The Secret of Intranet Adoption

By Deane Barker on November 1, 2006

Here’s something I believe to be true: intranet adoption is more a function of personal and corporate psychology than of technology. Put another way, the greatest technology in the world won’t help if your employees aren’t interested in using your intranet for whatever reason.

I’m involved, to some extent, in three intranet projects right now. In each of them, I’m struck by the fact that the company has all the tools it needs — the technology is more than sufficient in each case to do what the company envisioned.

But the huge, looming question for each of these organizations is: will the employees buy into it? And if not, what’s the trick to getting them onboard?

I discussed this same thing over three years ago:

It’s not a matter of functionality. It’s not even a matter of training. It’s a matter of motivation. We have the technology, we know how to use it, but we don’t. Why do people resist change in this sense and how to you get them to start using the tools they have? Threats? Incentives? Eliminating the alternative?

The fact remains that the tools already exist in most organizations to make up a good collaboration suite. Microsoft Exchange has a lot of tools built into it, Sharepoint is a fine system, and there are many third-party alternatives. But you can have the greatest collaboration platform in the world, drop it on your employees, and go exactly nowhere.

So what’s the trick? Alongside the technological implementation, there needs to be a companion “political” or “psychological” implementation. There needs to be someone who champions this project from a perspective other than technical. And this is rare, because intranet projects usually always get driven out of IT.

I did a little Googling (please don’t sue me) on the subject this morning, and I found a lot of references to this white paper: “Intranet Adoption, Use, and Information Quality in Public Organizations: Interactive Effects of Red Tape and Innovativeness.” I didn’t read the paper (yet), but the publisher’s description fits in very closely to what we’re talking about here:

[…] known as a socio-technical approach, this perspective rejects the idea that technology is the dominant determinant of organizational actions and outcomes. Instead, social choices determine primarily whether technology is adopted and how it is implemented in a particular social context. Prior work tends to support the contention that adoption and implementation depends upon the structure, culture, managerial style, capacity and incentives, to name a few, that exist within an organization’s boundaries.

When we discussed this years ago, I also said this:

I’m convinced there’s a big opportunity for a motivational speaker to dip his or her toe in technology training and start approaching this problem from a new perspective.

This is still as true as the day I wrote it. Now, however, I’m willing to believe that these people exist — there are no-doubt consultants you can bring in to ensure your intranet gets adopted and used by your employees, regardless of the technology platform you select. (I’m starting to think I should have become one of them…)

In any large intranet project, my experience is telling me that this component is far more important than the technology, and projects that ignore it won’t be as successful as they could be.

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Comments

  1. This all boils down to answering a simple question: What does the organization need to achieve and how can the intranet be aligned to support those efforts?

    If you answer and execute on that one effectively then adoption will largely take care of itself.*

    * Yes, there are many other factors, including the ones mentioned in your post. However, all those adoption techniques will largely be wasted unless this key alignment occurs.

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