Maybe you already have plans for a social intranet. Or even better, the social intranet is already up and running! I visit lots of organisations where a social intranet or digital workplace is a hot topic. Fortunately, the goal often goes beyond the communication objective of an intranet, or the mere static data available from staff departments. It is increasingly about how to make this platform relevant to the organisation and its objectives and how it can be made relevant to employees in their daily work.
However, I also see that many organisations find it difficult putting this into practice. In addition, there are two questions I often hear:
→ How can the social platform or digital workplace really help daily work?
→ And what does it deliver?
Both questions must be answered before you begin implementation or development. The first question is about creating something relevant to end users, since only then is it likely to be used. The social functionality is very relevant here, but it can never be an end in itself. That might be the case with Facebook or Snapchat, but in my opinion, things work differently with professional organisations. The social function provides processes, knowledge, products, groups, themes, etc. with context and dialogue, so it’s much more than simply a timeline on your portal.
In the following section, I’ll be providing some concrete examples of solutions where the social feature plays an important role. I’ll also be showing you how to identify this for your own organisation. The second question is increasingly related to getting approval for the required investment. Rightly so! Too often, projects are carried out without any clear idea of what they are supposed to do, or how they can help. I will return to this later.
Which features are relevant in a social intranet or the digital workplace? Moreover, which role do social features play in this? These examples are all very nice, but how do I find out what will work in my organisation? We help all kinds of organisations with questions like these. However, we don’t supply answers ourselves, but let end users resolve them by getting these users involved from the beginning. The most prominent pitfall is working by yourself to find the answers without getting the end user involved.
First, I’m going to look at a few concrete examples of relevant features for end-users and the additional benefits provided by social tools.
Situation: Citizens are asking a public-sector organisation lots of questions about current topics. Previously, these questions were always forwarded to the communications department, which is responsible for contact with the public. The communications department spends a lot of time answering the same questions. Also, it is often the case that the public cannot be helped immediately because the communications department is busy. Calling back also absorbs lots of time.
Solution: There is an icon next to every news article about which the organisation must have an opinion. Clicking on this, forwards you to the communications line. Each employee can respond directly to questions about this subject. The advantages speak for themselves: the public is helped immediately, and lots of time is saved. Social software is used here to support topics that generate lots of questions, and to provide feedback if the communications line is not clear.
Situation: An organisation has a high turnover of employees, so lots of new workers start every month. These all require an induction programme to get to know the organisation’s processes and practices. Programmes and training courses for new employees are already in place, but the responsibility for implementing these often lies with individual departments.
Solution: All new employees are supported online during induction, covering areas such as the first-day routine, essential sources, the ins and outs of all applications, where questions can be asked, and the names of colleagues who can help out if necessary. Everyone gets the same introduction. Social software also provides substantial benefits here. For example, a group can be set up for new employees where they can ask questions and share experiences. FAQs can also be given a place in this group. This gets new employees up to speed more quickly, and saves the organisation time with induction. A classic win-win situation. The payback time can be made very specific.
Situation: An organisation has many mobile employees involved in implementing projects. All of theeir processes are supported by hardcopies and phones. This is time-consuming, and all sorts of things frequently go wrong. For example, employees visit the wrong customer, or signing off work is booked to the wrong customer because the report is difficult to read.
Solution: Employees use a mobile device that supports them digitally. Work orders and schedules become simple forms and overviews. After work is completed, it can be signed off on the spot. The benefits are obvious: fewer problems, and substantial time savings. By adding social software, the mobile app also made it easier to share knowledge. Employees can now easily ask questions, and attach photos of any situation they encounter. A manager or other colleague can answer questions. Social software gets people collaborating to find the right answers more quickly, which means you don’t have to go back to the customer. Would you like to know what social software can do for your organisation? Read all about it in: Social Software Works.
These are different examples of using a social intranet in ways that are relevant to employees, and that also result in clear time savings or quality improvements. It also shows how social software can provide additional support or context. The biggest pitfall in many projects is that the project group decides the function without getting the end user involved. It’s certainly a good idea to look at good examples from other organisations, but what is even more important is to get the organisation’s own employees on board. This is something many organisations do, but then ask the wrong questions, such as: ‘How can we improve the existing intranet?’ or ‘What did you want to have?’ If you ask such questions, you’ll end up with a different kind of intranet, but with irrelevant functionality. On the other hand, you may get no answer at all, because many employees are unaware of what they need. What they do know is:
→ where they run into problems
→ what is irritating
→ what takes lots of time
When it comes to collaborating, sharing knowledge, finding information, locating colleagues and making decisions, they can easily list the bottlenecks they come across in their daily work. The project group has to focus on the cause of the bottlenecks. Then you can think about solutions to these bottlenecks with the help of external experts; in other words, find the corresponding features. Should you then immediately get to work? No, first you have to let your colleagues know what you have come up with in terms of a design, mock up, clickable demo or demo environment of a standard solution. This will help you find out if the functionality you’ve devised really fixes the bottleneck, and greatly increases the chances of success.
The organisation increasingly requires a business case, or wants to know why money should be laid out and what is going to be delivered. These are relevant questions that should be answered for every project. Many people find it stressful to write a business case, but in my experience it helps you make better choices and maintain focus. A good business case can also release a higher budget, so you can go that extra mile.
McKinsey already conducted an extensive survey into the potential of social business tools in 2012. They identified an enormous potential in productivity growth: a knowledge worker can save up to 25% of his or her time, which corresponds to 8 to 10 hours a week. However, this only reflects potential savings, and is quite ambitious. Imagine that 15% of this is possible in reality; That means 14.5 minutes per employee per day. In an organisation with 500 employees, that means more than 600 hours of work saved every week.
A common mistake in the drafting of goals and KPIs with a social intranet is to focus on output rather than the result of that output. Output is the immediate visible result, whereas outcome is the ultimate effect of this output. Let me explain using an example. Imagine you want to introduce a management blog to involve more employees in the direction being taken by the organisation:
→ Output: The number of employees who view the blogs.
→ Outcome: Employees’ agreement with the statement: ‘I feel involved in the direction being taken by the organisation’, from ‘completely disagree’ to ‘completely agree’.
The outcome is what ultimately matters, but we often focus on the direct result. This feels safe and specific, while the outcome is more abstract and often difficult to measure. A big danger of measuring output is that priority is given to the wrong goals.
Back to the example: The number of employees who view blog posts can be increased easily by opening the blog automatically when a user opens a web browser. If, however, the blogs themselves are not transparent and authentic, there will be no increase in employee involvement. In other words, the extra viewers have no impact at all.
This is why it’s important to include both output and outcome in your business case, because without anybody reading blogs, social software will contribute nothing to daily work.
There are plenty of reports with interesting figures, so you’ll always manage to draw up a business case with rosy results. However, cherry picking is not enough. Be honest with yourself and to the organisation. Create a business case that will prioritise measurable goals during the project. Measuring results will help you implement the next step more successfully. There’s no point in taking measurements without learning anything from them.
To increase the level of support, use smart methods to reflect existing strategies, such as the organisational, communication, HR, IT and innovation strategies. Before you get started, think about:
→ Who are the stakeholders?
→ What is their principal concern?
→ What results are they trying to obtain?
→ How can we contribute to this?
One last tip: Nobody’s going to read a business case that is 10 pages long, and such a document can never be a guide to your project anyway. Write it on a couple of beer mats, and force yourself to keep it short.
Social features are fun, but above all useful. You really do need to help users make good use of it, which means you have to find out what it is that you’re going to solve for users, and how social features can be deployed to help. I’ve used examples to illustrate this. By drawing up a business case with concrete goals and KPIs, you can convince management to take a positive step towards creating the ideal digital workplace for your colleagues. This business case can also help you make decisions about the feature you want to implement first. Keep it simple, and make sure it reflects your organisation’s goals as much as possible!
Here’s wishing you lots of luck and enjoyment with your projects. If you have any questions or would like some feedback, please get in touch!
If you want more inspiration for writing your business case, check out the following sources which were used for this article:
→ The Digital Renaissance of Work, Paul Miller & Elizabeth Marsh
→ Social business by design, Dion Hinchclif & Peter Kim
→ The Social Organization, Anthony J. Bradley & Mark P. McDonald Jive
→ Business Value, winter 2013, Jive/McKinsey.
→ Intranet metrics are the intranet strategy you can count, Chris Tubb
→ How to measure the success of your internal social network, Dennis Agusi