Intranet talk appears to be on a three-year hamster wheel in which we have come full circle. So what is it that causes this cycle? It may be caused by the failure of intranet professionals to point to the higher ground  — an integrated and holistic employee experience strategy. Isn't it about time to stop vacillating between concepts that are barely discernible from one another (e.g., ESNs, Intranets, employee portals, etc) and reach for the higher goal?

An Industry Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

The cycle started in 2010, when Forrester released an intranet maturity model  with four stages. These stages described a series of guideposts that enterprises could use to advance their intranets beyond static content repositories. Each of the four stages outlined a different conceptual model for how employees would perceive the intranet:

  • Communication-centric
  • Self-service-centric
  • Collaboration-centric
  • Information workplace

At the time, the industry was divided as some articles talked about the death of the intranet and others said it was just in need of a little TLC. Some pointed to the rising capabilities of social tools as the place where all intranets would evolve. Others pointed in the same direction but claimed that social tools would spell doom for intranets.

Fast forward to the end of 2013 — here we are again. Thought leaders and articles speak of the five core intranet capabilities, which look suspiciously similar to the four Forrester stages:

  • Deliver content
  • Be a key communication tool
  • Enable collaboration
  • Support the culture
  • Create efficiencies through supporting business activities

The industry remains divided as some talk about the possible need to retire the term and others claim the dawn of a new intranet age. Some point to the maturing capabilities of Jive, Yammer and others as the inspiration for how intranets will evolve. Some say online tools for employees should converge and while others point to a land of 1,000 unique flowers. Others say social killed the intranet star. This article is quite humorous to me, given that midway through this year, all the talk was centered around the claim that social business is a fad that will never live up to its hype in the enterprise.

We Must Think and Act Anew

So what is it that causes this cycle? It could be the failure to press forward into a more holistic, integrated approach to an employee experience that ties together disparate applications. It could also be the fact that we are having the wrong conversation altogether.

Maybe you can argue that an enterprise social network is different from an intranet, but that doesn't mean executive management will value the distinction. Even if your leadership team gets the distinction that you are referring to, is that really the best use of the scarce face time with the leadership? Is this really the conversation you want to be having?

The answer is no. The time for looking at the intranet as the only front on which to improve the employee experience has come and gone. The intranet is only one mechanism among many that serves to improve the day-to-day working experience of employees within an enterprise. Recruitment and hiring are part of the employee experience. On-boarding is part of the employee experience. Job-tooling is part of the employee experience. Training and growth are part of the employee experience. Annual reviews are part of the employee experience. Getting access to benefits is part of the employee experience.

Quite often, when trying to secure funding for improving the online employee experience we, the intranet professionals, speak to Return on Investment (ROI), without understanding that ROI is a rigged game that will almost assuredly end in a Nash equilibrium. If we are to create something new, we must aspire to something new.

The ROI narrative will only create fleeting attention in executives because it is a transactional argument that will only inspire the soulless. The bigger goal -- becoming a destination employer where the best and brightest fight tooth and nail for every job opening — is something that is a little harder for an executive to look away from. This broader goal speaks to their innate emotions and desires, pride in their tribal affiliation and the possibility of less day-to-day pain that results from an un-engaged and lethargic workforce.

Make Employee Experience a Good One

Destination employers know that how you do anything is how you do everything. Whether it is tracking time, contributing content artifacts or deploying new features and functionality to customer facing experiences. If an activity involves an employee in the creation or the capturing of value, then the activity is one piece of the mosaic that makes up the employee experience.

If your intranet is award-winning, but your on-boarding experience is wanting, then what impression and experience have you created for your newest employees? People looking for greener pastures are always reaching out to your newest addition and asking, "What's it like over there? Any opportunities for me?"

If your social network is hopping, but your manual deployments take 12 hours that would otherwise be reserved for family dinner and a good night's sleep, then it's likely that your critical employees are the ones looking for greener pastures.

As the new year approaches, let us all try to remember, the intranet is but one tool to affect the real change we all want — a more humanistic approach to business. It's time we stopped looking at the intranet as a separate application. We need to start thinking about how it can be further integrated into a more powerful, overall, corporate experience.