Helping an Intranet to fail

Intranets are delicate things – they have to be nurtured and cared for. In my last blog I commented on an intranet, that I encountered in my research, that struggled to attract interest from staff and I suggested that this could be partly attributed to the indifference of senior staff.

I’d like to look a bit closer at this problem, because, ironically, this organisation had a Strategy that placed Sharing Knowledge as a top priority and therefore an important focus for all staff and particularly the leadership team. The Intranet was seen as the key strategic tool to deliver this central goal.

With that in mind, it could have been expected that senior staff would take particular care to back the intranet enthusiastically and encourage engagement by all staff in their teams. Yet instead they would publically deride the intranet, not only damning the system but demoralising the key staff involved in its implementation. This almost amounted to ritual humiliation as they commented loudly about ‘our stupid intranet’.

Now, these senior staff knew that the software for the intranet was used successfully by other organisations as they had previously been shown demonstrations from happy users in organisations similar to their own. So they should have been able to deduce that if their intranet was failing, this was due to poor implementation in their own organisation rather than an inherent set of faults in the chosen software. (Unless perhaps they imagined someone had picked a faulty box from the software shelf in their local tech store!!)

If they had recognised that the failing of the intranet in their organisation could not be a problem with the software, they would have been able to deduce that any ‘stupidity’ was caused internally and was therefore a problem that they, as the leadership of the organisation, needed to solve.

By speaking as if it was a technology problem, or some other difficulty that they could not be expected to grapple with, they took no responsibility for success or failure. It is interesting to speculate whether this attitude would have been so easy for them to adopt, were it not for the widespread belief that technology is always ‘difficult’ and therefore they had an acceptable excuse for inexcusable behaviour! ‘Blame the technology’ is a frequent get-out clause, and one that the other non-technical staff could have been expected to accept – because without the knowledge held by senior managers, they would have no way to see the falseness of this position.

So here is a case, where management encouraged staff to let their expensive investment fail, without apparently realising how much they were implicated in its failure. How different if they had perceived that any failure of the intranet was a problem of organisational change. Then they could have actively worked with their intranet staff to analyse what the weaknesses were and how the organisation could pull together to overcome them.

But it is so much easier to say ‘stupid intranet’ and consider yourself just another victim of rubbish technology.

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