Intranet Manager: The Job No One Wants?

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal's Chin Music (12-Mar-2007)

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I've been involved with, and writing about, intranets for quite some time. And over the years I've noticed that many of the readers cum intranet managers who e-mail me seem to have been "drafted" into the role somewhat reluctantly and with a certain amount of surprise. I never really understood this. Of all the things to be surprised of, that shouldn't be one of them. Surprise is jumping out of an airplane with a parachute and having a frying pan come out of your pack when you pull the ripcord.

Although it's impossible to interpret the true emotion of the author of an e-mail, I usually have a good sense of what they're trying to convey based on the overall tone and wording of their message. I've gotten only a handful of enthusiastic "Great news! I was just promoted to intranet manager!" declarations and a multitude of "Oh God, I just got thrown into the fire ... What do I do now?" pleas for help and advice.

Is this simply a case of human nature, where people are more likely to express dissatisfaction than joy? Or is there really some unseen stigma—the corporate equivalent to the guy in the military who has to clean the latrines with a toothbrush—surrounding this job in particular?

I don't think it's the job; I think it's how the job is filled. You can often gauge how much importance senior management places on an intranet as a system by how they appoint an intranet manager. If they take the time to find someone—either an internal employee with great leadership qualities or an experienced intraneter hired from the outside—to best represent the system and its staff, odds are they place a great deal of importance on the intranet. But if they appoint someone (with an undertone alluding to "force into") the role of intranet manager simply because the person is peripherally linked to the system... not so much.

Intranets operating under a multi-tiered governance model rely on an intranet manager to coordinate both the technological and social aspects of running a system of this nature. Some people are reluctant to take on such a multifaceted system and all the technological baggage that comes with it, or are reluctant to take on such a multifaceted group of disparate professional and all the interpersonal baggage that comes with it. In some cases, it's both.

Although intranet managers don't usually get their hands dirty with the daily nuts and bolts of system development and management, they do have to be in tune with everything going on in the system (at least at a high level); the various teams—technical, business, and content groups—managing the system; and the mood and needs of the user community that relies on the system. Not everyone is up to this challenge.

I don't envy a novice intranet manager who has never helmed a corporate-wide system or led a multi-department team before. It takes a special breed of leader to run an intranet. Those who can't grasp technological concepts won't do well when it comes to the system; and those who aren't naturally people people won't do well with interpersonal aspects of multi-team management. These are two core components required of an intranet manager.

Senior managers who don't understand the importance of an intranet manager are creating their own problems when they haphazardly throw some poor unsuspecting person into the position—a person who either doesn't want it or isn't prepared to accept the responsibilities associated with it. And to top it all off, the intranet manager is blamed when there are failings in the system. This doesn't exactly make the role anymore appealing does it?

Intranet manager isn't a job that no one wants; it's a job that isn't always staffed properly. Perhaps when those responsible for filling the position realize this, there will be no question as to the nature and significance of this job.

Copyright © 2007 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.