Why Intranet Governance is Overrated: It's Really About Change Management

7 minute read
Andrew Wright avatar

Intranet governance is critical to intranet success. Why, then, do so few organizations get it right?

Most intranet professionals agree, good intranet governance is critical for an effective intranet. It’s a popular topic. As James Robertson notes in his recent article about SharePoint governance, "the word of the event [the Australian SharePoint Conference] was “governance,“ to the extent that it was starting to be seen as an over-used term."

These days it seems that pretty much every intranet related problem can be solved with governance. Put the right intranet roles and responsibilities in place and the rest will take care of itself.

But as Lynn Warneke asks in her excellent article Top 10 Tips for Success With SharePoint #8,

Why is governing SharePoint still so difficult in practice? Why is good advice proliferating, but apparently without giving rise to equally abundant excellent working examples in the real world?”

Tom’s Story

I once worked with a guy who was passionate about risk reduction, business continuity planning and internal audits. Let's call him Tom. Tom believed these topics were not only the key to business success but could also cause world peace and eliminate poverty. Frankly, I couldn't think of anything more boring.

But this guy was tenacious and attended any meeting that was vaguely related to any one of these topics. He pestered, bothered, encouraged, educated, motivated and generally harassed people to make sure they not only understood what they needed to do but also actively engaged in doing these tasks. It would be reasonable to say Tom was not the most popular person in the organization. After all, "why do we need to keep the auditors happy, we have real work to do!"

It wasn't until after the full extent of the flood damage had been understood that people came to realize that Tom had just about singlehandedly saved the entire organization, along with the livelihoods of hundreds of people and their families.

The lesson I learned from this story, and how it relates to intranet governance, is that it is not enough to simply identify the roles and responsibilities required to manage and govern an intranet. That is the easy part. To really obtain buy-in for your intranet, you need a strong dose of persistence, energy and enthusiasm.

The key to successful intranet governance is not identifying roles and responsibilities, but change management. An unshakable and contagious belief that what you are doing is critical to the success of your organization is also helpful.”

In the Real World

In researching the characteristics of the most effective intranets through the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC), this theme of change management, persistence and passion appears consistently in interviews with the managers of the successful intranets.

Josh Patel, the Intranet & Content Manager at Bupa Australia, whose intranet is currently ranked at #3 (from the 90 organizations who have participated in the WIC), has this to say when explaining the reasons for his intranet’s success:

We nag, chase, bribe, reward, acknowledge -- do whatever it takes -- to get people to contribute content to the intranet.”

Intranet governance is essentially about creating the right roles and responsibilities, deciding who owns the intranet, who should be on the steering committee, what the content authoring and approval process will be and answers to a range of governance questions. There are plenty of templates available that provide the basics of intranet governance such as the following:

However, intranet governance doesn’t explain how to convince, negotiate and nag those whose roles change as a result of the need to govern the intranet.

'Successful intranet governance is a story of successful change management'

The biggest challenge facing intranet teams is not the development of an intranet governance plan but getting the entire organization interested in and supportive of the intranet.As Lynn goes on to say in her article, “The hard work is taking the plan and turning it into operational reality. And ensuring it keeps working over time.”

Intranet Governance, Change Management

So how do successful intranets manage the change necessary to implement governance?

Helen Rayner from Telecom NZ, the #6 ranked WIC intranet, says having effective intranet governance is the key to intranet success. But the only way to effectively implement governance is to include governance-related tasks as part of people’s job descriptions. To do this, she says, you need to work closely with HR and management to obtain the necessary support. Without this support, it is difficult to change behavior.

Learning Opportunities

Anastasia Dobrovolskaja from RBC, which ranked #2 for the WIC question “Content on the intranet is up-to-date,” says that in a distributed publishing environment, authors need to be accountable and to publish content according to an agreed schedule. She says,

We work a lot on maintaining intranet content -- ensuring it is always up-to-date. We divide all content by type and keep to the established publishing schedule for each type.”

Read the full article, End users and experts agree on what makes a good intranet, for more tips from the RBC intranet.

Change Management Research

There is hard evidence to show that change management is critical to improving the chances of a program’s success.

A McKinsey study reviewed 40 major projects and examined the effect of an Organizational Change Management (OCM) program on a project's Return on Investment (ROI). The study concluded that the ROI was:

  • 143% when an excellent OCM program was part of the initiative
  • 35%  when there was a poor OCM program or no program

Another study conducted by Prosci concluded that projects with excellent change management programs met or exceeded objectives 88% of the time, while projects with poor change management met or exceeded objectives only 17% of the time.

Summary of Tips 

While intranet governance is indeed important to intranet success, the evidence seems to show that change management plays an even more important role.

Other tips from successful intranet managers to help get intranet governance institutionalized within your organization include:

  • Build relationships: This means get to know as many people in the organization as possible. The intranet is the one application that touches every employee, so it is critical that the intranet team knows what the different business units do and what their expectations are around the intranet.
  • Identify and educate an executive sponsor (or two): There is nothing more powerful than the CEO actively promoting your intranet governance plan. It’s the intranet team’s responsibility to explain the benefits of an effective intranet to senior management. Read Gerry McGovern’s article, Intranets: getting senior management's attention for more information.
  • Update people’s job descriptions and KPIs with governance related tasks: This means working with managers and HR and convincing them of the value of contributing to a sustainable and effective intranet.
  • Create a schedule of activities: Ensure a person is responsible for obtaining agreement and managing this schedule. Even better if you can publish this schedule online so that everyone in the organization is aware of what is required.
  • Create an online community of content authors: Develop an online workplace where people involved in maintaining the intranet can share information and contribute innovative ideas.
  • Provide regularly scheduled training and communication: Ensure all staff understand the full benefits of an effective intranet.

A recent article, 10 Guidelines to Consider for a Successful Enterprise 2.0 Roll Out, published on the Intranet Connections blog, also provides some valuable guidelines for creating, organizing and planning the roll out of an enterprise 2.0 initiative.

Benchmarking Your Intranet

If you are interested in benchmarking your intranet at no cost, why not consider participating in the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC)? Benchmarking your intranet will enable you to find out how your intranet can be more effective.

Title Image courtesy of Brian A. Jackson (Shutterstock).

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About the author

Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright is the founder of the Worldwide Intranet Challenge (WIC) — aweb based survey that allows organisations to obtain and benchmark feedbackfrom their staff about what they think of their intranet. He also publishesthe Worldwide Intranet Challenge blog which contains many useful articlesabout intranets and how to improve them.