Last week, I was in Seattle and had the honor of speaking at my 8th SharePoint Fest conference. One of the sessions that I delivered was Building a Better Intranet, and it was a full session, with nearly 60 in the room. I was surprised, but then again I wasn’t. The truth is, a lot of organizations are struggling with their intranet. I expected that it would be popular, but I was curious - how many attendees were actually struggling with their intranet. So, I asked, "How many of you feel like you need a better intranet?". Slowly, but surely, nearly 80% of the hands went up. The struggle is definitely real.

Ask why

That’s How We Do It

You may have heard this story before, but I believe it is the perfect illustration for why we need a better intranet.

A few years ago, a guy met his future mother-in-law for the first time. She was preparing a roast dinner. As she readied the lamb to go into the oven, he watched her cut off the shank and throw it in the trash. She then placed the tray in the oven. He was bewildered. He asked why she did it and the reply was “We always do that.” He didn’t say anything else as he didn’t want to make a scene, especially as this was the first time he had met her.

A year or so later, his new wife was preparing a lamb roast. Just as her mother had done previously, his wife removed the shank and disposed of it. Unable to contain himself, he asked why she had done that. “We’ve always done that” she replied. “But why?” he asked. “I don’t know. That’s what our family has always done” was her answer. And each time she would prepare a lamb roast, the same thing would happen.

Years later they were visiting his wife’s grandmother in her home where she had lived for nearly 50 years. She was preparing a lamb roast. He watched her remove the shank and throw it in the trash before placing the tray in the oven. Unable to contain himself he said “Forgive me, I don’t mean to be rude, but can you tell me why you did that?” “Of course I can” she said. “This old house has only got a tiny oven and I can’t fit the entire roast in with the shank still attached.”

Truth be told, isn’t that how many of us are today? You see, when we talk to organizations, by and large we find that many of them, regardless of whether they are using old or new technology, are still doing things the way they have done them for years. Even though the company, it's people, and the very work that is done has evolved, the tools supporting this have not.

This post will the first of a 4-part series on how you and your organization can begin to build a better intranet. If you know me, you know that I ask why - a lot. It's a very powerful word, and I don't think we ask it enough.

In this first post, I want ask the question of "Why do we need a better intranet?", and give you 4 areas that have changed dramatically, and why acknowledging and addressing them is one of the keys to a successful intranet.

Information Overload

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: You're in the office, running from one meeting to another, checking email on your mobile device, while getting alerts and notifications from every social site known to man. We're bombarded with information these days, and we've quickly moved from what used to be called collaboration and multitasking to what many of us would call chaos today. So what does this have to do with your intranet? Just about everything. Last year, Microsoft did a study to determine how the digital world is affecting us and our ability to process information. What they found was startling. The average user's attention span has dropped 25% in the last 10 years, and we now have an attention span of 8 seconds - 8 seconds! By comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. So every 8 seconds, our mind is shifting to other thoughts and to-dos. Part of the problem with intranets today is that they are full of information and often busy, causing users to feel overloaded and not find what they are looking for or where they need to go.

Takeaway: Knowing that your users only have only a few seconds to spend navigating your intranet, make it easy, with specific, personalized, and relevant information right up-front. I'll share more specific tips on how you can do this in the forthcoming posts.

The Future of Work

Be honest, how many of you work the same way you did 10 years ago? 5 years ago? 1 year ago? The future of work is here. Take for instance the fact that the number of employees telecommuting has more than doubled (103%) between 2005 and 2015. Most of you reading this probably work outside of an office, because work isn't a place you go, it's what you do, and you can do that from nearly anywhere in the world. In addition, the Gig Economy is in full swing, and more 40% of your intranet users are predicted to be freelancers or independent contractors by 2020. Lastly, did you know that more people have a mobile phone than have a toothbrush today? More than 60% of the world population has a mobile device, meaning that I can guarantee your users want to access your intranet on their mobile device. It’s mandatory.

Takeaway: Your intranet has to adapt to the way people work today - not only how, but where and when. A beautiful and functional intranet that is accessed only a fraction of the time and doesn't support a mobile workforce, is an intranet that is achieving only a fraction of the value that it could, and potentially causing employees to look elsewhere for an organization that has the tools to support the way they work.

Changing of the Guard

One of the most disruptive, but also most underrated changes taking place today is the new massive shift in our workforces. You've all undoubtedly heard about the Millennial generation, and how it now officially makes-up 50% of the workforce. But on a practical level, what does this have to do with your intranet? At its most basic level, it means that your tools and technology need to work the way a new generation works. You need to understand what the millennial generation needs and how your tools can connect them to the organization and to their colleagues. But there's another generation that isn't getting a lot of attention, but they should. In only 4 short years, Generation Z (or Generation 2020) will be entering the workforce, and these are a completely different breed of users. These users never had a life without the Internet, sophisticated digital tools, and relevant information at their fingertips. They expect more, so you need to deliver more. Or you'll lose them as quickly as you hire them (if you can hire them at all). Here’s something you may not have thought about: We see the culture of many organizations, the very DNA that made them who they are, changing as new generations enter the workforce. These are new people, with different ideals, and cultures will shift as this changing of the guard continues. Last but not least, when Generation Z enters the workforce in the next few years, many organizations will have 5 generations working side-by-side for the first time in their company's history. How will you design and build common tools that both 23 year-olds and 72 year-olds can use effectively and work together?

Takeaway: Understanding people is not HR's job. If you are in charge of tools and technologies that bridge company silos and touch everyone in the organization, you need to make this a priority.

Failure Happens. A Lot.

As you can see, there's a lot changing, but maybe the most important reason for why we need a better intranet is this. More than 60% of all intranets struggle, stall or fail. In fact, Gartner puts that number at 80% for "social business" failure rates. These are startling numbers, but what's more interesting to me is that if you look at these stats over time, they're getting worse, not better. Which means as technology and tools are getting more sophisticated with tons of new features, organizations are failing more. Why is this? Isn't technology supposed to help us do things better? I'll talk about this more in future posts.

So are you adapting to these changes? And if not, will you? Where do you start? What does this look like?

Over the next 3-4 weeks, I'll dig deeper into the specifics of how you can build a better intranet and address these core issues, and more. We'll start talking about high-level strategy, and end the series with specific tips and recommendations on how to do this.

Each week I'll give you resources to help you along the way. Here are some to get you started this week:

As always, we’d love to hear your story? Shoot us a quick email and let us know where you are or any questions that you may have on how to begin building a better intranet!

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. - Einstein