As I recently have been afforded the opportunity to help my enterprise improve our intranet, I've decided to chronicle this effort in a series of articles over the course of the journey. Before I begin, a little context.

My enterprise just completed a software upgrade of its SharePoint infrastructure to the latest version, but has not had a significant design upgrade in more than 7 years. There is a consensus that the intranet does not meet the needs of the employee population within a dynamically changing environment. There has been several years of frustration regarding getting the financial, Information Technology (IT) and design resources necessary for making any significant improvement to the experience.

Journal Entry: Developing a Space For Listening

Within the first few days of being asked to be my company's IT owner of the intranet platform, I visited informally with the business owner of the intranet; the Director of Internal Communications. Internal Communications is within the Marketing department and has a robust team of content developers with a wide array of experience in various different forms of media. The director is pleasant with me, and is also somewhat guarded as IT has not, to this point, provided a partner capable of doing anything more than sustaining the status quo.

I spend some time reassuring the business owner that I'm not your typical IT guy by sharing a couple of different perspectives. First I explain that even though I am the IT owner of the SharePoint platform, I have no vested interest in keeping SharePoint around if it does not meet our needs and that my overall orientation towards providing IT support for her efforts come from the idea that in a successful, but resource constrained .com company, design and development staff has historically been, and should be, more focused on revenue generating activities. Rather than try to force our way through a project prioritization and governance process, I would prefer to acknowledge the basic fact that IT is not in the position to provide the resources, expertise and support necessary to reinvigorate the intranet as we might envision it.

With the knowledge that continuing to hitch the fate of the intranet to the ability to get IT and design headcount is forever relegating it to second-class status, I recommend changing our strategy, our tactics and the overall conversation surrounding getting a serious effort off the ground.

Journal Entry: Changing the Conversation

After the realization that going through the official prioritization process would not bring us to the promised land, the available paths forward narrow to the more qualitative oriented. We decide to chart our course using inspiration and vision as our guiding stars and go to the powers that be with a new message grounded in provocative truth and inspiring possibility.

Like many organizations, our enterprise has a strategic plan that is dependent upon an engaged and motivated work force. Using this dependency as our platform we begin our conversations with the idea that our employees don't think of the boundaries of our intranet in the same way as our platform leaders and owners do. Our hub and spoke concept model for intranets that, because of its inherent ease of implementation, pervades so many different companies, has redefined what the intranet is in our employees minds. Employees don't know or care about the physical descriptions of what platform is serving what content and functionality. If it is served through a browser and is part of the toolset required for their job, it is part of the intranet in their mind. The isolated expense management platform is part of "the intranet". The myriad of SharePoint archeological digs with no organizing model are part of "the intranet". Our group wikis, our collaboration centers, our project management portal are all part of their concept of "the intranet".

All of these online tools are part of the employee experience and need to be thought of as one of our prime mechanisms for driving employee engagement. Whether we acknowledge it or not, when the expense management tool is painful to use, our employee base becomes a little more disenchanted and disconnected from the company because the company is not willing to "do what it takes" to give them tools that communicate a sense that the company values their time, effort and ability to keep track of all the different channels we ask them to engage with. No matter our actual intention, our fragmented toolset communicates, at best, a lack of commitment and consideration to the employee and, at worst, outright contempt.

What if, however, we could turn this view to our advantage? What if we could acknowledge the fragmentation and create a new unified experience that would communicate respect and accountability? With a significant and meaningful gesture to our employees could we not drive engagement with the masses of gen-Xers and millennials who search for authenticity and a real connection to a community? If we truly want to make our company one of the greatest places to work, it is "table stakes" to give our employees an intranet that is more than a group of incongruous functional islands surrounding a platform primarily designed to distribute one-way communication missives.

Journal Entry: Preparing to Embark

As expected, once we inspired our patrons, we were asked about what would be required for our expedition and what our next steps would be. If luck is truly the state where preparation meets opportunity then we were among the lucky this day, as we had the first few months of our journey mapped out, from executing a strategy engagement with an outside vendor to what we believed our overall constraints would be in terms of timing and costs. In my next entry, I'll lay out our experience in getting the support of the wider set of stakeholders and how we dealt with the never stable landscape of timing and priorities in a corporate environment.

Editor's Note: Stephen's feelings toward SharePoint are no real secret, read: SharePoint is Crack and Microsoft is the Pusher. On a lighter, non SharePoint note, check out: Build Your Customer Experience by Focusing on the Employee Experience With the Same Vigor.