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The secret second reason why your intranet news goes unread

We know the number one reason people find your intranet superfluous to requirements; irrelevant information. The ‘news’ stories are often Company focussed (what ‘we’ need to tell ‘you’, the little people) rather than ‘people focussed’ (what ‘you’ need to know to get stuff done).

We know that if an intranet, or the content, ain’t useful then it ain’t used! But what about the secret, number two, insidious reason?

I get a lot of feedback. As a senior communicator, and the named Intranet Editor, everything I do is seen by hundreds or thousands of people. In a very real sense, my work is public (internally); I can’t hide my failures and I’m open to everyone’s scrutiny. I do my very best to listen, to hold back my defensiveness and to learn what it is that people really want.

Today, a suspicion I’ve harboured for years was confirmed. I received an email from someone, telling me why they didn’t read anything on our intranet. The number two reason why people don’t use your intranet or read any of your news is that they are not allowed to. Their managers, and even their Directors, forbid them to waste time learning about company matters when they could be working harder.

The email I received explained that certain managers would ‘catch’ employees reading intranet news stories (re-organisation announcements, messages from the CEO, Health and Safety bulletins et cetera) and berate them for “having too much time” on their hands if they can spend time reading the intranet. Worse, there’s a hint that managers who ‘catch’ people reading the intranet allocate more tasks to those people, as a way of keeping them busy.

As job vacancies are on the intranet, there’s also a nasty hint that some managers are trying to stop their employees from leaving their department.

“We’re too busy to care what the company is doing”

[‘We’ are not part of the company (apparently)]

As I’ve met with many an executive who can’t believe we publish 15 to 25 news stories a week (“how can they all be work related???!!!?!?!”) and ask me to cut back and refrain from publishing news that will “distract” their people from their real work, I know that the intranet is perceived as a waste of time.

Which is bloody awful. The intranet is supposed to support work, to help get tasks done, to be a quick reference guide, to be a ‘survivor’s guide to a shitty week’ and to actually deliver cost-savings and a return on investment. The intranet is not a place for idle gossip, but is a tool to get things done in an efficient and effective manner. It can be more; it could be a collaborative workspace, a business as usual application – but I digress.

Basically, anyone who serves customers or who actually makes things / fixes things / services things is actively denied access to the intranet and all the company information it contains. Me? Well, as a knowledge worker in a nice office, I get to surf around the intranet and the Internet to my heart’s content, but the actual people who need it are not, and if they do, they’re targeted and penalised, apparently.

If the leaders of our company consider the intranet a waste of their people’s time, what the heck am I doing publishing news stories about Sandra’s Charity Run Along Hadrian’s Wall? (I’m told it’s a ‘people story’).

If our hard working front line staff aren’t allowed to use the intranet, what the heck are their bosses doing publishing their Policies on it?

Do we really still live in an obfuscated world running on a need to know basis? As if anyone knows what others need. Communicators – know that your channels are actively blocked by your stakeholders; we cannot reach everyone without going through miasmic management cascades, apparently.

[Wedge]

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Photo credit: s.greiber

About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

9 thoughts on “The secret second reason why your intranet news goes unread

  • It’s interesting, and rather disappointing, to know that intranets may not have improved accessibility for employees within large companies since the days of paper comms.

    Before intranets, the company I worked for kept all the important information employees needed in large files within HR. You had to physically go there to read them, but could only do so during your breaks!

    All other information such as news, updates, job vacancies and announcements were sent round weekly – one folder of papers to each departmemt. You were expected to read them, initial a form to confirm you had done so, then pass it on. But again it had to be done during your own time.

    I’d have quite happily spent five or ten minutes of work time reading those pages each week, but not my own precious break time. I must have initialed hundreds of forms during my years there, but don’t think I ever actually read a thing.

    Anyway, I guess this comment’s a bit off topic, but your article just made me think how even with today’s fantastic technology, ultimately it’s still down to the managers whether employees have decent access to the information they need and are entitled to.

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  • You make a really good point. I wrote on my own blog recently about how knowing what is happening in the organization is a part of every employee’s job, and it drives me nuts when people say they don’t read our intranet because it doesn’t help them in their work. But it is even more frustrating to know that supervisors actively discourage employees from being informed. I know it happens in my org too. They fail to recognize that an informed employee is more likely to be a better employee.

  • I’ve shared the article with my collegues and we all agree that this is a problem we have to focus on. “We’re too busy to care what the company is doing” is a sentence we’ve heard lots of times. So, for us, the next step is to encourage managers to change his mind about that.

    Good article.

  • Great post Wedge! I could not agree with you more. The intranet is a tool for employees to help them to do their jobs more effectively. Employees need access to the latest company news to be able to serve customers more efficiently and make decisions within their departments so they are inline what’s going on in the organization as a whole.

    Your post also speaks to the importance of upper management buy-in for your intranet. Leaders within the organization need to be educated on the benefits of an intranet and specifically the dissemination of corporate news.

    If users are not allowed to actually access the information on the intranet the site might as well not exist.

  • What up Wedge?

    Thanks for posting this story. I had never even actually contemplated this before. I guess I’m lucky to work in an environment where most senior managers are actually supportive of increased communication & information sharing so that all employees can do their jobs better.

    I have seen a few little pockets of this sort of thinking: “I’m too busy to mess with the intranet.” But I’ve seen that coming from individual contributors as much as managers.

    What I have seen more of, which pushes my buttons, is something similar: “I’m too busy to learn how to use our new (one year old) intranet.” FYI folks: It’s here to stay, so when will this tool that’s becoming mission-critical make it onto your “important list”?

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