Collaborative Governance (Intranet Politics Part II)

by Toby Ward — Part I of the Politics of Intranet Ownership highlighted one of the biggest hurdles blocking the typical intranet or portal from reaching its potential success: politics.
The need to resolve political and ownership issues has driven the demand for a defined governance model, a structure outlining the ownership and decision-making process. In Part I we examined decentralized and centralized models. The emerging and more common model in medium to large-scale organizations with enterprise intranet or portals is a collaborative or federated model.

Collaborative Model

The up-and-coming next generation model of intranet governance is collaborative, most often taking the form of a cross-representative steering committee representing the major functional stakeholders in Communications, Human Resources, Operations, IT and business units. This model is most successful when the committee is championed by one or two key executives, often the CIO, the head of Communications, or HR. Instead of no owner, or one single owner, a collaborative team governs the intranet through the application of policies, standards and templates. This committee is typically responsible for the direction, vision, prioritization of projects, conflict resolution and final key decisions as it relates to the intranet.
Melcrum Research’s survey1 of 500+ intranet managers found that the collaborative or steering committee approach is now the most common model, and a shared thread amongst leading, successful intranets:
67.5% of companies have a steering committee, intranet council, or similar, responsible for the development of the intranet:
  • steering committees have on average between 6-10 individuals
  • 79.3% have IT representatives
  • 75.9% have internal communicators
  • 65.2%  have corporate communicators
  • 51.7% have HR representatives
  • 43.1% have marketing representatives
The study reveals that these steering committees or councils generally meet monthly and are focused mostly on:
  • intranet mandate and vision
  • business objectives
  • policies and standardization
  • project prioritization
  • trouble-shooting and conflict resolution

Case Study: Sun Life Financial

When Canadian insurance firm Sun Life Financial merged with another large insurance firm, it established the Sun Life Online Communications Steering Strategy Council to guide the development of a new, worldwide employee portal.
"We wanted to break down communications barriers that can sometimes exist between a head office and national operations," says Cheryl Ficker, Manager, Corporate Affairs, responsible for Sun Life's online communications strategy. “The main driver for establishing a council was to break down the barriers that existed between the corporate group (head office) and the various operations of the business."
Politics and the issues of control, ownership and standards go hand-in-hand with intranet management and perhaps these issues more than any other have driven the requirement for defining governance models.
Ficker says the Council members are also the intranet's key ambassadors and advocates, and continue to be, as the Council enters its third year.
"The stakeholders are very passionate about their work, and often view their efforts as personal achievements. It's helpful to have diverse views and opinions at the table to ensure buy-in at the start, and over the longer-term.”
One detractor of the collaborative model is the committee approach to decision-making, which can be far slower and more bureaucratic than under the centralized or decentralized model.
However, the steering committee serves as a vehicle for conflict resolution that provides a forum for minimizing the politics of ownership. Finally, the collaborative model ensures different stakeholders think about the greater needs of the organization rather than just their specific functional silo and leads to the development of over-arching standards and policies. This cannot be over emphasized!
"There is no doubt the Council was the way to go in terms of establishing a forum for best practices, knowledge sharing and collective evolution," says Ficker. "Through the Council, members have established solid, meaningful and trusting relationships. At any time, any member can pick up the phone and connect with their colleagues internationally to brainstorm, share a story or ask a question."
Politics and the issues of control, ownership and standards go hand-in-hand with intranet management and perhaps these issues more than any other have driven the requirement for defining governance models. As IBM’s Lister says, “The key thing is hassle elimination.” A governance model will likely never eliminate intranet politics, but it may just reduce the number of hassles for over-worked intranet managers.
[1] “Survey data: Management of the intranet and issues companies face” – Melcrum Research Report, Managing and Developing Intranets for Business Value, 2001

Intranet governance

Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, is the President of Prescient Digital Media. For a website or intranet evaluation, or for a copy of the free white paper, Finding ROI, please contact us directly.