Feed The Monster - Part II

by Toby Ward — Of course, the “monster” in question is the intranet, whose insatiable appetite for content has led companies such as Cisco and Xerox (see Part I) to seek new sources among its own employees. These companies have discovered that empowered employees can become cyber-journalists and knowledge facilitators with the right motivation, culture, relationships and guidance.
Last month, we began our two-part look at one of the biggest challenges facing communication and content managers today: feeding the monster. 


Of course, incentives can be very effective in cultivating motivation among employees to commit to and contribute to any type of information sharing. A number of years ago, one of the “Big 5” consulting firms established an elaborate system for promoting knowledge sharing, by which employees were rewarded for contributing to the intranet and various other knowledge repositories. In fact, a portion of every associate’s bonus was based on contribution – not on quantity, but quality.
Cisco Systems provides bonuses for this type of knowledge sharing too. Consultants within its Internet Business Solutions Group (ISBG), whose mission is “to help customers transform their own businesses into e-businesses”, are compensated and rewarded in part for contributing to their dedicated intranet site, called the ISBG Content Exchange. Monthly content publishing or sharing – called “thought leadership”— includes client presentations, white papers, market research and other content.
“It’s a great repository and it’s grown phenomenally over the past year,” says Carmine Porco, a senior consultant with Cisco IBSG. “Rather than emailing the group requesting information on a topic (the old way), now I just go to the site and perform a search.”
“Content belongs to those closest to it,” Lisa Sulgit.


Carmine is the first to admit that the success of the Content Exchange is due in part to “the culture of knowledge sharing” at Cisco and that the technology merely helps facilitate this culture. Lisa Sulgit, a senior intranet consultant and an associate of Prescient Digital Media agrees. “The incentive approach makes sense for consulting companies, since it is the best way to make sure that knowledge stays inside the company when individuals walk out the door,” says Sulgit. “For other kinds of companies, a more subtle approach makes sense.”
Sulgit, the former intranet manager for Time Inc., speaks from experience: creating a participatory employee culture works, although it requires many tactics working in concert.


Firstly, the participatory employee culture requires an evangelist to spread the gospel. “I preached the message, to as many groups as I could that content belongs to those closest to it,” says Sulgit who embarked on a speaking tour of different Time departments. “I attended lunches, quarterly meetings, brainstorming sessions, illustrating how the Intranet could help each group improve their communication and visibility in the company.”


Formalizing employee participation will also positively impact the content process. At Time, Sulgit created a team of content owners called the Content Partners. Content issues and direction were discussed and meetings were also used to showcase new applications and initiatives. “We went from quarterly meetings to monthly meetings and from begging folks to show their projects to having a full schedule months in advance – the idea really took off!” 
Before her departure, the Content Partners had a membership of about 150 people and between 40 and 60 people attending meetings. Microsoft’s NetMeeting was used to allow employees in regional and international offices to virtually attend meetings.
Fidelity Investments Canada formed a similar group called the Intranet Publishers Group. Publishers are trained to use the content management tool for the portal, called inSite, and are responsible for publishing and managing their own content. Despite the small employee population of about 950, the Publishers Group already has 82 trained content publishers.
“Without a doubt, standards are one of the most fundamentally important aspects of your intranet,” Rob Anderson.


As Richard Nixon most eloquently stated upon his disgraced departure from public office, “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Keenly understanding Nixon’s sage insight, some progressive companies, including many technology firms, are applying the 80-20 rule to their internal work. “My general rule of thumb has always been, try to do things that work for 80% of your community,” says Sulgit. “Once you make those folks happy, the naysayers come along. Once you convince a few of them, they are your best publicity.”


Empowering employees to realize their journalistic aspirations can be valuable, but creating a laissez-faire publishing environment without rules can create content anarchy. As such, rules or guidelines are needed to govern and guide the content approach.
In some cases, accountability may be sufficient. For example, to ensure each content publisher takes responsibility for his or her submission and page, Time Inc. requires contributors include their name and e-mail at the bottom of each page with the date the page was last updated. “That way, folks get both responsibility and recognition,” says Lisa. “Users know who to contact about that information to give kudos, or complain, or make suggestions.”
However, standards are key according to Rob Anderson, the founder of MetaQuad Intranet Solutions in New Zealand. “Without a doubt, standards are one of the most fundamentally important aspects of your intranet,” says Anderson. 
In addition to content and editorial policy, Rob recommends intranet standards for site layout, styles, navigation, training and guidelines. Rob also stresses the importance of being somewhat flexible with standards which may have to adjust to changing conditions and differing priorities amongst intranet stakeholders: “Standards are general rules only – there will always be exceptions!”
Bank One provides intranet users with the tools to create their own intranet sites, pages and content using templates and guidelines provided by a central group. The tools are found in a dedicated section called Web Tools and are linked directly from the enterprise portal home page. Web Tools provides everything an aspiring webmaster needs to get started on the corporate intranet: downloads for graphics, stock images, logos, an enterprise search engine, and pre-configured page templates in various formats and colors. Publishing Guide, an accompanying section, details the required steps and processes for securing server space, winning technical approval, training, and publishing content. Web Tools is managed by the central Intranet Design Team which also highlights upcoming meeting dates, minutes from past meetings, a regular “Intranet Community Newsletter” and even an encyclopedia search engine dedicated to web terminology.


In the past, employees have been largely over-looked as a resource for hungry intranets, but more and more organizations are tapping into this rich knowledge basin. While providing incentives, formalizing relationships, and creating processes and guidelines for creating and publishing content requires considerable time and a participatory culture, the payoff can be considerable.
Feed the monster before it feeds on you.

A former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, Toby Ward is a senior intranet consultant and the founder of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on our One Day Consultation  © 2002 or a copy of the free white paper, Intranet ROI, contact us.