Why Intranet Governance Matters

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What’s going to be the big trend for intranets in 2010? Is this the year companies truly adopt social features in the enterprise? Will we finally come to an agreement on how to demonstrate ROI for enterprise 2.0 tools? What’s on the minds of intranet managers?

If you’re like the intranet managers that Jane McConnell just informally polled, then here’s your answer: Governance.

80% indicated that governance (principles, examples, and integration into “business as usual) was “very interesting and relevant for me.”

Governance. Not quite as exciting as microblogging or enterprise mashups. No, it’s not the technology topic you were probably expecting or want to be excited about. Of course, without it and without excitement for it, your intranet is destined for a bumpy ride.

Approaches to intranet governance vary widely in organizations – historical structures and policies shape how governance is applied (or not). So to shed some light on this topic, I thought it would be useful to provide a few links and some good definitions to help intranet managers and owners to ground themselves in some governance best practices.

What is governance?

Let’s start with a few good definitions:

Simply put “governance” means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).
– Source: United Nations ESCAP: What is good governance?

Governance is the process whereby societies or organizations make important decisions, determine whom they involve and how they render account.
– Source: Institute on Governance

The take-away for both of these definitions should be clear: governance is about the decision making process.

And what does it mean to get your decision making process sorted out?

UK governance expert Graham Oakes has a great answer: “Well defined governance allows us to focus our energy on the decision, not the decision making process.”

Intranet success depends on the coordination of a wide range of people inside an organization. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative. Often there is ambiguity about the roles of the stakeholders. Who decides on what content goes onto the intranet? Who decides what technology is to be used? Who decides what the purpose of the intranet really is? Who decides who winds up paying for it?

And governance is not simply about “ownership” although turf wars between divisions also tend to characterize some of the issues that intranets face. Ownership debates about the intranet reveal the conceptualization of the intranet as a thing or material object, something that can be owned and possessed. Increasingly with social intranets, we feel this is an inadequate metaphor, where a more apt metaphor is that of a complex system, an ecology or a village or city.

While there is clear responsibility and accountability for the well being of a village or a city (someone is governing and “running” the city), its citizens share largely in the responsibility for making it what it is. The same is to be said with the social intranet, intranet 2.0. It’s the reason why Penn State Outreach named their intranet “our.outreach” instead of “my.outreach” — everyone owns their intranet, everyone is responsible for the well being of the content, the quality of the communication and collaboration amongst staff. That was a very intentional choice that the creators of the intranet made in naming it “our” — it signified a different approach, a change in thinking.

Just like the mayors and council who govern a village or city, intranet managers need to start asking themselves the question: how do I bring my intranet citizens into the larger decision making process? What does it mean to be an active participant in the ongoing decision making process of the intranet and indeed, the organization as a whole?

We’re interested in governance and the challenges faced by our clients in operating within complex multi stakeholder environments. What intranet governance challenges have you faced? How have you succeeded? What best practices did you learn along the way?

Looking for a clear and simple path to a new intranet? Download our free Intranet Buyers Workbook to learn 10 key steps in evaluating intranet solutions.

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Join The Discussion

  1. Jed

    Your absolutely right, no amount of technology will help if the governance issues are not sorted out ! If the intranet falls into paralysis by analysis, or just the “well I don’t want to own it” syndrome, then even ThoughFarmer wouldn’t be able to rescue it.

    Governance and day to day management (the other element of decision making) is indeed key. By the way I have previously worked for an organization that has benefited greatly from Graham Oakes input, he is a star !

  2. R. Gauthier

    Governance is an extremely important aspect of setting up a corporate intranet. I work for a tech company that operates in all regions of the world and we have found that establishing a group of “power users” that meet every month to share best practices and new enhancements to the sites that they manage. These “power users” are located in different functional teams and are the “go to” people if anyone has questions or ideas about the intranet.

  3. Gord

    @RGauthier,

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Are these power users required to report to a larger steering committee or some other kind of oversight structure? Do they set direction, implement the direction, or make sure the direction is getting done?

    It sounds like to me you’ve established an intranet community of interest or practice, which is great in making sure that the intranet is adopted and supported throughout the organization, but how do they relate to the people who are accountable for the intranet corporately?

  4. Jane McConnell

    What I’ve found to be the most interesting aspect of working on governance with large organizations, is the incredibly differing and frequently conflicting views on who should be making the decisions! very often, everyone is right, as seen from their viewpoints!
    Thanks for a “thoughtful” post!

  5. Andy Jankowski

    Great points all. I have also noticed that governance is one the main obstacles intranet teams face when trying to get an internal social media proposal approved: specifically, the ability to answer management’s line of questioning around how these new tools and processes will be governed. I think a common trap that companies fall into is agreeing just to make tweaks to existing policies. If the tweaks are too strict, they stifle the use and adoption of the new tools and processes. If they are too weak, they put the company at risk and potentially lead to litigation. Either way, the practice of tweaking existing policies glosses over an underlying problem, “an on-going proliferation of processes and tools that fundamentally change the way people do things, use information and connect to others requires new governance models and methods independent of the tools and processes they govern.”

  6. EphraimJF

    OUR GOVERNANCE MISTAKES

    We launched a ThoughtFarmer intranet that has been very successful, but it hasn’t met it’s full potential due to what can be categorized as governance issues.

    The main mistakes:

    1: An individual’s vision & efforts led the project rather than the combined vision & collaborative work of a global, cross-functional team. (I confess, I am that individual.)

    2: Unclear mandates and support from the Executive level.

    #1 led to a lack of shared commitment and interest and inadequate involvement from key business units. Different teams didn’t have a substantial enough role in shaping the project and the new intranet and, as a result, felt little ownership of the outputs.

    #2 led to an uphill battle to engage different business units and teams. Both of these issues are closely related. Executives supported the project generally, but didn’t make it a priority for any teams. Sort of “we’re too busy to get a lot of people deeply involved, so try to use people’s time as little as possible on the project.”

    The good news is that today there is a lot of support. Every day we’re more reliant on our ThoughtFarmer intranet and Executives put more and more emphasis on effective use of this tool and others.

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