In the course of a 30-year consulting career, I have seen countless examples of corporate strategies reduced to colorful schematic diagrams. Most of them look like the front of a Greek Doric temple, with columns, steps and a cornice all carefully labelled with the corporate values. The aim is to synthesize the core strategic objectives of the company, but also indicate that senior managers are more comfortable with pictures than text. Why else do you think that business intelligence applications are so highly regarded?
It is sad but true that the majority of companies do not have a strategy for the intranet. At the March 2011 IntraTeam Event in Copenhagen, on a show of hands only perhaps 5% of attendees owned up to having a strategy.
Most of my consulting assignments are about helping intranet teams prepare a strategy for the intranet. When I ask them for the corporate strategy, I am consistently amazed by the puzzled look on their faces. In my view, an intranet has to be aligned to the corporate strategy, because it is just about the only application (apart from Microsoft Office) that is used by every employee.
Supporting Corporate Integration
To show how important corporate strategy alignment is, I was working a while back for a company that had made a significant commitment to shareholders to expand through acquisition of niche companies that brought specific expertise into the business. Over the previous couple of years, a number of major acquisitions had already been made, one involving a company that was 20% of the size of my client. That is a lot of new employees to deal with at one go.
Talking to staff in these companies, their first complaint was how long it took for the intranets to be integrated, and the impact that this had on their perception of their new employer. Any company that has ambitions to expand through acquisition is enormously dependent on the intranet to gain the synergies promised to the shareholders, and yet in this case the intranet was built and resourced in a way that made any changes to accommodate new business entities and areas almost impossible to achieve.
The intranet team should have been aware of the corporate strategy and made sure that the senior management team was aware of the problems that would arise from integrating new businesses in the time frame (three months!) that is generally regarded as essential for a successful acquisition.
Managing Corporate Risk
Another approach I use is to align the intranet strategy to corporate risks. In the US, any quoted company has to declare its business risks in the SEC 10K filing. This information is not hidden away at the back but is presented right up front in Section 1 in full detail. Often there are at least a dozen major risks, such as losing key staff, failing to fulfill compliance requirements and delays in releasing new products.
It is rare that I cannot find that at least half of these risks could be significantly reduced through a more effective intranet. Remember that the Board has a duty to the shareholders to reduce operational risks. All intranet managers should have the corporate risk manager as their best friend, because the risk manager will report almost directly to the main Board and can be an important advocate for the intranet.
Redrawing the Corporate Schematic
To go back to the Doric temples, it is usually fairly straight forward to take the individual elements of a corporate strategy and superimpose intranet capabilities on top of them.
|Corporate Objective||Intranet Response|
|Working together||Easy to set up communities and collaboration|
|Customer-centricity||Location-independent access, “always on” capability|
|Courage||Open two-way communication to challenge status quo|
|Strong and timely execution||Real-time content, enabling informed decision making|
Now you may think that this is simplistic, but my experience suggests that senior managers begin to see the intranet as a strategic tool and not as a communications channel. It is more difficult for the company to decide not to invest in developing the intranet when the team can show a relationship with the corporate strategy, and, of course, the career aspirations of the senior management team
Telling a Story
I would suggest that, even more powerful than this approach, is to tell a story in a business plan about even one case where the intranet made a significant difference to the business. Sections about "user requirements" are more powerful when the user is Gunnar Henrickson, Head of R&D, talking about shaving ten months off a product release because of information and expertise located through the intranet. Gunnar’s story is worth more than a thousand personas!