The Problem with Traditional Intranets

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In order to be a high performer, a knowledge worker must always:

  • focus on the right tasks
  • have all the skills necessary for the role
  • work as efficiently as possible and work with others whenever appropriate

That means they must do five behaviors effectively:

  1. Understand their organization’s overall strategy, and how they contribute
  2. Informally learn from others in similar roles
  3. Find experts and their knowledge to improve work in progress
  4. Collaborate with others to create and deliver quality work products
  5. Share their knowledge with others

Obstacles to Achieving Higher Performance

Unfortunately, traditional intranets, knowledge management and collaboration applications pose significant obstacles to achieving higher performance. Let’s grade how they deliver in each of the five behaviors.

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1. Understand their organization’s overall strategy, and how they contribute

Grade = C

How do most organizations communicate to employees about corporate strategy? Typically, Corporate Communications writes an article that appears on the intranet homepage, which is the default browser homepage. In many cases, executives are asked to cascade emails to their direct reports until it reaches everyone in the firm. So, as a knowledge worker, I’m responsible for paying attention to the intranet home page, even though it is not where I spend my time during the day. Or, if I get the thing as an email, here’s to hoping I see it among all the other unread items, and that my immediate manager hasn’t prefaced it with his or her own perceptions that could negatively influence my own.

And forget about asking for clarification, or even sharing my agreement or excitement. Even if I could do that in the intranet home page version, what are the chances that others will chime in, since they too, do not spend their day camped out in the intranet?

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Why is feedback so important? According to McKinsey research, 55% of strategies do not include an effective and aligned execution plan. Gaining buy-in to a company’s strategic direction is KEY to executing on it. A quick way to gain buy-in is to give your most expensive and skilled employees a voice in developing it.

2. Informally learn from others in similar roles

Grade = B

In a many intranet/collaboration/knowledge management environments, there are communities of practice dedicated to specific job functions. Many of these are thriving communities, both on and offline. But, consider how long it takes a newcomer – whether a new hire or newly acquired hire – to find these communities and start benefiting from them. Do their hiring managers introduce them? Do they find them weeks later through word-of-mouth? Or, is it part of their onboarding program? Does the intranet or KM system figure out who they are and recommend communities to join? Not likely.

3. Find experts and their knowledge to improve work in progress

Grade = C-

Take a look at your intranet, collaboration tools, and/or knowledge management systems. Do you have quick and easy access to your colleagues’ work products, particularly the ones you don’t know yet? Imagine if you could browse what people are working on to passively learn from them (i.e., you wouldn’t need to interrupt them at all). Typically, you must ask a question – most likely through an email blast – and hope someone takes time to answer fast enough to make a difference in the thing you’re working on right now.

Or, maybe you’ve got a micro-blogging tool or an HR app that helps folks find people with the knowledge you’re looking for. What about their work in progress? What about their finished projects? Do people only log into that tool when they need to find someone, or have time on their hands to help others? The point is, you’ll learn more from others by seeing what they’ve worked on (assuming you have access), versus reading their resume, or hoping they’re online to answer your question.

4. Collaborate with others to create and deliver quality work products

Grade = D

Employees are typically stuck using multiple disconnected, non-mobile collaboration apps, so it’s rather difficult to keep track of decisions made or actions needed across tools. This is also true if all they use is email, meetings and conference calls. Now, if the work is document-centric, life is a bit easier with decent document management tools. But, what about all the conversations, action items, and decisions needed to create those documents? That’s what I mean by “collaboration.”

Take a moment and look at your inbox and calendar. We all are trying to use a 40-year-old tool to do things it was never intended to do.

5. Share their knowledge with others

Grade = C

Organizations with thriving knowledge management cultures do this the best, and likely deserve a better grade, but the majority of organizations out there don’t have such a culture. There’s the age-old problem of trying to get people to share what they know proactively, when the best knowledge transfer happens in the moment, in context. I don’t know what I know until you ask a question, and I like you enough to answer. Which is why we use email so much, except that knowledge transfer will briefly live in someone’s inbox, never to be seen by anyone else. How can this in-the-moment knowledge transfer scale, you ask? Stay tuned.

Fostering collaboration and innovation within your organization is not easy, download this resource kit to learn more

Does any of this happen in your organization? What other obstacles do you experience?

Note: In my next post, I’ll share how social can be used to remedy these problems.

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