to build an intranet so quickly, without much forethought for where they want to end up and how they will measure success. Slow down. Maybe an off the shelf intranet product will work well, maybe not. How do you decide. Who should decide? Do some planning, define your why, and start small. Start with your foundation, and then rock-by-rock build your intranet, for the people and by the people. Plan, prioritize, build and then refine. Many of you may have heard of the Nielsen Norman Group. They do an intranet design contest each year, and share what goes into the winning intranets. Did you know that the average time spent on a winning intranet design was 16 months? Not 2 or 3, not even 6.

The truth is, you can't get everything done in a day, so don't try. Take it one day at a time, one person at a time, one task at a time.

Small steps add up to big wins.

I told you this was the main course – and i know there was a lot of meat here, but I also know my list isn't all-inclusive.

What do you think? What other tips do you have that have been successful in your organization?

If this article or any of the previous ones has been beneficial, and you want to know more, check out our upcoming webinars and live events.

We also have a 2-Day Building a Better Intranet Workshop coming up in August. It will be a packed, 2 days of intranet planning, from inception, through sustainable adoption.