Seven worst intranet stakeholders

Managing the intranet is often the easy bit. The hard bit is dealing with stakeholders from across the business who seem set on making your life difficult.

Unfortunately it’s stakeholder engagement that dictates whether any big or small intranet projects sink or swim. Failure to agree effective governance, project scope and objectives, and get buy in for each of those from across the business can mean your intranet is rubbished from the start. So it’s critical that you know your stakeholders and have a plan to manage them.

Here we’ve used personas – simple fictional pen portraits of broad user types – to describe the seven worst kinds of stakeholders, and how to deal with them. We’ll write more on using personas for user research in the coming months.

1. Negative Nelly

Beyonce wagging finger


Commonly found in compliance or legal, but also spotted in HR, there’s always a stakeholder whose first reaction is to find the edgiest of edge cases and use this a reason to block your idea.

How to deal with them

Compliance exists for a reason: to reduce the chances of your company being sued or shut down, thus putting you and all your colleagues out of a job. Failing to get this right could put the kybosh on your entire intranet. Show Negative Nellies a little love, and let them know you’re serious about compliance too. Illustrate how your intranet can enhance rather than diminish information security – for example by eliminating the need to send things around by email.

2. Patronising Paul


Intranet pros are a rare breed who understand business needs and technology constraints, and can translate between the two. We’re not in IT, but we speak enough geek to get by. Sadly, that’s not enough for these types, who will insist on mansplaining everything as if you’re an idiot. Never misses an opportunity to overcomplicate something using Visio.

How to deal with them

Know your stuff, and don’t let them faze you with architecture diagrams. Never let them see they have one over on you. Google under the table in meetings if you need to.

3. Technophobe Tessa


Everywhere. Don’t assume it’s just the older generation who can’t get their heads around this; in all age groups you’ll find people who proudly wave their ignorance of technology around like a turd on a stick.

You take the time and effort to fully explain the issue and they just raise up their hands, don’t even try to understand and say “I don’t get this techy stuff”. Those people never get that when dealing with software things go wrong and you may not know why or how to fix it. Setting arbitrary resolution dates won’t get the thing that is broken fixed any sooner and doesn’t help anyone who are already working hard to figure out the complicated puzzle. Often found in the boardroom clutching a stack of emails printed by their PA.

How to deal with them

It’s better to be patronised than confused, so walk the fine line between patronising and helpful. Remember that much of what appears to be technophobia is actually an aversion to mundane tasks. Is the problem that your self-service HR system is hard to use, or simply that logging your expenses is inherently tedious? Acknowledge this, but remind your user how much more boring it would be doing it another, slower way.

Apparent unfamiliarity with technology can cover a multitude of sins, up to and including being lazy and unpleasant. You may have to tackle this with a frank conversation. Technology happens. It helps the business deliver. I am not going to throw away my computer and buy an abacus – and nor, much as they might not like it, are they.

4. Self-important Sam


He didn’t get where he is today by worrying about such details as being right. Sadly, you’ll find Sams everywhere.

How to deal with them

Use data to prove to them, and anyone near them, that they are so, so wrong, They could hardly be more wrong. They are the wrongi de tutti wrongi, and all your analytics show it. Despite record levels of wrongness, be prepared for award-winning levels of belligerence and breathtaking self-belief in the face of actual evidence.

5. Know-it-all Nathan


Have been known to hide out in all corners of your organisation. They built a website once, in the 90s. It was on Geocities. And they own an iPad. So they think they know all there is to know about running an intranet

How to deal with them

While annoying, these people can be helpful. Make them feel you appreciate them and their ideas, and they’ll be some of your biggest advocates. Give away some of your success – by attributing it it part to them – and they will shout about it to all and sundry.

6. Stingy Steve


Finance. This beancounter takes pride in slashing your budget every year.

How to deal with them

Use their language. Don’t talk about cost, talk about value. Don’t ever be tempted to include ‘time efficiency factors’ in your business cases because these guys care only about real, bankable, bottom line dollars. Always be realistic. Under promise and over deliver.

7. Miserable Milly


Often found in shouty leadership roles. You offer to publish their story, but that’s not good enough – they want it on the front page. You put it on the front page, and they want it driven across the screen on an actual unicorn. Whatever you do, it will never be good enough.

How to deal with them

Accept and move on. You’ve already established they’re impossible to please, so save your energy for something more worthwhile. When you’re with them, try writing your preferred four letter word using your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

Our advice

  • Know who your stakeholders are: do a stakeholder mapping exercise, identifying who you need to engage. Think about senior execs, those who are involved in implementation, and end users
  • From there, identify which stakeholders are critical to project success, and begin talking to them as early as possible
  • Create a stakeholder engagement plan for your critical and most difficult stakeholders. Find out what makes them tick, and work with it
  • Keep the communication channels open. Speak early and often

Who are your most difficult stakeholders? And how do you deal with them? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Martin White

    An excellent post, and I support your advice about mapping stakeholders. This is such an important element of intranet (and digital workplace/search) governance. I was surprised to discover that it was almost three years ago that I tackled this subject in a blog post My Research Note 07/12 on Intranet Stakeholder Management is still available as a download at Comments welcome. A very good guidance 33 page paper on the general principles of stakeholder mapping can be downloaded from

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