Intranets: A Reflection of your Corporate DNA

Before you join that next company, consider asking for a look at the corporate intranet first. Why? The intranet is a direct reflection of the ethos, soul, and culture of a company.

An intranet is important, it’s the collective knowledge of your employees, a collection of resources, and directories that should enable business to move forward faster (cost savings) and to grow and support customer focused teams (revenue generation). I’ve read research that indicates that 40% of the United States population will retire in the next few years, (Update: US Census reports that 26% of all Americans are baby boomers. 78M over US population of 298M, since youth and elderly are not working, 40% isn’t much of a stretch) and intranets are a key way to harvest the tacit knowledge from these information wealthy individuals.

[An Intranet is an accurate reflection of the inner workings and ‘Corporate DNA’ of a company]

My German uncle (I’ve a diverse family) runs the health department for a major county in California, his roots are with health inspection of restaurants. He told me one indicator of a cleanliness of a kitchen is to first check out the restroom, it’s often managed and cared for the same way. Intranets are often the same indicator for it’s internal culture. I know as I was an intranet manager, and have been involved with those programs in four previous roles.

You can tell a lot from the intranet, the way it’s designed, displayed, organized, the content all reflect how the corporation is run. Take a closer look at your intranet and compare it to the following attributes

What are the comparative attributes of a corporate intranet?

Structured Organization or Loosely organized
Is the architcture of your site tightly wound around the features of an existing CMS system, or loosely created by different collaborative groups? This is an indicator of how the company may be managed, either centralized or run by different factions.

Static or Dynamic
Is the content rarely updated, or is frequently changing with the speed of business? This could indicate how information is being shared (or not) within the enterprise.

Text based or Media Focused
Is the content primarily text and information geared, or are there uses of more ‘human’ mediums like images, maps, videos, audio? Is your company focused on delivering hard raw data, or sharing the human and ‘life’ stories among employees.

Disparate or Centralized
Is the user experience of your intranet different with every business group? or is it centralized within a single framework. This is a clear indicator of how your company is likely setup.

Product/Customer focused or Employee focused
Is your intranet focused on selling of products, or customers, or on the lifestyle of employees, and how they communicate. I’ve worked for a company where the sole purpose of the homepage was to push sales and marketing information to employees, nearly brainwashing. This indicates the true focus of a company. For example, Intuit is truly employee focused, and former employees tell me the intranet is setup this way.

Top down publishing or Bottom up publishing
perhaps the most telling attribute, if your intranet a publication of just a few key members with power, or are the voices and knowledge shared from across the enterprise? Does management lead with an iron fist, or are the suggestions from the employees on the ground floor (ones dealing with customers/products from day to day) taken into account?

Publishing from Business or Technology Group
Is the content published by a technology group, or is it in the hands of business? I’ve seen some intranets (a business tool) be controlled and owned by IT, which is clearly a mis-use of human tool to empower business units to communicate. This is a reflection of how business information is handled or respected, from a technology perspective or from a business perspective.

[By looking at the organization, content, and publishing of your intranet, will indicate how your company is managed, prioritized, and focused]

You can learn a lot from your enterprise intranet, it’s a telling mirror of the culture and ethos of your company. Now to hear from you: So how was/is your intranet organized? Does it reflect the corporate DNA of your company culture?

  • If you can think of some other attributes I’ve missed, leave a comment.

  • Hello Jeremiah,

    Thanks for posting this. Brings back some good memories of several Intranets I’ve put together for companies in the past. My favorite part of getting an Intranet together was coming up with the best ways to encourage user adoption. Sure, you could think of things like contests and big kickoff meetings that to get an initial push, but the key was to make the Intranet a part of the user’s daily routine.

    I found that putting in application consolidation (SSO or otherwise) as well as workflow always made things compelling. Empowerment, by way of giving publisher access to those that would use it, was always effective as well.

  • This may be related to some of the other attributes above, but I think that something like “tightly moderated, business only” versus “loosely moderated, fun allowed” is important as well.

    As I’ve argued elsewhere (blog plug) your employees are social people too: http://www.openparenthesis.org/2007/09/26/youcanhascheezburgers

    The extent to which informal, social, “just for fun” stuff is allowed or even encouraged on the intranet also says a lot about corporate culture.

  • Jeremiah,

    Thank you for, at last, being the one who has come forward with a sensible view on why video might have a place in the corporate Intranet.

    I see sites like Seesmic, and don’t understand how they can have a main-stream place. Most people can read about 5-10 times faster than they can talk.

    If it takes 60 seconds to babble in front of a camera, or 3 minutes to write a concise piece that will take 10 seconds to read… then YOU have saved 120 seconds, and each reader gains 50 seconds. So if you have more than three readers, it’s incredibly inefficient to use video.

    HOWEVER, your comments on the use of video to convey a dynamic, human STORY make an awful lot of sense.

  • Mark

    Video can tell a viewer much more than the raw bullet points that are said. It can give insight to why, where, and how things are done!

  • The analogy to DNA is quite apt. Monkeys and humans share some 93% of the same DNA, yet they are so different. Looking through your list offers a good place to start identifying and comparing the “7% difference” yet I somehow feel the interpretation of the differences will be nuanced and the evaluation of “good or bad” highly subject to the industry context. It may be less about the DNA building blocks and more about what they are able to do with them or conversely not do with them. For that assessment more traditional measure likely remain essential.

  • …the term intranet itself sounds obsolete..

    given the age we live in, it feels most likely that intranets will graciously be replaced by more sophisticated social networks with widgets and apps customised for the the specific community (tools for online collaboration, publishing etc)-

    intranets will become social networks for the business social graph. these will be a complete solution catering to both the business (blogworking) and social needs of the corporation.

    the result will phenocopy the corporate genotype if we want to speak in biological terms..

  • Great points! I think companies have tried since the 80’s to create an Intranet that would represent that organization’s structure, and help employees collaborate — but results have been hit or miss.

    Over the last seven years in commercial Social Networking solutions, we’re finding more and more that the new method of representing the Corporate Intranet, is evolving more and more into the “professional version” of the common Public Social Network because it is ultimately flexible and almost entirely user-driven.

    The Intranet Social Network represents more than the connections you make, it reflects the corporation’s various Departments or Regions as Groups that evolve with the ever changing organizational structure.

    When a corporation implements an Intranet Social Network, they are representing their organization in a collaborative way by increasing employee visibility and putting the individual in charge of their own corporate collaboration. In short, they build something that always represents their current organization structure.

  • It’d be interesting to post regarding the crossroads between the intranet and socia media marketing, and how to really manage that properly.

    One of our clients is centraldesktop.com and they have given us an account to use. It’s cool because we can put all our documents in there and share them amongst each other but also share specific things with the customer, and monitor everything. It’s one of many services out there.

    I still get the feel of ‘efficiency’ and less human and life stories. I’m hoping one day the intranets can adapt to each employee, and really be a part of their life. Eemployees could take them wherever they go and they may be as wacky as a talking head as long as it’s not monitoring the employee’s personal life and responding back to the employer (someone working for Coca Cola could be chided for drinking Pepsi). lol

  • Jennifer

    Great post, thank you. We had this very discussion just last week within the marketing department.

    You argue that IT shouldn’t own the intranet (I agree), but who should? Is it HR because it’s about the employee experience, or marketing because they know how to communicate, corporate branding because they articulate the company personality or finance because if you want marketing you need to throw them a bone and give them something they can call theirs?

    There are pros and cons to each. But in your opinion which corporate group is going to do the best job of balancing of the “collaborating”, “just for fun” and “how the heck do I do an expense report”?

  • I came to work for Jive Software because of the collaborative culture, and our “intranet” is designed to make collaboration with other employees easy, fun, and productive. OK, so we make collaboration software, but we eat large quantities of our own dog food, and we use our Clearspace tool as our “intranet”. As a community manager, being in a company with an intranet that is effectively a community is every community manager’s dream job. Our new VP of Hosting blogged about our collaborative intranet about a month into his job, and I had a similar experience when joining Jive (http://www.jivesoftware.com/community/blogs/jivetalks/2007/11/03/onboard-with-clearspace)

    You said, “You can learn a lot from your enterprise intranet, it’s a telling mirror of the culture and ethos of your company.”

    I think that is absolutely true, and it can help you see the difference between what someone tells you about the culture and the real culture of the company.

  • Jennifer

    Who should own the intranet? The employees of course! (with guidelines based on best practices from a centralized group that represents the business groups)

  • Poor Intranets. They’re broadcast-only junk drawer relics from the 90s. I actually posted about this recently on JiveTalks (http://tinyurl.com/2wsvam).

    When I started the post, I was going to throw a bunch of company’s intranet screenshots up there and make the exact point you did: Intranets are a companies mirror, so which would you want to work at based on that reflection?

    There’s a great guy that works here at Jive who blogged about this subject inside of Jive. He was responsible for unifying the Intranet of a bunch of acquired companies that were trying pull everything together. What a mess. Here’s what he had to say:

    “Our main goal was to consolidate intranets into one single one and even prevent/discourage new ones from popping up. This is really hard in technically-savvy organizations, as the impulse to go it alone and against corporate IT is everywhere. So we tried to do as much bridge-building as possible by identifying and keeping business stakeholders in the loop. We even setup an Intranet Council, but that fizzled after a while. I recall trying to get HR’s involvement, but for some reason, the intranet was viewed at the time as a technical problem in IT’s court, not a means of getting the community tied together.”

    It’s pretty easy to pick on Intranets. I think we should be picking on our productivity and content management applications, too. Ultimately, the reality is it’s the intranet, the cms and the productivity tools fused into a new reality. We refer to it as social productivity, but call it what you want, 2008 should be an interesting year as those three things fuse.

  • Sam

    Great quote: “Poor Intranets. They’re broadcast-only junk drawer relics from the 90s.” gave me a chuckle

  • Laura

    As a consultant currently on a new intranet project, one aspect I have found to be very telling is how your global team really works/doesn’t work together based on cultural differences. It has been quite a learning experience. Reading the comments to the article have made me chuckle as well.

  • Pingback: The Challenges, Evolution, and Success Factors of the Enterprise Intranet()

  • Pingback: Now Is Gone » Intranet Treasure Trove()

  • Great post and conversation. I have written some comments that are too detailed to put here on my blog: Intranets: DNA, mirror, junk drawer, obsolete or something else…?(http://netjmc.typepad.com/globally_local/2008/01/intranets-dna-m.html)
    Thanks for starting this good conversation, Jeremiah.

  • Pingback: David Alfaro: Scrum Costa Rica » Blog Archive » The impact of Human Resources in the Agile Enterprise()

  • Very interesting post Jeremiah. Stumbled upon it while searching on intranet & corporate culture.
    I am doing a research on the relationships btw a company's internal culture and its intranet(s).
    Despite my IT background, I am approaching this from the culture angle rather than from the intranet. You might find this list interesting: http://leveragingknowledge.blogspot.com/2009/12
    I would like to liaise with you directly on this topic. If you interested, please send me an email.

  • Very interesting post Jeremiah. Stumbled upon it while searching on intranet & corporate culture.
    I am doing a research on the relationships btw a company's internal culture and its intranet(s).
    Despite my IT background, I am approaching this from the culture angle rather than from the intranet. You might find this list interesting: http://leveragingknowledge.blogspot.com/2009/12
    I would like to liaise with you directly on this topic. If you interested, please send me an email.

  • Bravo, Bros! keep going like this, more good info again.

  • Pingback: Corporate dna | Pixspics()

  • Pingback: links for 2007-12-27 | Small Business Web Design, Local Internet Marketing, Local SEO, Online Video, Training | LOCAL Na8ion West Palm Beach, FL()