New ways of collaboration require cultural change

22. February 2017 Pedro Brägger Culture

Why intranet projects fail

Static, boring, out of date – that’s what the intranet looks like in many companies. At best, employees will peer into this abode of the damned to check the (hopefully current) canteen menu. The reason that classic intranet solutions so often fail is obvious: they have to compete with email, the good old phone as well as software solutions that employees install out of necessity, bypassing the IT department completely. This widespread practice of independently procuring applications missing from systems leads to serious problems in such areas as data security. (Our blog post on teamwork looks at the issue of ‘shadow IT’).

But even projects with new, modern intranet solutions can fail. There are numerous reasons for this: insufficient planning of the intranet project, lack of support from management, failing to introduce the software throughout the company or employees unwilling to share knowledge.

And then there is the frequent, fatal flaw that can bring any intranet or collaboration project to its knees: trying to do too much at once. Not every requirement has to be met from the beginning. Experience shows that it is worth beginning with a basic package consisting of core functions. This would include things like

news publishing, communities, virtual work spaces, social features like comments, likes and feeds, as well as secure, simple exchange of data with third parties. Once the basic package is integrated within the company, it is then easier to focus on expanding the intranet to include required functions.

The big picture: a growing service sector is becoming more digital all the time

In the USA, the share of jobs in the tertiary sector has grown by a factor of more than five since the 1950s. In the course of digitisation, industrial corporations are now becoming technology companies. The software business is growing and margins are higher for these digital products than they are for traditional capital goods. For these and other reasons, even more jobs will be transferring from the workbench to the office chair in the future. These jobs are largely found in cities and metropolitan areas and, because few employees can afford apartments in these places, the flow of commuters will increase further.

In light of these developments, the model of the location-independent, mobile, digital workplace is becoming more and more established. Why lose time by commuting every day when you can have a fully functioning workplace – plus team – using a collaboration platform? It is clear that this detachment from the fixed, physical workplace, if only partial, is having a major impact on company culture. Working at a digital workplace is a learning process, whether it’s in the office or on the move.

One thing is certain: the current wave of digitisation in companies is seeing new intranet software solutions emerge from the shadows, having developed into carriers for a new generation of digital workplaces.

New ways of collaboration require cultural change

Smooth collaboration among employees is an important success factor for companies. Having one tool for information, documents and interaction is the key to this. But the door opener to this is definitely cultural change.

Management, however, is often insufficiently aware of how extensively the introduction of a modern social intranet solution can change the company culture. It is therefore essential to thoroughly prepare for this cultural change and to incorporate employees from the start into the process.

Ideally, the implementation of a new collaboration platform will be embedded in a carefully planned introduction programme. Various internal and external target groups (partners) will require different types of information and levels of detail. The baby boomer two years from retirement, the new millennial commercial apprentice – they all need to be brought up to speed with the new platform. This is a challenge that should not be underestimated. That is because new social intranet software will have a direct impact on the employees working and communications practices. For instance, an external graphic artist can no longer submit work via Dropbox. Instead, all information is kept on the platform, tagged and ordered by project. Some employees have a hard time with changes like this. So it is all the more important to have focused user communications and training programmes tailored for each target group in the introductory phase.

Know-how transfer versus silo thinking

The fact that 80% of employees use Facebook privately is a distinct advantage when it comes to introducing social intranet software. Basic social media functionality such as likes and sharing or commenting are already familiar techniques. But it would be wrong to assume from this that employees will automatically share key findings from their projects, or that they will provide precise answers to technical questions from colleagues they have not met. The old paradigm that sharing knowledge makes you expendable is still highly pervasive in many companies. But nor does withholding knowledge get you further, because you can not be replaced in your current position. Companies who think in silos and practice ‘information hiding’ run the risk of being overtaken and replaced by young, dynamic start-ups with disruptive ideas.

The best examples here are Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, 23andMe, Tesla, Uber, Airbnb and many more. What these companies have in common are open minds, innovation-sharing and thinking out of the box. Moreover, their working environments attract a young, able workforce fresh out of university.

A new social intranet software solution offers a major opportunity to knock over the silos and allow a greater flow of knowledge throughout the company. To ensure its success, employees and divisions have to be both prepared for and integrated into the change. And for this to happen, management have to really want the digital transformation, to plan it with courage and implement it with vigour.

We recommend looking at John Kotter’s ‘Accelerate’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change’ or reading Schein’s The corporate culture survival guide

In the last two or three years, Swisscom has gained extensive experience in this area. Companies that want to tackle this issue can profit from this experience.