Or, how intranets are underrated, undervalued, and dismissed
It’s common to slate technology and state and restate that everything is about people. The rise of the phrase ‘digital transformation’ should remind us that the word ‘digital’ has very different meanings and any successful transformation requires new ways of working and employee support. Technology must enable employees, but employees must choose to accept tech solutions.
Erroneously, an organisation’s intranet is seen by leaders, and most people, as a tech solution. Mostly a communications platform. And let’s not be overly generous, it’s often seen as a broadcast solution; an internal website.
If a message has to be ‘sent out’, leaders barely care if it’s done via the intranet or email. It’s just about channel choice and the internal comms team will sort it out.
Intranets have a perception problem. Vendors, consultants, intranet managers and comms pros have been banging on about employee engagement, employee generated content, knowledge management, and collaboration for more than a decade,* yet intranets in practice are still judged by their home page, rather than the more useful sites behind. ‘Social’ is still a dirty word in many organisations and the focus is often on the permissions necessary to restrict employee actions. It’s so weird, seeing as so many employees are so disengaged they don’t want to do anything outside of their role.
This perception problem leaves intranets on the same par as email and your newsletter system. Ipso facto the intranet manager is perceived as a tech administrator. Even those embedded in the comms team or the digital team struggle to be recognised for the business impact of their work (outside launch projects). Perhaps the only way to break out of the admin role is to demand the job title of ‘digital workplace manager’ but I wonder how accurate this title is if the role holder has no oversight of the scores or hundreds of other applications different divisions use.
The common solution is for intranet managers to be dual role-holders; they must be multi-skilled and responsible for more than the intranet — they must be comms people, community managers, coders, visual designers, collaboration advisors, and information management experts. Otherwise, it will fall to a tech savvy comms pro to ‘pick up’ the intranet and liaise with IT as best they can.
So how do experienced intranet managers make progress in their career? Aside from enlarging their role until they can demand the title of ‘digital workplace manager’ (which may be accurate, or a laughable overreach) I suspect it’s all about moving to a bigger company.
The career path seems to be about taking your experience from the company that paid you for three years to another company that’s willing to pay you £3k more.
When your company refuses to invest in the intranet, in the improvement and better use of the intranet, I think moving companies is the best bet. Especially when the company is on the downward slope of centralising and cost reduction. Better to be on the upward cycle of decentralising and investing.
My point is, the role and career of intranet management is under threat, not by AI, not by apps, not by baby boomers or gen Z, not even by a lack of standard practices, but by the perception that the intranet is merely a channel, when it can be and should be the OS of the organisation.
Intranet managers should stand up for the evolution of the intranet;
Intranet managers, especially the dual role ones, shouldn’t be the ‘lone intranet person’, they should be part of a guild;
Intranet managers should come to Intranet Now – a participatory conference about what works.
*My comms and intranet career started around 2002; I worked for a global company, and we baulked at spending just £70k on a global intranet as we believed our requirement was to only have a home page for news.
This article was originally published on my rusting blog.