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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Build an Effective Intranet Portal: Dump the Steering Committee … Sort of

If you’re about to build or rebuild an intranet portal for your organization, take just a few minutes and put in your mind the frightening thought that you don’t need an executive steering committee. Could you still pull off the project? “Of course, but …” you say. Stop after “Of course” just for a minute. We’ll talk through the “buts” shortly. Stay with me. There is a purpose in my madness. I want you to understand exactly why and how to put together an effective steering team.

I hear at least two rationales for an executive advisory committee.

  1. Rationale #1 Senior management’s blessing and buy-in are needed.
    Don’t you already have management’s blessing? What executive would object to improved employee communication? Sure, cost, sustainability, and maybe one or two other issues might concern them, but they certainly all endorse the concept of a faster, more collaborative, productivity-building tool such as a portal. Assume the project has their blessing.

    And what does “buy-in” mean? Personal commitment? Participation? Truthfully, do you want executives to use their expensive time to build a portal about which they have limited understanding?

  2. Rationale #2 Senior management’s endorsement means everyone else jumps.
    It’s true that when top executive speak the entire organization responds. Middle managers will provide the portal content you need, and employees will try it out.

    Yet, everyone knows that the CEO and his colleagues put their names on lots of programs, some strategic to the organization and others for protocol and goodwill. Everyone will comply until the next executive initiative outranks your portal project.

    Rely instead on cooperation rather than compliance, and opt for sustainability over stimulation. Over the long-term, the portal’s business impact will win over middle managers and its resourcefulness will convert employees to users.

Now, think about this: without executive oversight, wouldn’t the following likely happen?

  • You as the project leader would have to tutor yourself -- with a little help from your tech-savvy friends -- on web strategies and software.
    That would be time-consuming – and who has time? Yet haven‘t you been feeling uneasy for too long about your limited knowledge in this area. You have promised yourself that you would read up on the subject sometime. That time is now. You don’t have to become an expert, just smart enough to know and evaluate the various approaches to building a portal: enterprise, open-source, Web 2.0. So, put aside your self-doubt and get started. No more procrastinating.

  • You would have to believe you are the smartest person when it comes to understanding what the audience wants, what the portal should do, and how to organize and manage the project.

    Well, arent you? Forget false humility. You are the smartest person in the organization regarding the portal concept. For sure, you know more about those subjects than anyone on a steering committee? If you didn’t have a steering committee, would you be asking those executives to tell you what to do on matters for which they know little or nothing? Don’t upward delegate what you know or do best. Have courage. Take charge.

  • You would have to rely on your staff’s imagination and gutsiness.
    Even though I’m sure they are a talented, hard-working group, creating a portal that really works for people will require every ounce of their resourcefulness. This will take serious stretching.
    - They will have to think from the outside-in – from what employees want and need rather than what the organization wants to promote.
    - They will have to focus on function rather than form: that is, how employees find stuff on web sites rather than the most logical organization of information on the portal.
    - They will have to generate imaginative ideas that not only work but for which they will assume accountability over time.

    Stretching means pain, so expect some groaning. But, nothing develops individual potential and rallies team spirit like a good fight against the odds. You know that. Lead them.

Now that you realize you could survive, perhaps even flourish, without an advisory committee, why should you have one? Because you need them to be converts, members, and missionaries.

A portal is not a building that you design, construct, hope employees occupy, and remodel every few years. Think instead of your portal project as laying out a high-speed network that links people with content and other people, and that changes configuration frequently depending on how the nodes – the people – respond.

Converts Your steering group is not a building committee. It is a beta group of neophytes, much like the eventual end-users, who need to be won over to a new way of thinking about portals.

Members Once your advisory team “gets it,” then you will need them as permanent and contributing members of the portal congregation.

Missionaries Finally, you will have to encourage them to be missionaries among employees to ensure that everyone believes in, values, and uses the portal to benefit the organization and their careers.