How Do I Plan a Social Intranet in a Large Company? (Part 1)

IntranetLarge corporations are like separate universes. They work differently to "normal" companies.

Anyone embarking on a project in a traditional organization with tens of thousands of employees, to foster digital collaboration and improve the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and trust in the company with a modern social intranet solution, requires a bucket load of willpower, patience and perseverance.

If you are such an intranet pioneer in your company, the following tips and recommendations should help you lead your social intranet project.

Go patiently and in small steps

Walk carefully, patiently, and step by step. I know just how difficult that is. When you see how well and easily digital collaboration functions today, you want nothing other than to jump directly into the implementation. While this can work in small companies, in large corporations you need to be aware of and respect the company politics.

It's a bitter pill to swallow: So you should progress slowly, respecting company politics, that which hinders so many departments in your corporation, when it could be improved with a modern intranet and digital collaboration? Yes.

Corporate culture rebels are often ineffective

Constant drips wear away stone. Many of the "enlightened" who work with us, act like rebels in their own company. They ignore clear rules and undermine their company's culture of "subservience" and "consequences", little accountability and individual creativity. They want to drag their company, often with no advantages for themselves, from the ingrained hierarchical approach, into the world of modern projects, prompted by increasing complexity and growing competitive pressure.

These culture-rebels with the best of intentions are often isolated from corporate politics early on in their careers, and are therefore ineffective. Only a few can see the possibilities.

Before you become an eternally unsuccessful rebel, with high hopes and equally high frustration with the corporate culture's resistance, read on a little further.

Beware of overly ambitious goals

Modern collaboration with companies requires trust between all involved. Errors are allowed. You don't look for someone to blame for failures. You believe in the team.  There is no individual success. Personal goals have long been abolished. All information is actively and voluntarily made transparent. Departmental egoism is no more. There are no departments any longer, but interdisciplinary groups, centered on markets or products. Employees who are the closest to problems, make the decisions.

Now do you understand why culture-rebels can only lose? The path is in most cases, simply too difficult.

Hack the corporate culture instead

If you try to simply switch overnight to digital collaboration, it's a bit like starting at the edge of a jungle and trying to clear it with just a machete. Even with the sharpest machete in the world, you won't get far.

You need to change the jungle (the company) in such a way, so that it works on your goal for you. Give your colleagues machetes.   Make sure you have access to any new and bigger (political) tools. Behavioral change must come both from the employees below, and from management above. Changes wished for by management or by the employee representative group (workers' council) just happen, as if by magic. When done right, even "digital collaboration" changes can occur like this. But, do not rush.

We are not ready for this!

Actually, this sentence is revealing. Whoever said this, already understands that improved collaboration is a worthy goal and would benefit the company. But it is others, external circumstances that get in the way, that stop us from being successful. We hear this sentence from board members, from employee representatives, and even from the aforementioned corporate culture revolutionaries.

I find that to be particularly unfortunate, because especially those who wish that others would trust their colleagues more, don't even trust themselves, even though their colleagues are actually ready and willing to trust them. In many companies, solving this problem alone would result in a dramatic and positive change.

Start by yourself. Just assume that others are ready for trust-based collaboration.

If you observe behavior that seems to contradict this, ask yourself whether that person really believes otherwise, or whether they are simply conforming to the corporate system. Personal goals are often the cause of crazy and absurd activities.

I have not yet seen completely crazy corporate behavior, which could not be attributed to external circumstances and reasons. There are bad people, sure. But the likelihood that all of your colleagues are evil is low. Götz Werner, founder of the German drugstore chain dm once said:

"I will not let a few shoplifters destroy my basic conviction and our open and trusting shop concept."

If your company is built so restrictively, like Schlecker (the failed competitor to dm), then please don't make the employees in this company responsible for their lack of trust in their colleagues and workplace.

Don't let the few idiots and bandits unsettle you. It is in your hands to change the communication within your company. Nobody said it would be easy. But it is more satisfying to believe in people, to see how they truly strive to improve, and work continuously on something that will sooner or later be a part of all companies.

Rebels are insecure. They want confidence.

I chose the term culture-rebels intentionally. At the beginning, they shake things up to see what will happen. In fact, rebels want to turn the situation upside down, they hold different values, and they usually don't shrink away from drastic measures. That is true of all digital collaboration revolutionaries. Counter-measures within a company can be as draconian as against the leaders of a true rebellion. And in the middle of these two fronts are the unsettled, frightened majority of employees.

They don't want fear and uncertainty. They just want something to change. In the end, it is a good feeling and valuable for others to see how you have helped to change a company for the better. They don't want to fear, but to trust.

In the next part of this article, I'll write more about this aspect.

Lesen Sie diesen Artikel auf Deutsch.

Further information

Linchpin: Social intranet based on Confluence
Corporate communication and Intranet 2.0
Differentiating between Confluence and Linchpin: Why you need Linchpin for your intranet
Social Intranet with Linchpin: Trailer video in 150 seconds
The topic of intranets in our knowledge base