Focus on saving time for your employees if you want to create an intranet that delivers true value to your organization.

"The source of material civilization is developed power," Henry Ford wrote in 1926. "If one has this developed power at hand then a use for it will easily be found … The way to liberty, the way to equality of opportunity, the way from empty phrases to actualities lies through power; the machine is only an incident."

The intranet is just an incident. What it represents is a shift away from less productive work practices involving two or more people in face-to-face interactions to a self-service model. This self-service model allows employees to complete tasks on their own. Properly done, self service makes the employee and the organization more efficient.

Henry Ford brought combined the availability of developed power (electricity) with the scientific management principles pioneered by Frederick Taylor. Ford and his like made the 20th Century the American Century. The American worker became more productive than any other worker in the world.

"Set aside pure power for a moment, " Peter Huber and Mark Mills write in their book, The Bottomless Well. "What we really want is speed. And we crave speed because it saves time, the scarcest resource of all. We demand faster cars, trains, and planes, faster computers and Web connections. We even demand faster televisions: according to one study, the average home uses about 5 percent of its electricity powering the instant-on circuits in TVs and other appliances because when we want Letterman, we want him NOW.

If you were looking for "Letterman" on the average intranet would you be able to find him NOW? Probably not. Why not? Because the average intranet isn't managed. There might be quality people in the intranet team who want to manage but they have no power. At best, they are nominally in charge, but they have no real power or authority.

Learning Opportunities

Finding people is the top task on most intranets and yet is greatly neglected by most organizations. Senior management neglect the intranet, partly because they don't use it. (They get their secretaries to find Letterman.) And intranet teams are measuring the wrong things, like traffic, hits and page views. Is more traffic a good thing? Why? Do you think the Toyota web team has been jumping for joy because of the recent traffic spike on its websites?

I've been working with intranets since 1997. I have observed behaviour and seen feedback from thousands of employees from all over the world. The number one complaint, by a huge margin, that employees have of their intranets is: "It's a WASTE OF TIME!"

Focus on service. Focus on your employees' time. Be relentless in seeking to save it. If you do you will create a great intranet. It's as simple and as difficult as that. Why is it so difficult? Because we humans care most about our own time. We find it extremely difficult to serve and focus on saving other people's time.

Great intranet teams have a culture of service. I once asked an employee what her definition of a perfect intranet was. Her reply? "A perfect intranet is a survivor's guide to a shitty week."