Making the Intranet Business Critical

Gerry McGovern
Jul 26, 2016 · 9 min read

By Kara Pernice and Gerry McGovern

July 2016


The intranet is not a project or a series of software systems. It is a work ecosystem that must be continuously improved if it is to achieve its potential. The traditional management model of measuring success based on projects and the acquisition of technology is ruinous and has patently failed. We must base success on measuring employee outcomes.

Ridiculous State of Affairs

The intranet continues to be the broken-down machine. Between the two of us, we have experience with thousands of intranets and are, to say the least, unimpressed. There are some truly bright spots and innovative designs. But more often than not, intranet teams fight an uphill battle to gain attention and resources from a senior management who has no genuine interest in or commitment the intranet / digital workplace. As a result, the design suffers, the employees suffer, the customers suffer, and the stockholders suffer.

Senior Managers Don’t Care

Senior management simply don’t care that their employees do not have the tools to effectively do their jobs. Ignoring the intranet is a ludicrous prospect. Would a fisherman use holly old nets? Would a first-chair violinist play a $20 banjo? Then why in the world do C-level managers consistently allow dreadfully bad intranets to remain to be the main tool that welcomes employees in the morning and is supposed to help them throughout the day?

Occasionally, intranets receive funding for a redesign, or purchasing new technology. And these can be helpful in the short run. But ongoing management and continuous improvement are rarely if ever funded. In other words, intranet teams often have one shot to make it great and last forever.

Management don’t see it as a business priority to give their employees an easy-to-use digital workplace. They just don’t value the time of their employees and have practically zero interest in making work life easier. Even in 2016, they think that it’s an IT issue, that all this digital transformation is a technology challenge. Unfortunately, the traditional IT department is about the last place where you will find an interest in making things usable.

There is a pervasive culture at a senior management level that simply does not respect the time of their employees. In other words, they don’t respect employees. A macho management culture focuses only on hard costs, and the employees should feel lucky to have a job. A real manager would never think of focusing on such silly, soft costs such as reducing the time it takes for an employee to book a meeting room, or access their pay details, or find a sales presentation or technical manual.

Why You Should Pay Attention to Your Intranet

What are the consequences of such a hard management culture?

· In 2016, a global survey of nearly 10,000 respondents, by EY, found that only 46% place “a great deal of trust” in their current employers. (In the U.S it’s only 38%.)

· In 2014, according to Gallup, only 32% of US workers felt engaged with their work.

· Millennials are the most disengaged at 29%, whereas the older generation of traditionalists have a 42% engagement.

· A staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work. (Gallup)

· Companies lose $350 billion a year because of employee disengagement, according to Dale Carnegie.

60 percent of Millennials will leave their jobs within the first 3 years, costing their employers an average of $20,000 each. Company culture is the second-highest priority among Millennial job seekers after salary. (Maybe Millennials have been reading Forbes, which found that employees who stay more than two years with their employers get paid half what those who regularly change their jobs?)

According to a survey by Interaction Associates, “More than half of those surveyed don’t trust their leaders. One-quarter of employees trust management less this year than in 2013.” Harvard Business Review found that half of employees felt that they were not respected by their bosses.

Twenty-five years ago, if you worked for a large organization, people envied you. You had all the cool tools, systems and you had lifelong employment. Now, people sympathize with you. Your internal systems are so slow and clunky that in many cases you’re forced to bring your own device. (The ultimate testament to organizational dysfunction.) In 2014, according to IDC, 175 million people were doing just that. By 2017, it’s expected to grow to 328 million. A 2015 Gartner survey found that a whopping 81% of employees are using their own mobile apps to help with doing their daily work.

“Consumer IT spend has grown five times in a decade,” Mark Hurd, Oracle CEO has stated. “Companies’ IT spend in that time frame is flat — and 82% of their spend is on maintenance; only 18% on innovation. Consumers are innovating. Companies are not. Companies have to keep up.”

In 2014, Teradata asked this question: Have employees access to the information they need to do their jobs well? 53% of managers admitted that they hadn’t, but when they asked employees, a scary 73% said they didn’t have the right information to do their jobs properly. This is a disgrace. It is a dereliction of duty by management.

As a result of all this mismanagement — and there is no other word for it — two-thirds of today’s employees feel “overwhelmed,” according to a 2014 Deloitte global survey. There are some signs that management is waking up. Employee engagement has become the biggest HR issue over the last 12 months, increasing to 87% from 79% last year, according to Deloitte.

Amazingly, only 12% have a strategy in place to make employees less overwhelmed and more engaged. How about, for starters, giving them a digital workplace worthy of the 21st Century. A place where it’s easy to find things and as easy and fast as possible to do things? Is that asking too much of organizations?

Actions You Can Take to Have a Better Intranet

The most important action to take is to change management culture. Management must start managing employee time and efficiency. But not from some old school perspective of command and control, but rather from the perspective of giving employees tools and information that put them in control. This is the essence of what digital transformation is about. This is why employees bring their own devices to work because these smartphones make them smarter and give them more control.

The metrics must change. Success is not the fact that a new technology system has been installed. Success must be based on measuring whether employees are more efficient and faster at doing their most important tasks. We must measure employee experience. We must measure employee effort.

Much of the growth in investment in relation to the consumer Web has been on making it easy to use technology. It is no surprise that the leaders on the public Web have all embraced simplicity and relentless customer focus as a core part of their strategies. Management must become relentlessly employee-focused if we are to turn the intranet around.

Here are some specific actions that can be taken:

1. Designate an Intranet Manager with real authority. If many people or nobody is in charge, there is no captain of the ship. Make the intranet someone’s full-time job, to manage technology, relationships across the organization, content, UX, governance, and people. Give this person guidance, budget, and control.

2. Give him or her a team. Staff size and skillsets needed can vary. But a set of people need to know this is part of their job, not a favor to a friend. Their schedule, goals, objectives and job description should reflect intranet-related activities.

3. Set clear goals related to the organization’s goals. Imagine you work for a real estate agency and the main goal is to sell commercial property in cities A, B, C, D. You know this. Your salespeople know this and their bonuses are based on it. But does your intranet team know this? It is your job as the manager to tell them.

Imagine the difference between setting the intranet managers’ goal as:

Redesign the intranet versus something much more specific, such as this:

· Improve the productivity of intranet tasks by 10% year on year

· Reduce the time it takes for booking a meeting room from 2 minutes to 1 minute.

· Reduce the time it takes to find an expert from 10 minutes to 5 minutes.

· Reduce the time it takes to enter a sales lead from 4 minutes to 2 minutes.

· Increase the accuracy and completeness of sales lead information from 70% to 90%.

· Increase task completion for online training bookings from 50% to 70%

· Reduce out-of-date information to less than 5% of overall information available.

The intranet is not a project or a series of software systems. It is a work ecosystem that must be continuously improved if it is to achieve its potential. The traditional management model of measuring success based on projects and the acquisition of technology is ruinous and has patently failed. We must base success on measuring employee outcomes. (Did they complete their task? How well and how quickly?)

With deliberate marching orders that focus on employee efficiency the team can make design and technology decisions that truly support the business. Without these goals, they flail or choose what seems right to them today.

So what else can a senior manager do?

1. Empower your development team to assess tools and development needs before purchasing the tool. No intranet technology works out of the box. If they tell you it does, they are lost or lying. All intranets need research, design, development, and a good content management system.

2. Allow the people who will use the tools to use them before they are bought. This may seem ridiculous but the people who generally buy the tools (IT, senior managers) never actually use them. New tools must be rigorously tested by the employees who will use them.

3. Assign staff with the right skillset for the log-term job. You will need these skills to redesign, create, and maintain any good intranet: content auditors, IA specialists, UX designers, writers, and developers. You may need a larger group of part-time staff (for example, SharePoint developers) for the creation, and another crew to maintain the intranet. But it will not be good when first installed, and it certainly will not maintain itself. Great intranets are continuously improved, not launched and left.

4. Benchmark what you have now. Take base measurements of the top employee tasks in the current environment. Focus on getting accurate completion rates and task times. All your future actions are then measured based on whether you are increasing task completion rates and reducing time on task.

About the authors

Kara Pernice, Sr. Vice President, Nielsen Norman Group

Kara has enjoyed researching and designing UX for applications, websites, and other consumer products for more than 25 years. Her unique business background contributes to her expertise in UX strategy and managing the UX process. She has established successful UX programs at multiple organizations (including IBM and Lotus Development). She coauthored the book Eyetracking Web Usability with Jakob Nielsen, as well as many of NN/g’s research reports. Her eyetracking research projects revealed the “F-Pattern” of reading, and several other user behaviors for scanning on the web. She is a leading authority on intranet usability (The Wall Street Journal called her “an intranet guru.”) She created NN/g’s Intranet Design Annual project in 2001 and has coauthored the reports ever since. Kara worked with Don Norman on the empirical lab research and ethnographic research that helped inform his book “Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things.” And she masterminded NN/g’s UX Certification Program, which launched in August, 2014., (@KaraAnn),,

Gerry McGovern, CEO, Customer Carewords

Gerry has been helping large organizations become more customer centric on the Web for over 20 years. His company’s commercial clients include Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp, VMware, and IBM. He has also consulted with the US, UK, Dutch, Canadian, Norwegian and Irish governments. He is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords, a company that has developed a set of tools and methods — called Top Tasks Management — to help large organizations identify and optimize their customers’ top online tasks. He has written five books on how the Web has facilitated the rise of customer power. The Irish Times described Gerry as one of five visionaries who have had a major impact on the development of the Web. In 2015, he was shortlisted for a Webby for his writings.


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