Lessons from Learning – the post

In 2019, I was thrilled to be invited to present my talk Lessons in Learning to the IntraTeam conference in Copenhagen. This is a summary of the majority of the talk, where I argued that intranet professionals need to pay more attention to learning and development.

This talk originates a year before at IntraTeam Event 2018, as I found myself asking why almost no-one was talking about the connection between intranets and learning. The project I’d been working on, the Barclays Global Curriculum, had earned an Intranet Innovation Award in 2015, but I didn’t see people building upon that. The same month, I’d been to the Learning Technologies exhibition in London which felt like a world where intranets didn’t exist.

You have new mandatory training…

For some people, compulsory training is their only experience of the Learning Management System… and quite possibly their only exposure to learning and development. Yet, and I’m guilty of this, all too often the link to the LMS is tucked away into a remote corner of the intranet.

The more I looked at things, the more it became clear that we need to look beyond learning as purely about developing people and skills, but as something to drive change and develop the collaboration that will define the digital workplace. 

And we need to make sure the intranet is core to the business, its people, the digital workplace, continuous change, the learning it has to do.

So, why learning?

I particularly like Satya Nadella’s characterisation of the turnaround at Microsoft as moving from a “know it all culture” to a “learn it all culture”.

It isn’t enough for businesses to become faster, cheaper, or more efficient. John Hagel at the Deloitte Center for the Edge argues “large organizations need to shift from providing scalable efficiency to providing scalable learning.”

And it’s about skills too. Kelly Palmer, the Chief Learning Officer at Degreed, says most CEOs think that they will need to re-skill a quarter of their workforce to be “future ready”. 

For me, these are about building a culture where staff development goes beyond box ticking, so that employees are informed, engaged, and have the skills to help the organisation sense and adjust to changes in the world.

These are the kind of skills regarded as important in the 2018 Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving

They say these in-demand skills will become more competitive and costly for companies and “there is an opportunity to support the upskilling of their current workforce toward new (and technologically reorganized) higher-skilled roles to ensure that their workforce achieves its full potential.”

In Future-proofing the Workforce, Adecco describes “the acquisition of skills as a means of future-proofing” and recommend employers “awaken a sense of responsibility in workers. ” It quotes a professional training provider, General Assembly “if companies decide to reskill and redeploy employees instead of laying off and rehiring, they could save up to $136,000 per person.”

Both reports talk abort building a learning culture, but does that belong in learning and development, change management, internal communications or elsewhere? It’s certainly not something we can do in a tool that people go to once or twice a year.

So, I’d like to contend that a well-designed intranet can contribute to building a stronger learning culture in many ways.

The Barclays Global Academies project came out of the then leadership’s desire to rebuild its public reputation, and part of this would be to improve the workplace culture, particularly in teamwork, self-management and leadership skills.

My involvement came initially at the SharePoint development level, but I was involved in a lot of the contributions to the overall user experience, content flows, and nearly all of the tools for administration.

The project started with lists of items pointing to resources in the LMS and elsewhere, but user testing revealed how users scrolled past the item titles. Then a team member suggested  a Pinterest-style card layout, which I was able to prototype using live data. It made the same content stand out, and immediately more useful, especially when we built in “pin” and sort functionality.

To be truly useful, the Global Curriculum, as it was then called, could not be all things to all people. The vision was to build academies with curated content for specific employee groups, each built on the foundation of the existing shared content.

I was one of a small team making this work in SharePoint, but a lot of others were involved, including: UX designers, content strategists and copywriters, designers, project and channels managers, a search specialist, learning experts including curriculum specialists, trainers, training designers and others.

And that brings me to my first lesson.

Lesson 1: You cannot do this on your own…

…but you, as an intranet manager, can do a lot, and this is why I think this is the first step.

  • Talk to the people involved in training
  • Start investigating their pain points
  • Use your skills in governance, content design and interaction design to help make a difference
  • Look for broader themes and commonalities
  • And keep looking wider, for the skills that are being under-represented, for the knowledge that can unlock the potential in your organisation – and turn it into one of continuous improvement
  • And use your intranet as a shop window

If you’re not using your intranet to talk more about your people, their skills, and what’s exciting and possible, then building learning into your news processes is definitely your next step.

Lesson 2: Sharpen up your comms

When we bring in learning of all kinds, we can start to create a home page that is about positive growth, and shows the business as it might become. “New security training is available” is dull, but it can be rewritten to make it relevant and give it a point such as “Learn to protect your team and clients”. It gets even better when you make it about people and feel personal. Here “Security Wise Saira saves client £80k” celebrates the success of successful training. There is almost always a training angle in a good news story.

Start reinforcing the message that learning is part of the business

Promote employee-driven activities such as Communities of Practice (CoPs), and be public in your commitment to industry standards. My made up headline “make it big in big data” demonstrates company investment, a vision of the future business, and potential opportunities for staff.

However, the more you explore learning, the more you’ll discover it’s a personal thing and it scales badly.

Lesson 3: Curation is king

Curation, as I see it, is finding a balance between helping people explore huge amounts of training material, and giving them the kind of expert guidance that helps them do their jobs.

There is a huge amount of training material out there, and it’s only going to grow as the cost of creating it comes down. I’ve heard training professionals say their number one competitor is YouTube.

At its simplest, you should use your experts as curators to design better starting points, and use your understanding of users and their needs to create something of value.

  • Build on information architecture principles to help people find the right materials
  • But also make it easy for users to explore
  • A successful project will outlive the current corporate structure, so make sure you build in flexibility
  • Use organisational expertise to create learning journeys
    • These may be simple sequences or more complex decision trees
    • They may be long programmes
    • A skills diagnostic tool may help get people to the right training
  • Ensure search helps people find the results they need

Remember, employees may be self-conscious about the training they’re doing or admitting to gaps in their knowledge. They may need reassuring that they won’t be judged for following prescribed training.

Even if you don’t have access to domain experts, then there are other shortcuts that can go a long way to helping. A “Workshop finder” connects people with potential courses close to where they work. Do watch out, these can be a real struggle to keep up to date without proper resources and commitment from your stakeholders.

Lesson 4: Allow room to grow

What we built over 6 years scaled from a proof of concept, to a single site and then several. Then after consolidation work, we were able to extend it to 30 with an optimised roll-out process.

It was a huge benefit to have had to start with a very limited scope, and even to be limited by what we could do within SharePoint. It forced us to be creative, and it gave us time to understand our content, how people were using it, and how we could improve what we were offering.

A connected intranet platform

Naturally, the impact starts on the home page page but goes beyond that. Relevant links put learning materials in front of every user wherever they are doing work, especially where an employee needs specific training. With proper consideration for use cases, that would include mobile platforms.

Microservices

It feels strange to look at all the benefits of a digitally-connected workplace, and then force everything onto a single platform, or a series of single platforms. What appears to be a single web page or app could be integrating information from all kinds of sources. Imagine the value in a travel booking page being able to tell you that you need to complete risk assessment training for your destination.

Mobile

Corporate leaders love the idea of employees doing their training on the bus or at home, in their own time, of course! But it doesn’t always work that way. I’ve heard people disappointed with the results, and I’ve heard of others who were thrilled and say it drove up staff engagement.

Video

And that goes for video too. Get it wrong and you’ve got video after video of men in suits telling you how important something is, yet it’s buried at the bottom of the page after all those videos. James Robertson, a long time ago, highlighted an incredibly popular video from an Australian supermarket showing colleagues how to use the staple function on their photocopiers – it’s something simple that meets a real need. 

Virtual and Augmented Reality

I think we’re still learning about AR and VR. Geert Nijs from KBC talked at IntraTeam in 2018 about his adventures with VR and shared some valuable lessons. Also, look out for an interesting video showing Verizon use of VR to train store staff in how to react to armed robberies.

Microlearning

Microlearning is a broad name for training materials that are short, but hopefully of practical value.  I think you can include short quizzes and other tools to help reinforce training. 

Chatbots

Everyone was talking about Chatbots last year, but perhaps they’ve still got a way to go before they’re really useful and so much depends on the AI behind them. Talking with vendors at the Learning Technology show, one vendor was excited at how much data they had, another was far more cautious. The big question that organisations are waking up to, is who owns that data?

Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning

For those of us who’ve seen decades of promises of machine intelligence, it’s easy to be dismissive. I’d suggest AI is only as good as your data and models, but keep an eye out for simple enhancements such as image classification, auto-translation, plug-in sentiment analysis and meaning extraction.

Gamification

Gamified training has been the next big thing for ages, but it is interesting to hear it is having some success, Vodafone Ukraine have recently been talking about using it to engage call-centre workers. 

Big Data

Whatever the technology, it will generate valuable usage data which we need back into the system, to continue to making it better.

Learning Experience Platform (LXP)

This is the big buzz in Learning Tech, in some respects the successor to the LMS. I see these as aggregating learning resources, testing and other elements, and illustrate the the real value in technology – to simplify the interfaces and bypass a lot of the fiddly stuff. But the LXP is still being sold as a destination.

What I’m trying to suggest is there’s [something] valuable in using technology as a uniting factor to help people work and learn in the same place.

This is how workplace learning expert Jane Hart sees it – she calls it a seamless working and learning environment – and I like it a lot.

This is my redrawing of Jane’s diagram with, at its core, a collaboration platform – Jane’s talking about Slack or Microsoft Teams – with here Learning and Development’s responsibilities on the right, and the tools for managing a user’s own learning, as well as for team learning and collaboration, on the left.

What I like most is the idea of employees managing their own learning. I’ve not touched on digital literacy, I do think it’s important, but I don’t think we should just be teaching digital skills for today’s technology, but also teaching the skills that will help people continue to learn as technology changes.

Intranets, whatever people say, bring incredible value, and it’s not just the emotional connections of news and company history, there’s a structural work-related element too. And we, as intranet professionals have a lot to contribute.

So, why learning? I’ve come to think that learning should be core to the digital workplace. It’s a massive area, yet we can start with a few small steps.

I believe only good can come out of closer integration between learning and the digital workplace.

Everything you know about learning is wrong…and what might that mean?

Nick Shackleton-Jones is an entertaining and occasionally puckish speaker, and kept the Brighton audience for last night’s Tilt Talk on their toes with jokes, challenging questions, short activities and giant marshmallow-throwing.

And that wasn’t just playfulness, but illustrating one of Nick’s key points about how people learn: that we are much more likely to remember things when we are engaged and active. He joked that “something has gone horribly wrong”, that in spite of everything now known about learning, the audience was sitting there waiting to hear from “the sage on the stage.”

Drawing on differences between learning and education, Nick discussed the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve which, he argued, only shows “human memory is very good at throwing out rubbish.” And so, leads onto his particular theory as described in his book How People Learn.

Learning is emotional

In the Affective Context Model, Nick argues that learning is only made of emotional responses, from which the memories are reconstructed. This got me thinking about what might count as emotions, and also how I really got into cooking not from TV chefs and their overproduced programmes, but from the kind of shows that showed live cooking.

An important point here is that if we are engaged and motivated to learn, an educator merely needs to provide the resources. This is the Pull condition or what Nick calls “strong affective context”. In the “weak affective context” or Push condition, we need to provide experiences, narrative and more so that unmotivated learners become motivated.

Slide "but when to do which". A spectrum of activities going from Push or 'care less' to Pull or 'care more' respectively: experience, story, animation, guide, checklist.

Below "Push": The organisation wants me to: be convinced, feel inspired or engaged, and understand why.

Below "Pull": I want: support and guidance, simple practical stuff, to understand how

Describing some of his work at BP, Nick described a very user-centred approach to understanding real needs. Don’t talk to stakeholders “about topics,” Nick says, “talk about what people need to do,” and then talk to those people about how to meet those needs.

In talks like this, we expect to hear about things that are exciting and innovative, but it was the inclusion of more ordinary tools that made me pay attention. These included factsheets and checklists that allow people to explore and understand a subject, and to help them take the right actions.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised as I’m a fan of tools built for explorability. The Design Process I helped build at BDP allowed different professionals to understand their responsibilities during any stage in a building’s design and construction. Also at BDP, redesigning the website, I made it a key principle that there would be no dead-ends in the primary information.

But, it’s not just about learning…

As I got to think about the importance of emotions in learning, it struck me that the same principles held true in internal communications and culture change. This shouldn’t have surprised me, as I’ve previously argued that learning is how organisations change.

It shouldn’t surprise me, or anyone working in learning, change, comms, or intranets, that this is all interconnected. We are all trying to win the limited attention of the same beleaguered employees, and that won’t work in the longer-term if the surprises become predictable.

That leaves listening and understanding as the tools we should all use. We can build tools that effectively support exploration and understanding, ones that can push users into the right learning, without creating too much noise for our colleagues. Choosing when and when not to use emotional hooks may be the most important thing we do.

Nick Shackleton-Jones is @shackletonjones on Twitter and his book How People Learn is available from publishers Kogan Page, or order it from your local independent bookshop.

Mini-review SharePoint Saturday Leicester 2019

At just after 5am on Saturday, I was getting up for the drive to Leicester, to my first Midlands-based SharePoint Saturday in probably 5 years. I arrived at the fog-bound Leicester Racecourse in plenty of time for the 8.45am start.

In some respects, having a SharePoint event barely a week after the massive Ignite conference in Florida is a good thing, and there was a lot of news to discuss. Conversely, there’s not necessarily enough time to really get to grips with the multitude of announcements from Microsoft. This, perhaps, led to a rather muted if informative keynote.

My first session was a healthy reintroduction to the SharePoint Framework or SPFx, the set of tools to develop in SharePoint Online and, likely, a lot of future interaction in Office 365. Bill Ayers is a stalwart of the SPS scene and packed a lot of details in.

Secondly, Steve Dalby talked agile and MS Teams. For me, it leaned too much towards agile, rather than agile collaboration.

Leading up to lunch, Jarbas Horst talked about Site Designs and Site Scripting, valuable tools for employing consistent design, and consistent sites as rolled out through SharePoint.

Another issue for large deployments of SharePoint is how to manage the rapidly-developing SharePoint Framework. Yannick Borghmans discussed Mastering SPFx in Larger Projects and provided some useful context to make the notion feel a little more practical.

Chris Hoard, discussing MS Teams and security, provided the stand-out talk of the day. Not only there were some practical admin tips for Teams, but solid principles and handy details.

The sessions were rounded off by another excellent talk from Martin Hatch on SPFx, App Insights and Stream Analytics. He covered a broad range of what’s possible in recording activities into what tools, and then collating them with Power BI.

This was probably one of the most consistently good SPS events I’ve been to, and well worth the driving necessary to get there and home again. Thank you to all the presenters, volunteers, and sponsors.

On reflection, the event was more technical than the SPS London event held at City Hall this summer, with fewer sessions on intranets, adoption and change. I’m not going to begrudge this, but certainly think a broader approach could bring a wider audience.

Intranet Now – October 2019

This time with…strategy

It feels a little odd to be back at One America Square so soon after the last Intranet Now conference, not that I’m complaining. The previous Summer Edition was an experiment that I very much enjoyed (Intranet Now 2019 Summer Edition), and it is always a pleasure to immerse myself in the event.

Fintan Galvin (Invotra)
The elements of a strategy

Fintan Galvin presenting at Intranet Now

If what the attendees really needed to wake them up was a head-to-head comparison of the strategies of Ghengis Khan and Dominic Cummings, then it worked.

The theme of the conference was “the impact of a strategic digital workplace”, something Fintan admits he’s obsessed with. He neatly sneaked in a little plug for Invotra’s strategy of embedding customer focus in their culture, and contrasted that with their tactics to achieve that.

Fintan made a number of memorable contributions.

For many, Fintan’s comment that being a Google or Microsoft house is not a strategy that will go down well. I imagine there will be a few more raised eyebrows at “an intranet is not a digital workplace…a digital workplace is made up by a digital ecosystem”.

For me, the comment that made Fintan’s keynote was that “intranets are the most flexible systems in any ecosystem. This makes it harder to draw strategic lines.

I’m not sure I see that as a bad thing. If we see the intranet as a tool that has the strength and the flexibility to take the load, to try things out, to learn more and subsequently move them elsewhere, then that’s a good thing. Think, perhaps, how easy it is to build a tool in SharePoint with a list or series of lists behind it. This can be seen as a strength, and the lessons learned can be turned into a proper solution. Even if the only lesson learned is that the demand wasn’t sufficient or the admin burden was higher, then the strategy will have paid off.

John Baptiste-Kelly (Wellcome)
Measuring the value of a user-centred approach to intranets

The first in-house practitioner on stage, John highlighted a product team approach to researching, building and running an intranet, in contrast to hiring a consultancy or buying an intranet-in-a-box product.

Certainly, Wellcome’s Trustnet looks successful. Many will envy the statistic that 98% of employees will visit it in a 2 week period. Admittedly, Wellcome Trust has a highly-educated workforce, but the statistic that 45% of employees have posted an article in the last year is one to be admired.

Melissa Masterson (The AA)
One small step back, one giant leap forwards

It’s a little unfortunate that the thing we’ll remember from Melissa’s engaging talk is that jellybeans go down well as an intranet promotion tool. Melissa, very honestly, admitted to knowing very little about intranets when taking her role, and thinking the AA intranet could be relaunched in 6 weeks.

What the talk should be remembered for is in-depth research, supported by Scarlett Abbott and an impressive launch that reached a large proportion of the remote workforce – 87% of colleagues accessed the service.

Kelly Freeman (Interact)
Zhuzz up your content strategy

This was a really practical introduction to improving the quality of your intranet content, and of getting the right content for the right reasons. As Kelly says “What is the point of spending tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds on your intranet if you’re not trying to get it as right as you can?

Kelly made three key points: define your goal, understand your audience, and audit against user needs. I particularly like the last. Her pup of intranet content will also go down in Intranet Now fame.

Martin Stubbs-Partridge (Scottish Natural Heritage)
Alignment: a series of leaps

Martin shared a case study of the ups and downs of intranet at Nature Scotland. Hard work and research weren’t enough to guarantee success, but the arrival of a new CEO and her cycle ride around nature sites across Scotland helped change the way colleagues communicate and collaborate. I’d like to see more with this level of honesty.

Hannah Moss (Wilmott Dixon)
Give the people what they want! (Then measure it)

Another positive case study, this time looking at bringing in Office 365 at construction firm Willmott Dixon. It’s clear that good understanding built on good research has contributed to its success. I particularly like Hannah’s slide of a decision tree showing what tool to use for a variety of different activities.

Diagram of Hannah Moss’s which tool to use when.

Simon Hudson (Cloud 2)
Martin Hutchinson (Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust)

Digital evolution in the workplace

A case study from Cloud 2 customer and now a convert to Microsoft Teams. Martin Hutchinson was a strong advocate but seemed keenly aware of some of the risks of getting things wrong. It would have been great to see the solution in action.

Kurt Kragh Sørensen (IntraTeam)
The Impact of a digital workplace strategy

Kurt’s benchmarking graphs have become a familiar sight at intranet events, and are full of rich information. My main takeaway this time is that Enterprise Social Networks are most successful when properly embedded in the digital workplace.

Greig Rutherford (Standard Life Aberdeen)
Not a long jumper

From the grand scale to a very specific research tool. Greig talked about a digital diary to really understand the tools being used by colleagues across the company.

The team used an app to survey 22 people over the course of a week, and a real-time dashboard enabled the team tweak it while in progress. This feels obvious, but we should try to remember Greig’s finding that when under pressure, people revert to the tools they know, and that tends to mean email.

James Mowatt (WM Reply)
The intranet of now

Talking about WM Reply’s client British American Tobacco, James underlined some of the problems facing a company of 42,000 employees across 185 countries. A little more detail would have been appreciated, but it was good to see the benefits of rebalancing effort from development towards UX and engagement.

Annette Corbett
Auditing your intranet content

Annette’s comment that “Auditing is the Spanx of your strategy as it puts you in good shape” will be remembered for years of Intranet Now to come.

Slide by Annette Corbett on common questions being asked about intranet content: “Which of the versions of the Travel and Expenses policy is the right one”, “That content was last updated in 2014 - is it still relevant?”, “But what do the labels in the global navigation actually mean?”

And the remainder of the talk was full of good advice for auditing content. Looking forward, Annette suggests turning your audit into a working document so that you continue to benefit from your efforts.

Charles Fenoughty, Sequel Group
Do, know and feel: A framework for understanding the modern workplace

Do (personal productivity and group productivity), Know (work information and practical comms), and Feel (communication) is a great lens to help plan your digital workplace. I don’t think it is perfect, but it’s a very good start.

As if that wasn’t enough, his Venn diagram will provoke a lot of debate more down to the positioning of IT, HR, and internal comms. The four sets of information, communication, collaboration and transactional process are a very good way consider the roles of a digital workplace.

Mark Owen presenting the next generation of Affinity Water’s briefing tool
Mark Owen presenting the next generation of Affinity Water’s briefing tool

Mark Owen (Affinity Water)
A briefing counter – are they the one?

Another dive into a detail, this time with the challenges around a team briefing communication. Following a significant spell of design research, the team at Affinity Water came to understand the problem that email briefings were not being cascaded to all the people who needed them. Mark showed an impressively modest solution using Microsoft PowerApps to monitor the reach of these communications. This has helped to improve targeting and increased participation.

Jon Ingham
Linking the digital workplace and organisation design

Jon is an experienced speaker and consultant, but new to the world of Intranet Now. Nevertheless he was an excellent addition to the conference, and a lot of us were contemplating buying his book The Social Organisation.

It was a healthy reminder that businesses have been trying to reorganise themselves since long before intranets, and that perhaps those of us who see things from a digital-first perspective really ought to be seeking out insights from the likes of Organisation Design.

Tanya Burak, Chris Tubb, Tony Stewart
Debate: Governance, it’s all about the G-word

The day concluded with a debate on governance. Tanya from Savilles argued for a light-touch form of governance, albeit with a firm foundation of understanding.

Chris, a consultant and co-founder at Spark Trajectory, took the opposite position, that without strong governance “you are not an intranet manager, but an intranet observer.”

Between these positions, sat Tony from consultancy Scarlett Abbott, arguing for greater nuance.

It was a good discussion with strong questions from the audience, and became more heated than I would have expected. My favourite contribution came from Charles Fenoughty, who suggested that the sides of the debate weren’t so different, but the problem was in fact being viewed from different positions. The word I wrote down while considering this was “provenance”, perhaps it isn’t governance we need, more a better way of measuring the quality and lineage of information.

Intranet Diamond Award

Having been invited to speak at his IntraTeam conference in Copenhagen this year, I could hardly disagree with the choice of Kurt Kragh Sørensen for the award. Kurt has been a major contributor to the community for years, he is a big supporter of new speakers, and never less than great company. He is, after all, the vegan who cheerfully eats salad while his guests tuck into multiple varieties of traditional Danish pork on the first night of IntraTeam.

Wedge and Lisa presenting the Intranet Diamond award to Kurt

Conclusions

One of the delights of the Intranet Now format is that it has room for the grand scale and the detail too. That we could see Greig Rutherford’s digital diary alongside stories of major launches, or Annette Corbett digging into the minutiae of content audits on the same bill as Jon Ingham discussing organisational design.

Also, in spite of the stated theme of Strategy, what really developed was the theme of quality research. It is now clear that successful projects are rooted in real understanding of employee needs. Similarly, doing content well is now part of the equation.

I will continue to think about Fintan Galvin’s comment about the intranet being the most flexible part.

All in all, I had another enjoyable day, I felt energised by it, and I’m already looking forward to Intranet Now in 2020.

Here’s to the connectors…

Rather delightfully, Lisa Riemers last week described me as a superconnector. Okay, so she included me in a group of many people I admire in her post about the wonderful community around intranets How to succeed in life (and intranets).

Text from from Lisa’s blog post talking about “find your tribe”

And it’s not just that I admire them, each of these people has contributed to my knowledge, my experience and, in convoluted ways, to my career.

But, this post isn’t really about any of us, Lisa got me thinking about the people we meet who somehow have ended up working in intranets. It’s an amazingly broad range of people who do have a lot in common. To put it bluntly, there are amazing people doing amazing things in the digital workplace.

Intranet people are connectors

It’s not just connecting externally with our peers. Intranet people break through silos and connect across our organisations. You can see that in our careers too, we’re the HR people working in comms, the journalists working in IT, or the recruits who never stopped moving.

We are digital, but we understand the human impact

The place we work is online, our output is digital, our tools are digital, but we understand the effect of our work goes beyond that.

We know real people use the tools we create, so we strive to understand their needs, and consider how our work affects those in our organisations.

We embrace change and know things aren’t slowing

Not one of us would be where we are if we’d stopped learning. We are the coders who learned to write, the marketers who nurtured a passion for user experience, or technical specialists who discovered they could achieve more through communities.

At the frontline of change in the workplace, we’ve all told our bosses there are better ways of doing things and, for sure, we’re going to do it again and time again.

We demonstrate the power of collaborating

To do our jobs well, we know we need to be talking to people throughout the organisation and beyond. Then we need to get them talking to one another, and sharing, and working across those barriers.

We look beyond the constraints of how things have always been done and strive to find better ways. But we’ve grown up with data at our fingertips, so we see past the noise, and make decisions based on what works.

And we know the work doesn’t stop

We’re lucky to be able to see the instant effect of our work, and we know this. Intranet people may not be the crazy ones, but we know we can change things.

References

The title and the last line were inspired by Here’s to the crazy ones from Apple’s Think Different advertising. This appears to be attributed to Rob Siltanen, read more at Steve Jobs was not the mastermind behind ‘Here’s to the Crazy Ones’

Intranet Now 2019 Summer Edition

There was a tearful moment midway towards the end of the morning session of the first of two Intranet Now events for 2019. It may have come as a surprise to the many first-time attendees, but I hope it was understandable to them.

Giving the Intranet Diamond award posthumously to our friend Rupert Bowater was always going to be difficult, and organisers Lisa Riemers and Wedge Black took turns to choke-up while making the announcement. It was an emotional decision, and absolutely the right thing to do.

Wedge Black and Lisa Reimers introducing the winner of the event’s Intranet Diamond award as Rupert Bowater – © Intranet Now

In some respects, Rupert seems an odd choice. He wasn’t a big name in intranets, he didn’t win awards or become a big-name speaker, but Rupert was more than a familiar face. He was kind, gentle, generous and a keen supporter to many of us. He was a real pillar of the community, and that was a point that Wedge (successfully, I believe) made. While it is a business, Intranet Now remains a community event, and the relationships formed in the last five years have contributed to supporting people in their work, their thinking, and as friends.

Slide drawing the distinction between “Employee voice” and “Employees with a voice”Jamie Garrett – Working together to give 90,000 employees a voice

Sponsors Invotra talked about some of the lessons learned at one of their biggest customers, a government department, and about changing the emphasis from merely “employee voice” to “employees with a voice”.

Most striking was that the fourth most popular group was employee support for menopause. Social tools in the workplace are genuinely giving people a voice, and I truly hope are making difficult circumstances a little bit easier.

Ayesha Graves – Transforming the field sales Intranet…

The Federation of Small Businesses is supported by a network of field sales membership advisors. To engage this essential part of the organisation, Ayesha simplified the interface they would see in MyFSB and made it more visual. This was simple and effective, and has contributed to changes within the broader intranet. A perfect case study for the short-form format of Intranet Now presentations.

Elizabeth Marsh in front a quadrant diagram

Elizabeth Marsh – Digital Workforce 101

Elizabeth is bringing experience, a passion for learning, and academic rigour to the subject of digital literacy. She gave a tour of her digital workplace skills framework and made very clear arguments why we need to be doing more, and thinking more deeply about what learning and skills mean in the workplace.

Jesper Bylund – The Intranet Governance Game

By day, Jesper leads the intranet for Sweden’s Region Skåne, and by night he spends a lot of time thinking about how to do intranets better. Aside from his blog, an essential viewpoint from an intranet practitioner, he has now produced his Intranet Governance Game featuring more than 100 cards to help organisations understand their priorities. Later, at the table discussion sessions, attendees were surprised at how many challenges they shared.

Jesper Bylund presenting his Intranet Governance Game

Anne-Marie Kieran – Enterprise Social Network, Friend or Foe?

Describing a pro-active approach to the ESN at Kellogg’s, Anne-Marie shared some familiar approaches, but also made some important points that are often missed. I will smile for some time at at the thought of vlogging lessons for staff, but hope to think a lot more about the idea of not promoting the tool, but instead promoting what the tool facilitates culturally.

Mark Tittle/Dominic Shillingford – Unifying the digital workplace

Dominic, from sponsors LumApps, joined Mark from Just Eat to describe what strikes me as a simple but coherent vision of the digital workplace, with Google Apps appearing there on a page that combines news flow, a hierarchy of information, and social collaboration.

Sam Marshall – Sticking your digital workplace together

Sam described two types of glue, of search and of signals, that can help stick together the parts of a digital workplace. It was a timely raising of the subject of microservices to simplify an employee’s experience of online services.

Marion MacKay – First impressions count

I was left wanting to see more of the work done by the Scottish Government to simplify their intranet Saltire, as well as their onboarding tool that Marion discussed. For a large organisation, the customisation by agency must be complex. If indeed, 86% of starters say they’d completed mandatory training because of Saltire Tour, then that will be making a significant contribution to the culture.

Larraine Solomon/Dave Fletcher – Monster’s M-Space

Larraine has been talking about her task at recruitment firm Monster for some time, and her collaboration with sponsors Beezy is really showing the benefit. The platform is allowing a broad range of business information, and complementing it with social tools promoted both top-down and bottom-up.

Adrienna May – Going Mobile

Halfords, like many retailers, has the challenge of reaching employees where they’re working, especially since so few have access to computers. Nevertheless, with their mobile app and registration using personal emails and links, they’ve brought a useful tool to the business.

Nick Allport – Using data to target content appropriately

With 10,000 users and hundreds of tools and applications, South Wales Police have a significant challenge getting the right information in front of the right employees. Having identified 400 logical groupings in the HR system, and with the ability to update in near realtime, it appears to be a significant success.

SNAQs

Wedge and Lisa tried out a new approach of introducing more voices, and embraced the “this is a statement and not a question” attitude that tries the patience of conference attendees, and turned it around. Attendees could raise an issue, raise an issue, or even ask a question. In spite of it being discussed before, the audience was a little uncertain (I spoke first, thoroughly unprepared, because I didn’t see any hands being raised), but by the second SNAQ session people volunteered more readily. I’d really like to see this continue in future events, but with greater opportunity to include other voices.

Debate: What’s the best way to create an intranet?

The event concluded with a debate that really worked well. Christian Sutter had the most challenging position, that a business is best off building its own intranet from scratch. Sharon O’Dea had a lot of fun arguing the opposite, that the only way forward is by buying in the tool. Lastly, Allan Tanner took a mid-point in that pic’n’mix is best. Not only were the introductions fun and interesting, but the discussion that followed was rich.

In conclusion…

All in all, Lisa and Wedge achieved a good balance that met their promise of a fresher, more summery Intranet Now. It was less hectic, and gave more time for conversation and even a hint of reflection. I look forward to seeing the autumn Intranet Now taking shape.

Find out more about Intranet Now at https://intranetnow.co.uk

IntraTeam 2019 in summary

PLEASE NOTE: I am currently adding extra links and presentations where I find them publicly available. This page may change over the next few days.

After three days of workshops and conference at the IntraTeam Event 2019 at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel in Copenhagen, I was exhausted, unable to take any more information in, several kilos heavier but, and thankfully, more energised and inspired by the potential of intranets than I’d felt in a long time.

With three tracks running in parallel, almost everyone experienced their own version of the conference, and I wonder what I’d be saying had I made different choices.

For slides and related links from my presentation please see Lessons from Learning – IntraTeam 2019.

Workshop day

With half a mind worrying about my presentation the next day, I chose workshops that would help keep me up to date with changes in SharePoint and Microsoft 365.

Christian Buckley makes three hours pass very quickly. I didn’t get any  revelations about his subject Extending your IA to Microsoft Teams, but huge amounts of practical details and confirmation of themes that would recur across the three days: engage the people around you, focus on business needs, and grow based on testing and iteration.

Benjamin Niaulin is another engaging speaker who can talk SharePoint for more hours than there are in a day. He guided us through what is possible with search in Office 365. I found a lot of this to be a valuable refresher, with useful clarifications coming up time and time again. I’ve been a long-time fan of what’s possible using SharePoint’s search to build content, and Benjamin gave some useful examples, and also clarified some of the challenges between using SharePoint’s Classic and Modern pages.

Benjamin also covered a learning intranet tool he’d previously developed. This showed some of the potential for search-based tool to present learning materials “at the right time and at the right place based on who you are and what you’re doing“. This allowed the dynamic display of resources to people depending on their role and other profile details.

Wednesday Conference

After the usual introduction from Kurt Kragh Sørensen, the actual conference got off to an outstanding start.

We talk about the importance of meeting real user needs, but rarely do we see such commitment or such benefits. Neil Barnett explained how the Heathrow intranet project put half of their resources into user research. I wasn’t convinced when Neil showed the personas created, and how they fell into six clear categories (Heathrow Express, Airside Operations, Baggage, Compass Centre, Security, and Engineering) but the more I think about this particular operation, it was absolutely the right way to approach things – live status updates for operations personnel are clearly essential. I will definitely consider using two of Heathrow’s user research exercises: mapping an individual’s day onto a clock helped reveal activities and pain points, while “Design your own employee app” yielded more insights into people and the way they saw the organisation.

Neil Barnett presenting a slide entitled "What is the digital workplace?"

Heathrow not only built tools. Their change programme included 130 digital mentors, 15 business representatives, and an impressive 45 content authors. This content would primarily be designed for mobile use which is very heavy on brand engagement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the staff discounts section is the most popular page. Aside from the communications and support, every employee received a new laptop plus an hour’s one-to-one training with an IT engineer to get them up to speed.

I opted to see Richard Harbridge in the next session Intranets in the Cloud: What you need to know and this was another good choice. Like Benjamin and Christian on Tuesday, Richard whizzed through some of the opportunities and challenges of Microsoft 365 intranets. He was very clear that this option is a lot more cost-effective than managing your own SharePoint and servers, but could have gone deeper into the potential performance issues. He shared some advice on planning and analytics, and qualified some of the benefits to improved navigation – I particularly liked the search-based navigation.

I was speaking in the following session with Lessons from Learning and had lunchtime to recover before switching back into attendee mode.

Liberty Mutual’s digital assistant was a fine winner of Step Two’s IDW Platinum Award in 2018, and the company has spun-out Workgrid to sell their technology to other organisations. Gillian McCann spoke on the potential of AI to take us From Digital Workplace to Intelligent Workplace. For me, this was really about bringing the right information  to people from numerous sources when they need it, and I think that’s exciting. I remain to be convinced by some of the promises of conversational agents for complex working processes.

Gillian McCann presenting on Workgrid and chatbots

Patrik Bergman has been a trailblazer and proponent of learning in the digital workplace world for some time, and his writings have introduced me to a significant number of experts in learning and development.  Knowledge Management in Office 365 – some concrete examples was entertaining and imbued with learning and philosophy. There was also practical advice: encourage ESN users to tag important queries with #ineedhelp is profoundly simple and valuable.

Patrik Bergman in front of a slide about the everyday challenge of teams as a community of practice

The final session was the presentation for the 2019 Danish IntraTeam Prize. I wasn’t as wowed as by last year’s winner (the Danish Police intranet PolIntra), but reflecting on my notes it’s clear that Kræftens Bekæmpelse (Danish Cancer Society) is another worthy winner. Confronted with an unrealistic timeline, the team responded with a more realistic 8 months and set about simplifying, engaging, and building the foundations for a solid and practical intranet.

We regularly hear suggestions for prioritising content, and the team got a laugh from the audience when they revealed that of all the content classified Red, Yellow or Green, only the green content got published. There is a determination to ensure that materials are kept up to date (or archived, and then removed), while departments are given leeway to control their own content and designs.

Thursday Conference

I’m not sure if it’s intentional, or whether having the Twitter name @digitalsanity has taken Elizabeth Marsh down this particular route. On Wednesday, while I was speaking, Elizabeth’s session was about mindfulness, while on Thursday she spoke on digital literacy, an area she’s been studying for some time. In So you’re transforming the digital workplace – but are your people ready? Elizabeth raised a number of statistics showing how important it is for organisations to develop employees’ digital skills but emphasised how it is a shared responsibility for staff too. What struck me most looking at Elizabeth’s Digital Skills Framework for the first time since last autumn is how much it is really about developing the learning flexibility to develop new skills as much as it is about teaching digital literacy.

For Thursday, IntraTeam organised a specific track dedicated to intranet search, and this is where I spent much of the day. In Searching for people is no. 1Kristian Norling from Region Västra Götaland in Sweden described some of the efforts possible to make people search useful to users. This brought together results from 15 sources and more than a million documents. Kristian advised us to think about needs and not, just, about hierarchy. One tiny detail that caught my eye was the ability to save a search that you do regularly, and access from an option beside the search box. Another neat detail was to allow different addresses (postal, visiting, and internal) to be displayed on user profiles.
Presentation: https://www.slideshare.net/kristiannorling/searching-for-people-is-no-1

Referring to Martin White.s

Of all the speakers, I’ve probably seen Martin White speak most often, and Eight ways to improve Search Satisfaction saw Martin at his best. He advised us of the trade-offs central to designing good search tools, that one size doesn’t fit all, and to understand the science of information retrieval. It’s hard not to like his assertion that a search team needs to have the visibility of a lighthouse.

Steve Sale from AstraZeneca drew upon some of Martin and Kristian’s themes in Using Search to break the silos, find experts & provide 360 views of your organisations data. He described some of the effort required to combine large amounts of potentially useful data into a resource that helps find people and expertise, and touched upon the risks of over-enthusiastically associating potential search terms with people.

Another highlight came from Jesper Bylund from Region Skåne in Sweden. His talk Top tasks, information architecture and search changed the way I think about Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks methodology, and quite possibly personas and personalisation of content. By slicing the top tasks, Jesper has been able to design flexible page designs that meet the needs of particular groups while working. I’m also intrigued by the decision to move navigation to a fat footer, with a smaller hyperlink triggering a scroll to the bottom of the page.

Slide by Jesper Bylund showing two potential page designs for distinct types of users

My final session saw Christian Buckley at his storytelling best, if not necessarily at his most to-the-point. No-one will forget Christian’s story of embarrassing his son while at high school, a blunt tale illustrating behaviour change. His third and final story will be familiar but of long-term value: the use of a whiteboard superficially as a project management tool, but ultimately as a communication and stakeholder training tool.

You as digital workplace champion: Transparent, consistent, collaborative, iterative

Final thoughts

This year’s IntraTeam was excellent, and there wasn’t a session where I didn’t feel torn between two or more different talks – it feels harsh that my biggest complaint is that I had to make some tough decisions. I don’t feel the roundtable format at lunchtime were as useful as I’d like, and it would have been nice to have a few spots for discussions with larger groups. I was saddened not to have seen Laura Rogers or Stacy Wilson speaking.

I was most excited to see personas in a more practical and less dogmatic way, and what’s possible with when applied to Top Tasks analysis sliced by groups. Secondly, provision of materials to mobile users has become normal now, but it was good to see a deeper understanding that mobile users need more than reformatted desktop content. Also, we’re seeing a much greater effort being put into getting content right for time, place and need, and the importance of making that content findable by search.

So thank you to Kurt and his team, and to all the people who made IntraTeam 2019 such a friendly and inspiring event.

Lessons from Learning – IntraTeam 2019

Further links, reference materials, and slides will appear here.

References

Jane Hart’s Seamless Working and Learning www.modernworkplacelearning.com/cild/introduction/a-working-and-learning-environment/

Josh Bersin: The Hybrid Jobs Revolution joshbersin.com/2019/01/want-to-make-more-money-join-the-hybrid-jobs-revolution/

Please see Intranet Now 2018: Lessons from Learning for further references used in this presentation.

IntraTeam Event Copenhagen 2019

I’m delighted to have been invited to present at the IntraTeam conference in Copenhagen, 26-28 February 2019. I will be building upon my Lessons from Learning presentation to further explore the potential in integrating learning and intranets.

IntraTeam this year was my first international intranet conference, and I found it an outstanding three days of well-curated workshops and talks, topped-off by great conversations with experts from around the world.

Get a 25% discount using the code ExperienceApplied25 at https://ti.to/intrateam/IntraTeamEventCopenhagen2019-EUR

Intranet Now 2018 in review

Last Friday saw the fifth Intranet Now conference, and the first after co-founder Brian Lamb stepped down. Lisa Riemers joined the remaining founder Wedge Black to introduce a series of lightning talks and mini-workshops. I was attending as a speaker and volunteer.

Billy Clackers: Keeping people engaged in a gig economy

Billy joined Invotra as an apprentice an absurdly short time ago, and now he is opening the UK’s most important intranet conference. He introduced an increasingly familiar world of gig working, and made an important point that often gig workers are kept at arms length, and are disengaged, from company intranets. This was a talk that was both practical and insightful, and it also introduced a new area for intranet people to consider.

Emma Morrison and Usman Hasan: Putting employees at the centre of your intranet redesign

Talking about recent work at the Hyde Housing Group, Emma and Usman Hasan shared an entertaining presentation that covered a lot of familiar ground. Nevertheless, it was succinctly put, and will be of value to a lot of attendees.

Janet White: User research on a shoestring

Janet has been working on a very limited basis with the Fairtrade Foundation, but appears to have achieved some very practical results in the time available. She illustrated the value of user research and that it is possible, even in difficult circumstances.

Janet White presenting at Intranet Now

Baxter Willis: How our digital workplace changed the vodka bottle

From consultants WM Reply, Baxter shared an entertaining tale from their work at Diageo that shows the benefits of both knowing the organisation in depth, and exploring a company’s history.

Tanya Burak: Do we still need an all-in-one intranet?

Tanya, from the property company Savills, introduced an fairy tale from an apparently happy kingdom suddenly threatened by visitors bringing new social tools, that would be familiar to anyone worried by the rise of shadow IT. Her pragmatic solution, I believe, is at an early stage and I look forward to hearing more about it.

Kelly Freeman: Intranet No-nos

My favourite of the vendor talks this year, Kelly shared the benefit of her experience working with Interact, and filled her 9 minutes with solid advice. If “don’t wait for it to be perfect” and “treat it like a process, not an event” were all attendees took home, Intranet Now would have been valuable conference.

Simon Thompson: Lessons from learning

My perspective, as I saw this from the lectern, might not be the best. Please find my notes on this page, Lessons from learning. I hope attendees started to think about how their intranets can become better points of access to learning tools and resources, and the potential effects this may have on culture and the way the organisation works.

Howard Thain: Driving User Adoption

As I returned to normality, it was good to hear Howard talking about taking an intranet towards becoming a digital workplace. He introduced the ADKAR model for change management and shared some adoption advice from years of implementing intranets with CompanyNet.

Ellen Van Aken: The Usual Suspects

Ellen was the deserved recipient of the Intranet Now Diamond Award last year, and shared some of her experience at Azkonobel and touched on a number of familiar points about adoption. I’d love to hear more from Ellen at a more leisurely pace.

Sukh Ryatt: How to kick ass as an engagement ninja

Sukh, representing Oak Intranet, was delighted to present the company’s status as the originators of intranets as dubbed by Martin White two years ago. He also worked Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey into his discussion on engagement.

Dana Leeson: The £££ digital workplace investment

In another of my favourite talks, Dana discussed the massive investment in the digital workplace in order to support organisation growth. She described the importance of building a compelling business case, and how understanding users’ pain points could contribute to this.

Ralf Larsson: How we refocus to regain trust

Ralf, from Electrolux, shared the day’s most frank presentation. He discussed some of the failings in their latest intranet and the approaches they’re making to improve. I love their content idea of the “Grand Factory Tour” as a way to spread knowledge of the making part of the organisation.

Jeremy Stewart: If you can’t beat ’em…

This year, intranet software firm Sorce did the unthinkable and embraced SharePoint with a new product. His message-on-a-t-shirt said it best “technology is just an enabler” although I may not forgive him for his endless SharePoint “Working on it…” animation.

James Robertson: The power of digital employee experience

James was more than up to the challenge of the after-lunch slot, rapidly telling the audience “I’m not afraid of the i-word” even if he would then focus on digital workplaces and the importance of DEX or Digital Employee Experience. In his “Superpowers of DEX” approach, James has found a strong way to preach beyond the intranet converted with a vision that is powerful and communicable.

Adam Pope: Building a knowledge system for digital tools

Adam was highlighting some of the connected thinking at engineering firm Arup. In particular, their Global Tools Register which makes it much easier for staff to find the right tools, reduce duplication of effort, and helps Arup know what Arup’s people know.

Alex Scott: Scotty

Scotty, named for Scottish Water, not Alex, is the utility’s new intranet, and an impressive Step Two award winner. Alex shared some of the employee-centric thinking that led to its launch and ongoing improvements.

Suzie Robinson: Lessons and learnings from inheriting a new intranet

For the final intranet-related presentation, Suzie shared what she’d learned having taken up ownership of caterer WSH’s intranet a year before, and it’s exactly what a intranet manager needs to hear. Yes, things hadn’t been going as planned. No, the intranet had had no user research. But, with effort to reassure colleagues and management, by making simple but visible improvements, and focus on real needs, Suzie is is getting the intranet back on track.

Donna Noble: How to give yourself more time

In a brilliant change of tone, yoga guru Donna Noble took the audience through a simple breathing exercise. The single minute felt like ten, much to the surprise of me and many others.

The rest of the afternoon

A series of workshops hosted by sponsors appears to have been well received, and I must credit each of Invotra, Oak, WM Reply and Sorce for the effort they put in. Running alongside this were a number of table panels, and I enjoyed the discussions.

The day closed with the Intranet Diamond Award, naturally going to Intranet Now’s co-founder Brian Lamb, and a final panel session. Drinks were provided by the Digital Workplace Group.

Closing thoughts

As an attendee, I think the 9 minute talk format is about right. As a speaker, it’s really hard to condense what you want to say into that time. The day felt better paced than before, but I’d have liked some of the table discussions to have allowed more in-depth follow-ups. The sponsors made their presentations far more practical than before, and I appreciated that.

I’d wanted to speak at Intranet Now since the first event in 2014, but this was the first year that I really felt I had something worth sharing. That said, I didn’t count on how much effort it would take me to find a format, make the content work, design the slides, and then cut and cut again so I’d be confident I wouldn’t rush the talk. Waking on the Friday morning, I was surprised to feel a general sense of ease.

My thanks need to go to Lisa and to Wedge their belief and support, and to Ian Fenn who confidently told me a year ago that I should go for it. Also, I’m grateful to Scott McArthur, a confident and able speaker who, at IntraTeam in Copenhagen this March, made me feel that I really could take that step forward.