8 secrets for success in designing your new intranet

Creating an internal digital platform wasn’t merely a technology project at Great American Insurance Group. It was all about employee engagement.

Intranet success tips

Think of your new intranet project as moving from a home where you’ve lived for decades.

Your content includes not just the beautiful new furniture and jumbo TV, but all the threadbare coats, broken toys, discarded coffeemakers and workout videos you’ve been stuffing into your garage and basement.

What will you pack up and take with you into that spiffy new space? And what—like that beloved college sweatshirt stained from the time you changed your car’s oil—belongs in the rag bag?

The same goes for migrating to a new intranet, says Amy Zimmerman, senior communications manager for Great American Insurance Group.

The insurance carrier’s project team told their colleagues responsible for content, “You need to move content to the new intranet. But here’s a really great opportunity to evaluate that, just like if you were packing to move your home.”

Here more tips from Zimmerman for success when drawing up your own new intranet:

1. It’s an employee engagement project, not a technology project.

From start to finish over 24 months, more than 1,600 employees were involved in Great American’s project—a full 20 percent of its global workforce of 8,000. The goal was to get them involved in building an intranet they would use, not what comms or IT imagined they might like.

“What we’ve discovered is that it’s for employees, so it should be about employees and it should be informed by employees,” Zimmerman says.

2. Assemble the correct project team.

If you want your project to hum along as a top priority, recruit an executive sponsor, Zimmerman says. Usually this is the chief human resources officer or chief operating officer. It should also include clout-wielding folks from IT, comms, HR, and marketing and branding.

Once you’ve done that, clearly delineate everyone’s roles. All this served Great American well, preventing miscommunication and redundant responsibilities.

3. Create a project plan.

After assembling the team, create a project plan, including milestones and deadlines. List known barriers to success, such as unavailability of staff or timing issues. Meet regularly and document your decisions, keeping people accountable.

Zimmerman admits, “To some extent, that’s like Project Management 101.”

So why aren’t we all doing it?

4. Audit your intranet.

Inventory your current content. This is a fine opportunity to solicit employee feedback. Ask them what works well. What parts are confusing? What additional information or resources do you need?

Great American initially solicited feedback through SurveyMonkey, and then it held employee focus groups at the Cincinnati headquarters. Project team members recommended people they knew who could offer thoughtful criticism or who cared passionately about the intranet.

5. Rally your influencers.

Think of the unsung heroes that everyone bugs when they need to find something on the intranet. Often administrative assistants or department managers, they are the go-to people that employees seek out to say, “Hey, I’m trying to find this on the intranet, and I can’t locate it. Can you help me?” Zimmerman says.

Consider them a constituency that you communicate with regularly, and use them as a sounding board.

6. Meet with content owners.

Members of the project team met with every content owner they could identify to let them know their involvement was welcomed. They had a voice in the project and a seat at the table.

Human Resources, for example, is one of the largest content owners, with information regarding wellness and learning and development. They were the subject matter experts, so the team needed them to manage the content going forward.

“That was very well received,” Zimmerman says. “We talked to the people that we wanted to come to the site before we even built it.”

Here’s where migrating to a new intranet becomes like moving to a new house. The project team didn’t want to waste time and technology resources packing up the hoarder’s basement full of outdated junk.

Over time, intranets collect dusty content that has lost its original purpose. The project team asked the owners to evaluate their pages: Did they want to migrate a given piece of content, update it or delete it?

“We challenged them to look at how is the content used,” Zimmerman says. “How frequently is it used? How many times do they get questions about that content?”

That approach helped Great American get rid of outdated, unused content.

7. Play a card game.

Great American used a process called “card sorting,” in which small groups of employees sit at a table and sort index cards representing the content into related groups. Whenever remote employees visited Cincinnati headquarters, they, too, were asked to participate. Other remote employees could take part digitally.

A project team member asked, “How do you categorize and organize content?”

The previous intranet had been organized according to company structure—but that isn’t how employees think. For example, one team negotiates contracts, which include employee discounts.

When employees sorted the cards, however, they classified employee discounts as a benefit. For new employee looking for discounted tickets to an amusement park, the first inclination wouldn’t be to go to the negotiating team’s area of the intranet. Similarly, employees tend to regard discounted travel as a benefit.

“Employees were less interested in who provided it than just understanding what was available to them and how they could get to it,” Zimmerman says.

After all, the above helped establish the information architecture. Once it was done, Great American went to its employees a second time and asked, “Does this make sense?”

Only after all that did the project team select a tool—in this case, SharePoint.

“A lot of times [intranet planners] do it backward,” Zimmerman says. “They select the tool, and then try to retrofit the requirements and the information architecture to fit in.”

8. Test, test, test.

Before IT even built the home page, the team conducted guided testing with many employees. They were asked, for instance: If you needed to change your home address with HR, where do you think you would find that on this menu?

It was a good way of validating how the intranet was organized. If necessary, tweaks were made.

The result was an intranet that was enthusiastically received and is widely used, averaging 205,000 visits a month to the home page, Zimmerman says. And nobody’s going to have hold a garage sale of unwanted content in the spiffy new house.


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