The importance of Why for intranets #intranatverk

I’m on my way back from my visit to Stockholm. I was honored to speak at one of Kristian Norling’s Intranatverk conferences. I’ll share my insights from the conference in another post and start with sharing my slides and the story around the slides with you. Please find my slides here:

My talk was about the importance of Why for intranets and digital workplaces. The reason to talk about this topic is my surprise about how often organizations don’t answer the why question and just focus on the what, when and where of intranets. (Research on Swedish and Finnish intranets underlined this. I’ll share more about this in a following post.) I think this is problematic and leads to intranets and digital workplaces that don’t have (enough) value.

Endless debates
When we talk about ‘why’ we could easily get into endless philosophical, demographical or cultural discussions. About why we don’t ask why? Or why kids asks why more often than adults? And why some cultures ask why more often? I didn’t want to go there in my talk. Although I do find this an interesting topic...

Why is there fire?
But, to be true, my kids (I have three boys) do inspire me to talk about ‘why’. As you know kids ask ‘why’ all the time. Over time, when we grow up, we seem to lose that. I love how kids question everything. Sometimes the why question is easy to answer: why are you dressed that way? Or, as they asked me recently while building a fire: dad, why is there fire? In any case the why questions makes us step back and think. It helps us find what is essential and necessary.

Better intranets
This goes for intranets and digital workplaces as well. In my experience asking why more often leads to intranets that are more:
  • ambitious
  • realistic
  • valuable
  • useful
Two issues with Why
What I see around the why question for intranets is 2 things:
  1. it’s not asked at all, it’s all about how, where and when
  2. it’s answered by a too small group
In my presentation I wanted to look at these two observations and unpack them. First of all: What is a good why or intranet goal and what does a good why look like? Secondly, I’d like to discuss the question how do you get to a good why?

Bad examples
Let’s look at the first one first. I’ve seen organizations formulate the goal of the intranet in the following way: The intranet should have news, profiles, project spaces and blogs. Is this a good why? I’m hoping when you read and think about this, you ask: but why? Why news, why profiles? What is the underlying reason to work on this? To me this goal or this answer to the why question is not good. It’s focused on how not why. It’s focused on functionality or strategy instead of goals. (By the way: to me goal and strategy are different things. A strategy is a way to achieve a goal. Don’t mix them up!)
Sometimes why is answered in a better way. Organizations say: the intranet should improve or centralize communication. Or: it should improve knowledge sharing.

This is indeed better than the previous one. But again, the question should be ‘why?’. Why should communication or knowledge sharing be improved? What’s the problem? And how does this relate to employees’ daily work and the goal of the organization? How are we going to show the intranet helped improve communication or knowledge sharing?

A good intranet goal
To me a good answer to the why question or a good intranet goal consists of the following:
  • it’s specific, measurable
  • it’s inspirational
  • it’s about short- and long-term
  • it’s related to business goals and the employee’s daily work
So the goal helps you define the value of the intranet and you can communicate that to employees and decision makers. It’s helps you improve the intranet. It’s helps you distinguish between what the intranet should do now and later. And it’s help you do business in a better way. More products developed, more new product ideas, better service, more sales, etc.

How to get to Why?
So, first I wanted to address what a good why or goal is. Now let’s think about how to define a good intranet goal. How do you do that? I often see the why question answered in a small, isolated group. E.g. in the Communications department. They are working hard amongst themselves to define the reason why a new or updated intranet is needed. In the best case IT and HR join the discussion. This usually leads to too ambitious goals or goals that are not grounded in the daily business of the organization.

Broad participation
My experience is that the why question should be answered by a broad group of people in the organization. Most importantly by the people in the primary business departments. Get them together, talk with them one-on-one and in workshops, understand how they do their work, which tools they use, work with them and create the answer to the why question with them. It’s not easy, but in doing so you get an intranet goal that:
  • really answers the why question
  • has a broad acceptance in the organization
  • creates enthusiastic amongst employees about the (future) intranet
In short
So to wrap up this blogpost. I hope it inspires you to:
  • Ask Why more often in intranet projects
  • Distinguish between why and how, between goals and strategy
  • Define goals together
  • Make sure the goal is measurable, inspirational, focused on now and then and relevant to the business
So, give me an example of a good intranet goal, you ask? Good question! You tell me. I hope you're able to formulate one. Share it as a comment to this post. :-)

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