The Worst Intranet Mistake

I’ve done a lot of intranet work and, in makeover situations especially, almost always run across the Worst Intranet Mistake.  What is it?  Simply stated, it’s the failure to distinguish between resources that a business unit creates for their own use, and those they create for other audiences.

Without prejudice, let’s use the HR department to illustrate.  The tiniest amount of user research will show something like this: for other audiences, let’s say the general employee, HR will create all those policy and procedures documents, benefits, etc. that we are familiar with; for themselves, HR will have discussions about new plans and providers, meeting minutes, and work-in-progress documentation not yet made public.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen proposals for HR landing pages combining resources for themselves and for other audiences.  This is a huge structural misstep with many repercussions.  Here are some:

  • unclear expectations of what you will find when you click the link to the HR page, and confusion when you get there
  • compromised terminology – HR should talk to employees with different terminology than they use to talk among themselves
  • lack of alignment with the security model
  • lost opportunity for thinking about audiences at an enterprise level.

The last point is especially fruitful.  If we do a “for the department / for others” analysis for all departments, we might not only solve the Worst Intranet Mistake many times, but might find alternative useful ways of presenting corporate information.  For example, we might find that HR, Office Services, MailRoom and IT all offer services to the general employee. Given this, we might propose a Quick Reference area for the general employee, aggregating services from all of these groups.  We might also find segmentation of “others” beyond the general employee, for example “managers” or “construction services”, with specialized content aggregations for them too.

To be honest, I’ve described the most blatant case, but mixed-audience thinking shows up in many guises. So whether you’re doing a makeover or net new intranet work, beware the Worst Intranet Mistake.

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