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“Learn, Plan and Do” your way to a Social Intranet

productivityThe corporate intranet is (or should be) the hub of all employee activity and transactions; where employees go to manage money, career, life events, and health. Taking your intranet to the next level means to not only stop pushing static content, but to also use social technologies to enhance the every day activities and transactions necessary for employees to learn, plan and do their jobs; thereby making them more efficient, engaged and productive: a social intranet.

Social Intranet (sō’shəl) • (ĭn’trə-nĕt’) An intranet that utilizes social technologies to enhance the every day activities and transactions necessary for employees to learn, plan and do their jobs thereby making them more engaged and productive.

Learn a new approach to your Intranet

Many companies remain in the habit of placing static content on their corporate intranet enhanced with some “eye candy” such as image rotators or banners. That’s great, but it’s not 2006 anymore. Sometimes, it’s a technology issue. Other times, it’s a resource issue. Regardless, the net result is that it’s not seen as a destination for employees. Rather, it’s a place they go to when they have to. But if you take a look at some of the winners of the cutting-edge corporate intranets, you’ll find that they aren’t just creating an environment where information is simply pushed to employees.  Instead, they all look to create not just a portal, but an experience.

Your old, standard intranet is one-way communication. A social intranet is two-way communication.

Consider the Four Pillars of Intranet Content

If you take some time to do some external benchmarking, you will see that the “best in class” corporate intranets follow a similar framework: four pillars that comprise a framework for building intranet content. Obviously, your intranet is personalized and customized to the needs of your organization, but a basic pattern stands out.

1. Work Content – all the information & applications that help employees function effectively in their day-to-day work:

  • Employee data, profiles and global address book
  • Facility, conferencing, and enterprise communication information
  • IT support, e.g. application support, IT security, remote access, etc.
  • Procurement, e.g. office consumables, IT equipment, contract renewals, etc.
  • Knowledge management, e.g. company library, journal subscriptions, etc.
  • Travel and Expense
  • Time Reporting

2. HR Content – the information & applications that employees need to support their employment with the company and to manage their careers:

  • Compensation and
  • Career learning and development
  • Compliance, HR Policies and Guidelines
  • Leave and Paid Time Off
  • Corporate and Health Benefits (medical, dental,
  • Manager Self Service
  • Employee Self Service

3. Corporate Content – this is the information that keeps employees updated on the status of the business, the leadership team, and any other relevant news:

  • Corporate overview, mission and strategy
  • Ethics
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Investor Relations, annual reports
  • Company news and information
  • Corporate communications, e.g. press releases, internal news, etc.

4. Social Content –  this is the layer that drives collaboration, communication and employee engagement:

  • Online discussion
  • Instant messaging
  • Commenting on stories
  • Raves and recognition

Is “Social” a dirty word?

I got my mouth washed out a lot when I was little. But I never got my mouth washed out for saying the word “social.” But when the concept of allowing employees to be more social came to the workplace, it seems like “social” became a dirty word. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard senior leadership say “I don’t want my employees to be social. I want them to be productive.” Even the most progressive executives, especially ones who aren’t involved in social media, are wary of investing in new technologies without proof of ROI. So I stopped saying “social” at work. Now I saw collaborative. Or efficient. Or productive. You might want to think about that too.

When Big Words Mean Simple Things

When you’re passionate about enterprise social technologies like I am, you become accustomed to using so many fancy schmancy words that you could easily win any Words with Friends or Banagrams game. But if you’ve ever tried to explain enterprise social media using the phrases “increasing employee engagement,” “enabling collaboration and knowledge share,” or “building enterprise community” and have been returned with blank stares, then it’s time to stop using four- and five-syllable words.

Step outside of the usual buzzwords to really identify the purpose of a social intranet and the value it will provide to your organization and your employees. Take out the big words. Simplify. Use the words that are in your business imperatives or priorities. And, more importantly, ask yourself: “what do these words mean to the employee?”

Plan the ROI of a Social Intranet

There’s that word again … ROI. Productivity doesn’t come without a price tag, and creating an integrated social experience on your intranet is NOT going to be an easy task. In all likelihood, it’s going to be quite laborious and will require commitment from many cross-functional teams. And in fact, Prescient Digital’s survey on ROI found that fewer than 6% of more than 240 companies surveyed actually measure specific dollar and cent benefits derived from the intranet. Lucky you, if you have a senior leader who won’t ask for ROI on what will inevitably amount to considerable capital expense and cost in resources.

So, let’s take a look at what an unproductive employee is costing you.

What an Unproductive Employee is Costing You

In his whitepaper, The High Cost of Doing Nothing, Ken Blanchard says that “most senior executives have assessed that their workforce is operating at only 60% to 65% of their potential.”

If you use the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 National Compensation Survey‘s median hourly wage of $22.00* and accounted for 35% unproductivity, that means a company of 1,000 employees is losing upwards of $16 million a year.

Let’s do the math:

  • $22 – 35% ** = $8 / hr (what you’re losing per employee, per hour)
  • $8 / hr x 40/hr work week = $320 week (what you’re losing per employee, per week)
  • $320 x 50 weeks*** = $16,000 (what you’re losing per employee, per year)
  • $16,000 x 1,000 (# emp) = $16 million (what an organization of 1,000 employees is losing per year)

** 100% – %65 = 35% unproductivity
*** 52 wks per year. 2 wks vacation assumed.

* Exact figure of $22.33 was rounded down for simplicity sake

How much a new Intranet will cost you

Common sense tells us that the actual cost of an intranet varies widely from organization to organization depending on the level of upgrades and integration with other systems. But using the respondents to the Prescient Digital Media ROI survey, they roughly estimate an intranet undertaking to be anywhere from $0 to $20M. The average annual ROI of respondent intranets fell just shy of $1 million ($979,775.58). If you’re trying to build an intranet business case for your organization, I strongly recommend that you download their whitepaper. According to a recent McKinsey report, companies adopting intelligent social intranets estimate an increase in efficiency by 20 percent.

So, let’s say Santa Claus gifted you $3 million dollars for a new intranet this holiday season. If you spent $3 million dollars on creating an intelligent social intranet with a goal to increase efficiency and productivity by 20% in your organization, your return is close to $10 million dollars.

Let’s do the math:

Using the same calculations as before, but changing 35% unproductivity to 15% unproductivity to account for the 20% increase.

  • $22 –15% ** = $3/ hr (what you’re losing per employee, per hour)
  • $3 / hr x 40/hr work week = $120 week (what you’re losing per employee, per week)
  • $120 x 50 weeks*** = $6,000 (what you’re losing per employee, per year)
  • $6,00 x 1,000 (# emp) = $6 million (what an organization of 1,000 employees is losing per year)

** 35% + 20% increase to productivity = 15% unproductivity
*** 52 wks per year. 2 wks vacation assumed.

* Exact figure of $22.33 was rounded down for simplicity sake

With these new numbers, you now have 6 million in unproductivity. When you compare that to the 16 million that you were losing previously, you now have a return of 10 million. Go ahead and add in the 3 million you invested (which would be a onetime cost), you still have a return of 7 million.

(PS. Feel free to check my math. There is a reason I went into communications, after all.)

Do Consider the Employee Experience

One of the biggest issues that I see with intranets today is that they don’t consider employee experience. And I’m not talking about user experience. I’m talking about leveraging the employee lifecycle so that you can best determine employee needs and deliver an intranet that helps them to efficiently and productively get through their work day.

Think in terms of “learn, plan and do.”

  • Communication, Knowledge Share = a place where employees can LEARN
  • Contribution, Community = a virtual water cooler for employees to come together and PLAN
  • Crowd-sourcing, Collaboration = a way for employees to provide input & participate so they can DO

An efficient social intranet knows how to breakdown the employee lifecycle and determine all of the opportunities where you can turn traditional employee transactions into interactions. Use this infographic on “Using the Employee Lifecycle as your Roadmap to Employee Engagement” as a guide. There are some places that make sense (learning) and there are some places that don’t (compensation).

Enough with disjointed experiences!

Most organizations encounter many hurdles due to lukewarm executive support, insufficient platform infrastructure, or poor adoption rate. And in most situations, these barriers often result in muddled efforts that produce disjointed experiences and misguided relevancy. Intranet portals that simply direct or redirect your employees to different systems don’t resonate with and don’t provide relevancy to your employees, and consequently, they won’t use it.  An integrated social intranet that presents not only a dashboard of who employees are and what they need to do, but also provides the social tools to help them do it, is much more compelling and useful.

Think of new ways to organize traditional content

It’s so hard to step outside of our “communicator” or “HR” hat when it comes to writing and organizing content. But, consider how YOU (you’re an employee too!) would look for information. Rather than thinking in terms of corporate news or HR content terms of performance management or health and wellness, look at your web analytics to see what life events are drawing your employees to the intranet and then tailor the content to those events.

One of the easiest examples of this comes to when an employee is having a baby. In a corporate intranet, information for having a baby could potentially be found in multiple areas: Time off, HR policies, Benefits, Medical, etc.  Think higher level and more big picture. If the common thread among this information is “having a baby,” then create a “having a baby” area on your intranet and consolidate all of the other information to this area.

No more PDFs!

I get it. Putting up content in PDF format is easy. And if your company still employs this approach to your intranet content, don’t feel bad. You’re in good company. But PDF format is the “old school” approach to putting content up on the intranet and it certainly prohibits your ability to transform to a “next generation” portal. It’s time to convert your old Sharepoint “document library” into a next-generation, social intranet.

One Source of Truth

In addition to intranets being heavy laden with PDFs, another pet peeve of mine is the duplication of content. The goal is always well intentioned and admirable: to provide multiple access points to content. However, when each of your access points direct employees to duplicated content, you’re setting yourself up for a content #fail and for an inconsistent employee experience.

Think about it… have you had to update information on your intranet only to have to “track down” all the places that reference that content? We aren’t driving efficiency when we direct employees to multiple areas that in all likelihood contain redundant or mismatched information. One source of truth means deciding on the “home” for your content and then have all other referring links point to that “home.” If you’re have to link to a PDF, link to the original PDF rather than uploading an additional copy. If you have a content management system, make sure you have a shared content library where content IDs can be utilized in multiple pages.

Think outside the box

Don’t become social for the sake of being social. And social isn’t just an installation of Yammer. That’s just a social tool. Think in terms of social, employee experiences. Take a look at the investment value and potential return for your intranet. But remember, that beyond the dollars and cents, your true reward is a lot less tangible. It’s in the response you will receive from your employees — the increased engagement and productivity — because, after all, an intranet can’t be social without the very people who breathe life in to it.

A place where employees can efficiently “learn, plan and do” their work and personal lives. Now, that’s outside of the box. And that sounds like winner, winner chicken dinner to me.


Elizabeth is a strategic communications leader with nearly 20 years experience in both internal and external communications. She is a passionate advocate for developing communications that foster a stronger relationship between the organization and its employees. She is a global keynote speaker on employee engagement and HR communications. Elizabeth is a certified professional in Employer Brand through Universum Global's Employer Branding Academy.

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