8 ways to launch an employee-centric intranet

The American Medical Association turned an outdated intranet into a hub of collaboration. Here are strategies for pulling that off in your own relaunch.

AMA intranet tips

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Is your intranet so bad that your employees’ critiques of it read like mean tweets?

That’s how it was at the American Medical Association, where staffers offered comments such as: “It is not visually appealing, search is worthless, navigation is practically impossible, and the information is stale,” says Catherine Williams, employee communications manager.

Time for a revamp. In “Redesign an award-winning intranet with employee-centric strategies,” Williams describes the AMA’s redesign of its SharePoint internal channel in a session full of useful pointers for communicators.

Founded in 1847 and headquartered in Chicago, the 1,000-employee organization launched a new intranet that has become a dynamic hub of communications and interaction. It replaced an intranet that didn’t live up to the organization’s lofty reputation.

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“[Employees] were going there to click a link to go to the system to fill out their timecard,” Williams says. “They weren’t going there for any other reason. They didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t something that was enhancing the employee experience. And part of that was content that was not relevant.”

Here are a few of her tips for fixing all that:

1. Use a survey to begin building your narrative.

The AMA asked its workforce for feedback. What were their perceptions of the current site, what did they want from the intranet and what kind of the culture would they like?

Fifty-eight percent of employees were dissatisfied with the AMA internal channel, Williams says, but the real number was probably higher. After years of working with a bad intranet, their expectations were low.

Employees were told their feedback would be used to build the new intranet. This, Williams says, is where your change management narrative can start. Ask yourself, “What is the story that you’re going to tell employees when you launch?” she says.

2. Listen to the criticism.

Don’t run from criticism of your old site. Embrace it and use it to build anticipation for the new one. The AMA used video of executives reading aloud actual feedback from employees about the old intranet, mean tweet style.

The comments often were, well, honest enough to leave Williams’ audience of internal communicators laughing:

  • “Poor, dated interface meets butt-ugly design.”
  • “The very first day I worked here I was given a paper binder, which has been more helpful than the whole intranet.”
  • “I go there daily because I have to, not because I want to.”
  • “It is not visually appealing, search is worthless, navigation is practically impossible, and the information is stale.”

The AMA used the videos to convey the message, “We heard what you had to say, and we took it to heart, and we’re rebuilding a digital workplace for you,” Williams says.

3. Recruit change ambassadors.

The AMA used personas to segment its audience and understand its needs. Communicators also made sure to consult a mix of people across the organization, asking how the intranet could meet their expectations.

“Use these people to be your change ambassadors later,” Williams says. “They’re invested. They feel like, ‘Hey, I’ve been heard.’”

4. Spread the knowledge.

Make sure you have multiple people trained to step in and take over in case the person in charge leaves. That way you don’t lose all the knowledge and hard work with an unexpected staff change.

5. Help people connect.

One of the personas was “the Connected Employee,” or the networker. This person works with multiple individuals, and wants to find ways to reach out to people for help or expertise.

“So we want to make sure that it’s easier for people to connect,” Williams says.

The new site has a “How do I?” section, guiding employees through certain work activities and frequently asked questions. The profiles are all searchable.

Before launching, the AMA arranged for its photographer to offer photo sessions in which people could drop by, get their photo taken and use it for their intranet profiles as well as LinkedIn.

6. Make it possible to coordinate communications.

One initiative related to reimagining doctors’ residencies. The new design allowed AMA communications to take over the home page for the launch, including an article on the topic and another about the physician who was heading the effort.

The campaign started with a new edition of the newsletter that drove employees to the intranet.

“At 8 a.m. you have that in your inbox,” Williams says. “They’re sending out the press release on that initiative later. Our CEO is having a press conference. You’re seeing this on AMAtoday. You’re understanding what this is. And then you’re understanding who’s working on it.”

7. Feature your employees.

The site has a section called AMAliving, which allows employees to upload photos of the design team, along with a guy in shipping who ran a marathon and other news.

A section called AMA Spotlight offers features such as the story of a woman who lost 65 pounds in the AMA’s wellness program.

8. Pare down the newsletter.

AMA redesigned its newsletters be an aggregation of “brief, little snippets that makes you want to read more on our intranet,” Williams says. “It’s a traffic driver. It doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all, like it was.”

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