After talking with 75 team members during a listening tour, I identified their number one internal communications challenge: Content needs a home!
There were emails, shared documents and Slack posts, but all led to different locations. To confirm this hypothesis, I typed a question into Slack: “Where can I find?” The results were astonishing; approximately 6,000 times over the past nine months, employees asked this question. Out of curiosity, I multiplied this number by the amount of time colleagues might have spent answering these repeated requests and that was all I needed to make my case. A screenshot of this search turned into the opening slide for a pitch desk proposing the solution – the first company intranet.
This post shares lessons learned from a past intranet launch that I led in partnership with peers from the IT team. It also includes intranet best practices from other experienced internal comms professionals. These reflections are intended as resources to help anyone in their future mission to give content a home and save time, energy and resources.
1. Listen for employee need.
Before embarking on an intranet launch, ask your colleagues to clarify what they need. Here are a few suggested routes for finding that answer:
- Observe behavior: Are your team members lost looking for content? Does the question arise often in chats or emails?
- Engage in conversation: When you meet with colleagues, ask, “What is your number one internal communications challenge?” Find out where they go to find information to identify the multiple sources. These conversations should happen with team members at all levels, from executive assistants to VPs.
- Interview focus groups: Small group chats can be helpful for identifying themes. Be cognizant of groupthink, defined by Psychology Today as “a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible.” As you seek out solutions, make sure you get a diversity of perspectives.
- Send a survey: Data makes a compelling case, but getting employees to fill out surveys is not as simple. Manage expectations with this approach.
2. Research options.
Perhaps you have a solution with one of your organization’s current products and don’t even realize it. Take a deep dive into the resources you currently use or have available before considering a new tool. When employees learn you are considering an intranet, they often ask, “Can we use something we already have rather than starting from scratch?”
If you decide that route won’t work, then begin a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Outline the categories you must have, would be nice to have and what you can live without. Topics to consider in your research range from employee directories, mobile-friendly design, administrator privileges, app integrations, social media engagement and ease of use for non-technical people. Think through what you need before scheduling demos with providers.
Learn about the features making each tool a compelling choice. If possible, record the presentations to remember what you liked. Take notes on a shared document, and encourage team members to fill out a pre-established score card within 24 hours to rank the options and contribute to an informed decision.
3. Identify internal champions.
Then, establish a cross-functional team with representation from across your organization. Be careful to not over-populate it with too many colleagues, as you don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen to slow down decision making. Consider the departments and levels of potential members, outline their expected responsibilities, and invite them to join you to make a major impact on the organization.
Keep in mind, these participants will become your internal champions during the implementation phase. Representation from the following departments is highly recommended – Human Resources (People Team), Communications, Information Technology, Operations, Administrative Assistants and the Executive Team. If possible, it’s advantageous to also have participants from Engineering or Product as they might be your biggest critics if the technology of the selected tool doesn’t meet their expectations. It’s better to have them on your side from the start.
Support from leadership at the beginning ensures when you’re ready to ask them to sign a contract, there’s minimal hesitancy. If your organization has a chief of staff or an executive who can serve as an advisor, invite those leaders in as thought-partners.
4. Develop an implementation plan.
Once you’ve selected your ideal intranet provider, they should provide you with a timeline for implementation. This process won’t happen as quickly as you would like. Plan for three months, and if it goes faster, you’ll exceed expectations. It will include project phases, checklists and project management to keep you on track.
It’s important to set up your implementation team – approximately five team members from IT, HR, Communications and another key department who will move this project forward. Define roles and expectations to ensure collective objectives and key results. Commit to blocking off at least two hours of your week to the tasks.
Take the time to get to know the intranet implementation team. Define your communication styles, feedback preferences and any quirks to ensure alignment. Set up a weekly meeting, communication methods and shared file storage to keep the team on track.
5. Nominate site managers.
When your intranet is ready for content, Internal Communications empowers team members to populate it. Give the contributors tools to succeed in their roles as you serve as orchestra conductor. The best intranets succeed with standardized processes and training for content creators.
Ask your leadership team to nominate a representative per department. Note the use of nominations rather than assignments; this elevates the intranet beyond a task to a tool for employee success. Take an individualized approach instead of a group message to emphasize the personal. Create a standard message and customize as needed. Anticipate questions leaders may ask and weave answers into your request. Define the responsibilities, estimate the time commitment, and paint a picture of a better future with their team’s participation.
6. Activate, train and remind.
Now, get ready to engage your intranet representatives, or “site managers.” Create a social channel or group and a site within the intranet to access the resources (this great idea came from my IT partner). With this strategy, you reinforce the new behavior by driving employees directly to the intranet.
Your first meeting should be an intranet demo to show the possibility of features, which can be challenging to envision without visualizing options. Based on the introduction, invite representatives to request features they are looking for to ensure those are enabled when the intranet goes live.
Then, provide additional training. As you do so, consider your audience’s needs. When the intranet was ready for site managers to populate with information, I distributed a 30-minute training video produced by our intranet provider.
After a few weeks, I noticed no one seemed to be watching it or adding their content. What was the reason for the delay? I reached out to a trusted colleague for feedback and learned an important lesson. He explained that we are all busy and no one really had 30 minutes to watch a video. Instead, he suggested 5-minute videos would make it simpler for employees. I went back to the drawing board with my IT partner and produced the videos quickly. Slowly, but surely, we began to see more activity.
When implementation began, we met with each intranet manager to create their site shell. These one-on-one meetings took a lot of time, but helped hold site managers accountable, addressed concerns and showed the power of customization. Throughout the three months, we sent a weekly reminder with the top three action items for site managers. We also posted these deadlines on the intranet site and in Slack.
The next challenge we faced was moving content from the many sources into one — the new intranet. In some cases, our team wound up helping more than planned, but in the end, we wanted to show the representatives the simplicity of this new tool and needed the content by our launch date.
7. Engage employees to participate.
Before going live, we encouraged employees to be part of the launch in a few ways. First, we hosted a naming contest. The creative suggestions from across the company gave us 70 ideas! Ultimately, we selected the best name in partnership with leadership. The winner received custom company swag as a prize.
Then, we asked questions to confirm what our colleagues wanted from our new intranet. A graphic in Slack asked for their feedback, including, “What would you like to see on the intranet?” A thread of answers followed, and I took note to ensure the majority of these requests were incorporated.
8. Plan a fun, phased rollout.
To preview the intranet, we presented at a major company meeting and showcased a few of the most compelling features. This teaser took place a few days before our official rollout. When we went live, the announcement came from a top leader to emphasize the importance of this resource – both in terms of using it and adding to it.
While I wanted to host a launch party, I realized the more practical option was a virtual scavenger hunt that employees could complete on their own time, with fun prizes and creative meeting backgrounds with our intranet design as advertising.
Despite all of our planning, when it came ready for launch, not every page in the intranet or every feature was perfect, so we went live in phases, offering a rollout that would engage team members in the core content with additional options and access over the next few weeks and months.
9. Incorporate maintenance into your daily routine.
With the intranet live, I needed to change the way we worked. Instead of simply posting or sending an email, employees should instead link to the intranet so information could be found a few days after distribution.
But to make the case for that extra 30 seconds of effort by others, I need to show why this shift mattered. With more training and toolkits, site managers had resources to ultimately make their jobs easier. Then, something magical happened – colleagues from across the company starting asking if they could post content on the intranet. Now we had even more content creators to make the intranet a go-to destination.
I also changed my routine. Now, each day began with the intranet. I reviewed content, removed anything that wasn’t relevant – or it removed itself with a great feature that enabled authors to un-publish content at a certain date.
Previously, I had managed a monthly newsletter that took hours to curate, but now I could easily curate a weekly newsletter in 15 minutes. Sent directly from the intranet to inboxes, the newsletter gave content previews and drove traffic to the sources.
10. Make It relevant, interactive and social.
When I started this project, I received advice that “the intranet is only as good as what’s in it.”
After the heavy lifting of implementation, the next few weeks are essential to ensure adoption. The content should be relatable so employees can engage with it by adding emoji, comments or tagging each other.
Here’s great advice from the field of experienced internal communicators:
“With intranets, I’m thinking about two things: What’s in it for employees, and what will keep the site fresh so they keep coming back. If you have a carousel, articles in it should change regularly. On the home page, find a place for useful information like a weekly calendar or daily employee lunch specials or hourly bus arrival times that will change regularly. If you have a recognition program, create a widget that ensures the latest employee recognitions always appear on your home page. I want a “one stop shop” for everything I need to know. And I want it provided in a super relevant, easily digestible manner. If that’s what I want as an employee, I’d like to think that’s what my team would find helpful as well.”
“In today’s busy work environment, intranets must grab employee attention and evoke quick interest through: Personalization so that content is targeted by audience and is meaningful and relevant to the individual reader. News and information must ultimately help them get their work done. A “call to action” can give the content greater purpose and effectively draw the employee into the message. Brevity: Employees rarely have time to peruse content. Keep the headlines crisp and clear, and the details short and sweet. Bullets can help keep the content focused and concise. Photos and graphics: A picture that captures the message is worth a thousand words. Infographics can distill a lot of information into an attention-grabbing format that can make an impact and remain memorable.”
“As digital transformation unfolds within organizations, today’s intranet is becoming much more of an employee ecosystem with easy access to all the various tools and platforms employees need to be well-informed and successful on the job. Providing a customized experience based on location, language, job function or other defining criteria is ideal to highlight relevant company news and resources and filter out information that isn’t applicable.
To build true community and camaraderie, it should be interactive, allowing employees to ask questions, provide feedback, share ideas and connect with colleagues. Timely news and more static information should be easy to find and consume, aided by mobile/digital alerts when something critical or news-breaking occurs. Information should be presented in a way that is authentic, approachable, memorable and fun when the content lends itself. This should be strengthened by compelling imagery and video for more of a rich, multimedia experience. Finally, the employee intranet and its surrounding ecosystem should never be considered complete; it should shift and evolve as the company direction, employee body and available technology does.”
11. Analyze the metrics.
Data analysis topped the list of reasons why investing in an intranet mattered. Beyond counting the number of emoji likes a post received, metrics were minimal. We sought robust analytics to make informed internal communications decisions. With a great intranet provider, this resource will be built into dashboards and exportable files. Now, I can see views at multiple levels, from who logged in to locations to departments and so much more.
In addition, we sent a survey one month after launch to help the project team understand what was resonating and suggestions to make the Intranet an even stronger employee resource. This will likely be repeated in a few months to measure impact over time.
Looking back–and forward
There were so many successes to celebrate with the intranet launch, but not everything went exactly as I had planned. Along the way, I’ve learned more about what employees are looking for and how to pivot based on activity. But, overall, this new intranet transformed internal communications.
In a few more months, when someone searches for “Where can I find?” in Slack, here’s hoping it will be significantly less than the 6,000 times it showed up when embarking upon this project. And that they can find what they are looking for on their own without asking others.
Did you learn something new? Consider sharing with your friends in the field.
Julia Levy is the editor of The Switchboard, an internal communications newsletter and blog that features career profiles and best practices on the field. It is one of her side project passions, which also includes National Muffin Day and Tradition Kitchens. By day, Julia builds communities and creates content in internal communications. Previously, she worked in philanthropy.