12 min read
Leaders are crucial for the uptake and success of your intranet. Here's why.
When companies get a new intranet or communications tool, there’s a common misconception that as soon as they turn it on, it’ll start to magically resolve their issues. Poof. Just like that. All they have to do is let everyone know it’s live, then sit back, and watch it to go viral.
It’s incredibly disheartening when that doesn’t happen.
The fact of the matter is, even the best intranet software cannot fix your problems on its own. It can make it way easier to fix your problems, but it still requires people-power. And some of the most important people in this scenario are your leadership team. Arguably, they have the biggest impact on whether your intranet thrives or dies. Here’s why.
Your leaders set the tone in your company. They’re the ones that everyone else looks to for guidance. If doesn’t matter how enthusiastic the HR Coordinator is about your new tool, they’ll struggle to get people involved if the leadership team aren’t there. It’s an uphill battle.
Conversely, if your leaders are early advocates for your intranet, you’re setting yourself up for success. They’re, by definition, the ones who others will follow. When your leaders are regular users of your platform, they’re clarifying that this is the way you communicate now. It’s the new normal. People soon catch on.
Here’s a real-life example:
The leadership team at Elevate LLC, a 50-person grant writing firm, specifically got an intranet because their staff wanted to know more about what was happening at the leadership level.
“Coming out of our 2016 retreat, we recognized that our staff wanted more information from me as CEO and the executive management team (EMT).”
CEO, Elevate LLC
Elevate staff were looking for more real-time updates about decisions the EMT was making; trade-offs the EMT was considering, future planning, and a greater understanding of new policies being rolled out. Elevate took this feedback seriously and invested in an intranet in order to get more information into the hands of their employees. Alayna uses it to provide weekly CEO updates, which are concise, informative articles that reflect organizational changes since the last installment.
Your leaders are your decision makers. They’re privy to the important ins and outs of your business and have an overarching knowledge of what’s going on. Do you realize how many people in your organization are interested in this information? A lot.
Your employees are part of your business but, organically, they have a very small slice of the knowledge pie. To feel like they’re truly part of something, they want to know more about it. Leaders obviously don’t need to share sensitive information, but they can share things like the direction their company is heading in. If your leaders have a mechanism to share this information, they need to use it.
Here’s a real-life example:
Rebecca Speight, the CEO at Woodland Trust (a 450-person not-for-profit), writes and posts an article on their intranet every month. In a casual style, she writes about what the senior team has achieved during the previous month and what the organization’s aspirations are for the next month.
“It’s where, if you want, you can get inside the head of our Chief Executive; it’s where you naturally go to see what she’s thinking and how she’s feeling about the organization.”
Head of HR, Woodland Trust
Anne told us that Rebecca's blog is consistently one of the most read articles and that "people are clearly engaging in a way I haven’t seen before.”
Your leaders are often the most visible people in your company, but the least well-known. They’re extremely busy people and, depending on the size of the business, don’t have the time to get to know each person.
This is a real shame because people want to connect with their leaders, and it’s good for the health of the business. By establishing relationships and becoming transparent, leaders start to earn the trust of employees.
A good intranet will make it easier for leaders to connect with people in a more personal way. With mechanisms like short messages, comments on article, ways to show recognition, and a ‘like’ feature, leaders are able to reach their employees (and be reached) in a streamlined but meaningful way.
Here’s a real-life example:
Domino’s franchise, M&G Pizza Enterprises, was experiencing unnecessary turnover because of diluted messaging that team members in the stores received. They didn’t have direct contact with the leadership team, so often didn’t see the big picture or feel part of something greater.
Since rolling out their intranet, leaders have been able to directly connect with their teams. Leaders are recognizing managers, managers are recognizing their part-time team members, and everyone is outwardly celebrating accomplishments using their intranet.
“All of this recognition and celebration has increased employee engagement and morale, and part-time workers finally feel they’re a part of something bigger.”
Project Specialist, M&G Pizza Enterprises
Of course, there’ll always be objections from some leaders. “I don’t have enough time!” or “People don’t care about what I did on the weekend.” Some of these objections are legitimate; leaders are incredibly pushed for time and have a lot to get done in the day. However, it’s all about perspective and priorities.
Before we jump into some common objections from leaders, it’s worth noting that these often stem from a lack of understanding. Sometimes leaders are completely unaware of the purpose or true value of their intranet. They may not have been part of the buying process or felt the need for an intranet first-hand, so they don't have an emotional or functional connection to why it exists.
It's critical that they’re made aware of the new tool, why it's there, and the impact of their input. How your intranet supports communication, culture, and engagement, should also be clarified. Ideally, this should happen before the new intranet or tool is launched.
Here are five common objections from leaders and how to rethink them:
This is a challenge for most people in the workplace; there’s simply not enough time in the day. And leaders are often the most pressed. By the time they’ve put out fires, brainstormed strategy, sat in on meetings, and met with clients, the day is done and they’re wiped out. They don’t have time to log into that little intranet you have and comment on articles or share their insights.
However, imagine if they were wrapping up for the day and one of their star-performers came to them and said they were thinking about quitting… I’m pretty sure they would have time for that conversation. The problem then, is not about time, it’s about priorities.
A lot of leaders don’t prioritize communicating via their intranet because they don’t see the true value of their input in their intranet. They don’t realize the impact their presence has on company culture and engagement. Leaders should consider these words from Tom Rath, coauthor of Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow:
That star-performer may not even be thinking of quitting if the leaders had been more present and attentive. Your intranet is a powerful tool that enables you to do this. If you want to get away from fighting fires or dwindling employee engagement, use it. (We’ll show you how in the next section.)
If your leaders don’t want to use your intranet because it’s too complicated, then maybe they should think about getting a different one. If they expect their staff to use this tool but it’s a pain for them to use, they need to consider their employee experience and make a change. Your intranet should make life easier, not harder.
Actually, weirdly enough, some do. A lot do. Ever seen an Instagram page? It’s basically an ongoing advertisement for brunch. However, that’s beside the point—if you’re not the type of leader (or organization) that’s particularly personal or social, that’s absolutely fine. Your intranet doesn’t have to be either. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
Your intranet should reflect exactly who you are as a person and collectively as a company—people won’t buy into falsities. So, if you’d rather congratulate someone on a promotion, share your thoughts on the company retreat, or update people about the big monthly meeting that took place, go for it. All of this is good stuff. People want to hear from you.
There are some leaders who don’t actually want to know the details of what’s working and what’s not (with their intranet or otherwise). Ignorance is bliss, and reality can be hard. When a new intranet is put in place, a lot of leaders are simply looking for a “high-level overview” in updates from the administrators or gatekeepers of the platform. They just want a generally positive report.
Unfortunately, if you want your intranet to be successful, that’s no way to proceed. If you’re not taking a hard and honest look at what’s working and what’s not, how are you going to make the necessary amendments to forge the way to success?
Some people are simply not interested in making friends at work. The idea of communicating and becoming social is uncomfortable and uninteresting to them. Your intranet doesn’t have to be social, it doesn’t have to be a way to make friends, it can simply be a way of communicating with your employees.
If you’re a leader, here’s the good news: how you contribute to your intranet is up to you. You could write a long monthly post, or comment on other people’s articles, or simply ‘like’ someone’s photo album. Do what’s natural and comfortable for you. The key is that you’re present and contributing in a visible way.
(Of course, it’s important that you use your intranet appropriately as you’re setting an example for others. For example, if your company got an intranet because you want to reduce email, then you should be using your intranet for that purpose. Don’t ignore it and continue to use email.)
Here are five sustainable ways you can meaningfully contribute to your intranet:
This can be as long or short as you like. It doesn’t have to be written formally or reviewed and edited several times. It’s much stronger if the message is organic and true to the individual. What you choose to put in the blog is up to you—it could be a commentary on a topic relevant to the business, an update on what the executives have been working on, or your thoughts on an upcoming event.
If someone posts an article on your intranet, whether it’s an album of photos from their vacation or a departmental update, it doesn’t take long to write a short comment. Something as simple as “Love the photos @Sally, looks like you had a wonderful time” can be a simple but impactful way of connecting with people.
This really takes very little time—it’s just clicking the Upload button when you get back from a vacation, conference, tradeshow, or other event—and it has a really big pay off. If you’re a leader and you give people a window into your life or your business outside the office, they’re going to learn a little more about you/your role. This means creating a meaningful connection is that much easier.
On the JostleⓇ platform, we’ve got a nifty little feature called Shout-Outs that appear in the company-wide Activity stream. They’re very short messages that anyone can write to congratulate or thank someone else for going the extra mile. It’s like a virtual pat on the back, and it’s incredibly powerful.
Very few leaders of large companies will ever find the time to contribute to their intranet. If they’re overseeing a 2,000 person company, the dynamics in leader/employee relationship are often very different to a 50-person company. In these cases, it’s vital that the CEO empower and encourage the people surrounding him/her—especially other executives—to share, update, and contribute. These people are vitally important in the company and are looked to as leaders.
Phew! That’s pretty much all we have to say on the the role of leaders in sustaining a vibrant and effective intranet. As you can tell, leader participation is mission critical. So much more can be achieved when leaders fully buy into a new intranet and take the time to contribute. If you’ve got questions on what we covered (or anything else about intranets), please reach out to us. We’d love to help!