More thoughts on interaction (or lack of it) on intranets

As someone involved in interaction, both online and offline, I am always fascinated by events in which the level and quality of interaction varies wildly.

This is often a reflection of the culture of the organisation or business hosting or attending the event. It’s an intriguing idea, that organisations create the behaviours they often complain about. When people are reluctant to engage in groups, to collaborate socially, I have often found this can be traced to a number of sources back inside their own organisation. Solve the problem at source and you can often have a significant effect on the lack of interaction, participant and engagement, both in real life and in online interaction.

Here are a few root causes:

1. Bad behaviour at induction – first impressions

The behaviour is set very early in the employee’s life with the organisation, usually though the style and content of the induction process.

If the induction sets norms of lack of engagement, this behaviour becomes very early cast in stone. Also at induction, a well-intentioned manager who is (often reluctantly) leading the induction, will tell “stories” (often humorously intended) that make fun of the organisation’s attempts to communicate. For example, “We have an online meeting booking system, but no one ever uses it!” I have even heard stories of senior managers jokingly boasting that they have never “Used” their company’s intranet. The intranet and, indeed, the organisation’s communication system, becomes an object of fun and satire. Even though there is often truth in some of this, the early playing out of these stories during induction, can already create inertia in users to “suspend their disbelief” and give the intranet a try.

2. Lack of trust

There is a climate of mistrust in the organisation which may have its roots in actions from the organisation’s past. This mistrust, a fear of “getting your card marked”, where it is better to “keep your head down and get on with the job” creates a reluctance in some users to engage with the intranet as they do not have faith in its anonymity. It’s a classic “Big Brother” is watching me, and this can often be made worse by clumsy monitoring procedures of some intranet managers, and automated tracking and measurement systems. Rather than risk using the intranet inappropriately and getting bawled out for it, the user plays it safe, and minimises their engagement.

3. Lack of Example set by Leaders

Senior, and even middle managers do not lead by example, nor do they champion the intranet in their departments and functions. People find it just as easy to follow non-example as they do to follow the good practice example of managers and leaders. Ask yourself, want kind of example do you set for YOUR staff? “Do as I say, not as I don’t do!”

4. Bureaucracy infects the intranet

The organisation is over-bureaucratic, has too many levels in its structure; its offline coordination and communication systems are sluggish and are like “wading through treacle”. Staff have found all of the usual manual ways to bypass organisational slowness and sluggishness. However, the intranet’s architecture often mirrors the worst aspects of the organisational culture. For example, booking travel, or accessing information (requiring three passwords through various “gateways” as well as systems of governance based around multi-levelled permission –seeking in order to change one’s home page, to upload content, or to create some online interaction. In the end, the effort required to do so is greater than the potential benefit, and users disengage, finding offline methods easier

5. Email addiction

The organisation is in email overload. When the user signs in online with the intention of engaging with some aspect of the intranet they start “WILFing” (the “what was looking for?” phenomenon of getting easily sidetracked online by endless, enticing hyperlinks in emails). They tend to look at emails first which lead to chains of follow-up tasks and activities and the user never quite makes it onto other parts of the intranet. Blogs remain out of date and Wikis untouched because there are always more emails to read. Putting Outlook as a part of the personalised front page can be both boon and bane for an intranet. It can draw the user in initially as the portal home page is also the place to pick up important functionality such as emails, but also the user often doesn’t make beyond those emails!.

I once asked the audience at an intranet meeting how many people spend more than an hour a day doing emails and a shockingly high number of hands shot up.

Overcoming these cultural “Inhibitors” is not always easy and falls into the realm of Organisational change and development.


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