Time to Get Generation ‘Why’

If you have children in your life, you’ll be only too aware of the power of the question “Why?”. Repeatedly being asked why is an impressively (and deceptively) simple technique for getting to the heart of a subject and can form a useful part of Six Sigma methodology for process improvement, especially when used repeatedly. As a result of the growing corporate responsibility movement, businesses too are challenging themselves: the ‘what do we do’ and the ‘how do we do it‘ are often well defined, but aside from stakeholder/shareholder value, the ‘why are we doing this‘, is often rather sketchy. Jonathan Phillips argues that for businesses and for you in an intranet team, there is great value in asking why.

Ask What

Easy, eh? Your boss asks you what are you going to do on the intranet next year and you reel off a list of 4-5 priorities for the site. Launch a mobile site maybe? Improve collaboration? James Robertson calls these ‘wins’ and provides a handy step-by-step guide on his blog as to how you might identify them. It’s important to have these identified. It’ll help you communicate your plans when asked and it’ll help you create milestones for the team to aim towards.

Ask How

Gameplan time. You’ve identified what you intend to achieve, but you’ll have to give great thought has to how you’ll achieve it. For each of the tactical improvements you’ve identified, create a RACI matrix to help you identify the key stakeholders and their roles. (And whilst not quite so obvious, it’ll also help you uncover any resource gaps you and your team may have which will require a re-scope of your plans, or provide an opportunity for a consultant or agency. If you can’t get the right human and technical resources together, you’re setting yourself up for an epic fail).

Ask Why

So why are you doing what you’re doing on your intranet? Why have you identified the tactics and strategies that you have? Too many intranet teams fail to ask themselves this question and it’s vital for the success and alignment of your work. Why is this good for the business and employees?

Great intranets are those which help the business meet its stated objectives. They save employees time, improve access to information, or improve business processes.

Now – Start with Why

When building out your plans, it’s too easy to start out with answering what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, but if you start with those questions, you’ll never tie your plans back to a more strategy sense of purpose for your intranet. So for 2014, start out with ‘why’; create a vision onto which you can hang your tactics. It’ll also help position the intranet as a vital employee service, give you the elevator pitch and help you identify what’s clearly in scope (ie. supports your ‘why’) and what is out – helping to create intranet developments that meet the needs of users, not project managers.

To get you started, here’s a short list of why questions to get you and your team started.

  1. Why does the intranet exist?
  2. Why does your business need it?
  3. Why do your employees need it?
  4. Why should your employees use it?
  5. Why do we need to invest in it’s development?
  6. Why do other teams need to get behind it and stop investing in their own solutions?

There are 6 comments

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  1. Martin Risgaard

    We’ve been working a lot with enterprise social networking lately and this has really been an eye opener for the importance of starting with a clearly defined purpose – or a “Why”. It is so easy to start groups etc. but it it doesn’t make sense to others than yourself, then what’s the point.

    There is a great TED talk by Simon Sinek on “Starting with Why” which I found very inspiring. Find it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

    • @DigitalJonathan

      I found Simon’s talk inspiring — he was in part an inspiration behind writing this post. Thanks Martin.

  2. James Robertson

    Nice post!

    More and more, I think the most important thing for intranets is that they’re *moving* (in a useful direction of course!). Too often, intranets get stuck waiting for approval, or trapped in a lull between major intranet projects.

    If incremental changes aren’t being seen on your intranet (such as on the homepage). you’re doing it wrong 😉

    Your what, how, why approach provides a practical way of thinking about all this. Keep up the great writing.

    Cheers, James

  3. Rebecca Jackson

    Great post Jonathan and I couldn’t agree more. We ask ‘why?’ for even the smallest intranet requests. It’s all about making sure the right content goes in the right place for the right people. Also love Simon’s TED talk, one of my favourites.

  4. Paula Powell

    Excellent post!

    There have been occassions where I’ve been brought into a project at the half-way point and then had to ask the question, “Why are we doing this?” . It’s a simple qaution but one that is often overlooked. I’ve found that asking colleagues for user stories has helped in finding the answer.



  5. Lexi Rodrigo

    Excellent reminder, Jonathan! “Why” is also a big motivator, according to persuasion research. Having a reason why gets people to do things, even if the reason itself doesn’t even make a lot of sense. Being clear on the different why’s of an intranet would motivate both users and managers to action.

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