Garnering the ongoing support of executive stakeholders can sometimes seem as challenging as the intranet project you’re pitching. To help, we have some tips on how to make the case:
It’s a relatively common scenario: A well-positioned manager attends a conference and comes away convinced that collaborative business technology could fundamentally alter their organization’s capacity to lead, innovate, solve problems and serve the customer. Looking at their own aging intranet – knee-deep in out-dated content, suffering from sluggish usage statistics, featuring a user experience that does not reflect the dynamism of the corporate culture, and saddled with a technology platform that does not lend itself well to nimble change… they set out on a mission to bridge the gap.
Embarking on such a change is a fairly monumental undertaking requiring a great deal of support. Not only must the manager tackle the “Go/No Go” question with executive stakeholders, they must also provide a compelling case for ongoing executive participation. I’ve talked a lot recently about AIIM’s Industry Watch report on SharePoint. The survey found that “failure of senior management to endorse and enforce SharePoint was the biggest reason for lack of [project] success” (and, according to them, there is a lot of blood on the trail). Altimeter’s Charlene Li also pointed to lack of executive participation to be the killer of the corporate social network.
Nonlinear’s Randy Woods put the problem in perspective:
These are the busiest people in the company. If they're going to spend 15 minutes every day on the intranet rather than, say, talking to an investor, what does it gain them?
If this question isn’t answered clearly, then efforts (and money spent) towards shaping a more collaborative digital workplace through technology may be moot.
Persuading your executive team to move from static intranet to collaborative digital workplace
If you find yourself in the situation described above, what do you do? How do you get the initial go-ahead to make improvements? And, after you’ve got approval to move forward, what should you do to ensure executives buy-in to more detailed plans?
Alignment with higher-order leadership objectives
When clouded with all of the inputs from stakeholder interviews, not to mention the increasingly large set of solutions lauded by enterprise collaborative software vendors, there’s a strong risk of missing the point. Feature creep sets in. Purpose is diluted. Executives that once seemed engaged with the initial idea seek to distance themselves. The hot potato is tossed.
Examine individual leadership priorities carefully and frame your project in these terms.
Most often, we see intranet and digital workplace projects given greatest attention when the organization is going through some kind of change:
- Organizational restructuring
- A shift in managerial philosophy
- A competitive threat that requires a different way of doing things
Corporate leadership will generally have established vision statements and plans for addressing these challenges. When making your case, highlight where collaborative tools can measurably carry forward these plans and pare back on other feature requests.
Does this make you a usability sellout? I don’t think so. Looking at your project through this lens will bring your project focus and purpose. With a clear objective in mind, you can proceed with carrying it out in the most engaging manner as possible.
Exploring the competitive landscape
The Harvard Business Review recently debated the merits of customer centricity in organization design. The research highlighted the competitive advantage or lack thereof in structuring teams around the needs of the customers. Under certain conditions, the structure yielded advantages over the competition – improving customer satisfaction and financial performance. This advantage was more likely to be seen in industries that had not been highly commoditized and where competitors had not yet embraced customer-centricity. But amid the right conditions there was, on average, an 11% performance advantage amongst Fortune 500 firms that had navigated the change and embraced customer-centricity.
Similarly, U.S. Army General Stanley McCrystal has studied the impact of organizational design on a company’s potential for adaptability in his new book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. He posited that organizations comprised of clusters of highly networked teams, as opposed to rigid hierarchical structures, were more capable of rapid action and solving unforeseen problems.
Depending on the competitive environment in which your own organization operates, the executive team may be intensely focused on how the shape of the organization may yield advantage. The challenge of busting up the hierarchical org chart and fostering greater unity across traditional corporate silos can potentially be eased by enterprise social networks. The degree to which the organization is successfully networked can also be gauged through the use of technology. This in itself, we believe, is a very compelling rationale.
Visualizing the possible
Most people are familiar with the design patterns associated with the consumer web. The intranet, however, is still rather veiled in shadow. Over the course of a career, unless you have really looked, you may have only ever seen 2 or 3 of them. Odds are, these intranets were pretty terrible too.
We have done a lot of work in the health care sector recently. Their management teams were comprised of very senior medical staff and administrators. When your business is saving lives, it’s not altogether surprising (and actually pretty comforting) that these management teams have not given extensive thought to what makes a great intranet.
This is not to say that a good approach wouldn’t be recognized when outlined… but it is hard to visualize without some help. I like to approach conversations with executive teams armed with a lot of visuals. We flip through the best and the worst; discussing what might make the most sense in their context. Pictures of intranets are hard to come by. In many cases, you must buy a report to see examples, but this is absolutely worth the investment as it has the potential to carry the conversation forward immeasurably.
A few good sources of intranet pictures include:
Taking matters a step further, we often draw up a set of what we call aspirational wireframes. These are very early stage mockups, created after some initial dialogue with the intranet team but before any heavy consultation or user testing. They are designed to help to illustrate the possible – bringing any lofty claims of productivity or engagement a little more down-to-earth. In my own experience, these wireframes do more to cement executive excitement, buy-in and budget than any report, proposal or presentation.
Consider persuasion styles
In my years as a consultant, I have had the opportunity to sit in on many execute-level pitches. Some have gone better than others. Occasionally agency-side and client-side lock horns in a battle of intellect. Sometimes it is successful… The agency succeeds in painting an elaborate vision. Sometimes visions clash and both parties walk away with bruised egos and a strong desire NOT to work together.
A great intranet plan is not enough. Take the time to understand the person you will be pitching. My day-to-day client contact is generally as invested as I am in seeing the project adopted by their executive team. As mutual allies, we proceed with mapping out all of the senior decision makers and sketch out their personality, their interests and their decision making styles. Armed with this information, it is much easier to devise a compelling argument. Even if you aren’t working with an agency, there is no reason why you can’t map this out on your own.
Persuasion & Influence for Dummies (2012) by Elizabeth Kuhnke has been a trusty companion in these circumstances. Kuhnke highlights three decision making styles that can be used a useful means of framing your arguments to maximum effect:
Fostering a socially-committed executive culture
Got approval to move ahead with a project? Congratulations! The modern digital workplace requires not just the financial resources and approval to go-forward, but also ongoing executive support to flourish as a place to *do* work (not just read about work). For a brief period, the concept of hiring a community manager to help jumpstart collaboration and conversation was en vogue (as you can see from the Indeed graph below.) Hiring the equivalent of a corporate cheerleader, however, never provided enough of a meaningful rationale for mass adoption across the enterprise, and the trend subsided.
Moving beyond the exchange of interesting content, the intranet and digital workplace tools only feel meaningful to participants if they are used to further project, team or organizational objectives and ultimately, their own career. If you don’t feel like your contributions have impact, then what is the point in participating? This is a situation that calls for more than a dedicated community manager. It requires a change in managerial responsibility; one that is hard-wired into job descriptions and encouraged at the most senior levels. In an increasingly distributed work environment, the managerial imperative to listen, consult and lead virtually becomes even more important than the actions taken in-person.
Agreeing on the value
The importance of participation becomes clearer when measures of value are defined and shared. One very tangible way to do this is through measurement of time on common tasks. But value of the digital workplace is a bit fuzzier than just time-on-task… Correlating intranet activity to high-value workplace attributes such as employee engagement, agility, unified purpose and innovation is trickier, but possible, through survey technique. Jane McConnell has published some useful survey data that touches on this type of analysis.
Make it easy
Mobile has long been a desirable requirement for the intranet, but hasn’t always been easy or possible with SharePoint. That said, if executive involvement is desired to jump-start collaboration, mobile is pretty much an indisputable must. Providing easy access for those in-between times – sitting in the airport, waiting for a meeting to start, drinking a morning coffee – lessens the perceived barriers to participation. There are a few ways of enabling mobile (all of which require SharePoint to be exposed beyond the firewall):
- Alter the HTML elements in SharePoint so that they become responsive.
- Make use of a newsfeed app connects to SharePoint such as the SharePoint Newsfeed app, SocialPoint or GimmalPoint
- Include Yammer and encourage the use of the associated apps; use SharePoint to send events to Yammer
Education is helpful too. A well-known part of the trepidation around digital/social workplaces is that it appears to be a great deal of work to keep up with the sheer volume information. When framing the manner of participation, journalism professor Michael Schudson offers a useful way to look at it:
Monitorial citizens tend to be defensive rather than pro-active. They are perhaps better informed than citizens of the past in that, somewhere in their heads, they have more bits of information, but there is no assurance that they know at all what to do with what they know. They have no more virtue than citizens of the past – but not less, either.
The monitorial citizen engages in environmental surveillance more than information gathering. Picture parents watching small children at the community pool. They are not gathering information; they are keeping an eye on the scene. They look inactive, but they are poised for action if action is required. The monitorial citizen is not an absentee citizen but watchful, even while he or she is doing something else.
Understanding that you don’t need to read every remark or respond to every quip, but simply to engage in lightweight surveillance, may assist getting over the psychological participation hurdle.
Making the most of early wins
The success of even a single executive can pave the way to broader attention and interest amongst management. Consider who might have the greatest affinity to the medium and work with them to understand how to use it to maximum effect. In this regard, I like the concept of the “incomplete leader” put forward by the MIT Sloan School of Management. It blasts the fallacy of the perfect all-knowing commander in favor of a much more collaborative approach… They highlight four key activities as part of this model of leadership:
- Sensemaking – understanding the context in which a company and its people operate
- Relating – building relationships within and across organizations
- Visioning – creating a compelling picture of the future
- Inventing – developing new ways to achieve the vision
The intranet or enterprise social network is the ideal channel for conducting these types of activities. Real ideas, more deeply engaged employees and true alignment are all outcomes of this type of approach. The key thing is that the executive championing the effort must deeply understand that the social aspects of the intranet are not merely about broadcast and more about publicly shaping the strategies of the business itself. As dialogue and progress unfurls on the public stage, greater factions of management set will be encouraged towards the same gains.