Avoiding Dangerous Intranet Managers

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (29-Oct-2007)

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Intranet governance isn't handled by any one person or group, but rather by a collective. Each individual sub-site within an intranet whole is run by a manager that acts as a liaison between his or her users and content owners and the intranet's governing body. And it's essential that intranet managers be able to manage their staff as well as the system with equal diligence. Picking the right person to fill this position is crucial not only for the success of an individual intranet sub-site, but for an intranet as a whole.

In August, I navigated the intranet jungle to expose the five deadliest species of intranet consultant. I now continue my journey to identify the deadliest species of intranet manager:

The Conscript

Modus operandi: Conscripts are drafted into an intranet team without consultation, and often against their will. Conscripts are told by their superiors that they must manage an intranet sub-site regardless of their current job title and workload with no extra pay. And because intranet management is added to Conscripts' list of responsibilities unilaterally by their superiors, Conscripts bring little enthusiasm to their newly adopted role as intranet manager. They eventually project their resentment onto other members of the team and onto the intranet itself. Conscripts can lash out—either openly or passive aggressively—and end up sabotaging the system.

Field notes: An intranet is governed by multiple people from multiple departments. Each individual person—whether technologist, content owner, or business analyst—has a vital role to play in order to maintain the whole. Even large intranets can be marred by a single sub-site manager's negligence. This one black eye can affect users' perception of their intranet because they tend to see an intranet as a single interconnected whole and not multiple disparate components. If intranet managers are drafted into an intranet team against their will, and they harbor a resentment because of it, they can drag the whole system down with them.

The Narcissist

Modus operandi: Narcissists spend the majority of their time on the intranet playing around with its design—looking at color schemes, font styles, and too cool for school visual gimmicks—and not enough time thinking about their content and their users' needs. Narcissists' comments are usually superficial and lack substance: "Hey, why don't we use some Flash to create some way cool fade-in/fade-out effects with our menus." "I think this logo should be moved about two inches to the left." "I think the background should have a lighter shade of gray."

Field notes: Function must come before flash, so be wary of intranet managers who want to see nothing more than static screen captures during initial development and spend too much time on cosmetics after rollout. While the appearance of an intranet adds to overall user experience, it should never take precedence over the content and functionality of the system.

Narcissist often lack understanding of the true purpose of an intranet within their organization. This shortcoming is revealed by the manner in which they prioritize the various components of their intranet. According to veteran intraneter, Toby Ward of Prescient Digital Media, design constitutes between 8-12% of an intranet's total value, with content at 20-30%, search at 15-20%, information architecture at 20-30%, and governance and planning at 20-30%.

Intranet managers who spend too much time on cosmetics end up in the same boat as tardy dinner guests who spend too much time in front of the mirror checking their hair. Other hungry dinner guests wind up sitting at the table waiting for the stragglers to arrive and then throw stale bread at them when they finally do.

The Wet Blanket

Modus operandi: "Why do we need to do that? That's dumb." Listen carefully for this; it's the call of the Wet Blanket. Everything about their outward appearance seems to express a willingness, and even enthusiasm for their intranet. They keep the content on their sub-site up-to-date, attend all intranet meetings, and bring up issues affecting their users. But for unknown reasons, they exhibit some odd and counter-productive behavior: they reject all new intranet ideas. It's believed that this is the Wet Blanket's defense mechanism, subtly executed in order to avoid doing extra work.

Field notes: Intranets need to adapt to an organization's changing climate—new business rules, drastic changes to organizational structure, new technologies. If an intranet stays still while everything around it changes, it will soon find itself on a pile of ash and bones. Unlike other company-wide IT implementations such as e-mail or anti-virus software that only require the occasion patch or update, an intranet is constantly evolving. Intranet managers dead set on maintaining the status quo will eventually find not only their intranet sub-site obsolete, but also their role within the intranet management team.

The Holdout

Modus operandi: Holdouts are from the same genus as the Wet Blanket, except that they don't exhibit the same outward acceptance of an intranet. They don't like it and they don't care who knows. Holdouts are almost always technophobic and have a very difficult time adapting to anything new. They're happy with the way things have been done in the past and don't accept new technologies. Even when a holdout is shown how to turn a manual five step procedure into an automated single step procedure using their intranet, they will continue doing it the "old way" simply because that's the way they've always been doing it. It's not a matter of efficiency for the Holdout, it's a matter of doing what they're comfortable with regardless of how ineffective. Taking them out of their comfort zone is not an option.

Field notes: It's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the process from the technology because the latter facilitates so much of the former. With the increased dependence on technology-driven processes, those who are unable or unwilling to update their skills can easily find themselves out of a job. So much of what we do in business relies on our ability to adapt to change. But refusing to adapt won't stem this flow, it will only render the Holdout as obsolete as the old processes they cling so tightly to.

The Doormat

Modus operandi: "I don't know, what do you think?" is the Doormat's call. They are notoriously wishy-washy, have an irritating tendency to answer every question with a question, and can never seem to make up their mind. Doormats can be easily identified by a distinguishing characteristic: boot print-like markings up and down their back from allowing everyone to walk all over them. Doormats can't make a firm decision or take a stand because they're afraid of the consequences and don't want to be blamed for anything.

Field notes: Intranet managers must be natural leaders, capable of managing their system and their team. Intranet managers need to make crucial, and often difficult, decisions that can impact the overall performance and longevity of their intranet. They must also be able to resolve interpersonal conflicts within their team. Those who are indecisive and lack a strong backbone, thick skin, and leadership qualities don't run an intranet and its team; they allow an intranet and its team to run them.

Step Lightly

Identifying good candidates to take on the role of intranet manager is not always easy. Everyone wears masks to a certain degree. While an intranet manager appears to be a good match on paper—saying all the right things and understanding all the right tools—their actions reveal a very different picture in practice. Sometimes you just need to go through a trial-and-error period. But if you come into close contact with one of the dangerous intranet manager species described here, don't ignore the problem and hope it will go away. If you do, you might wake up one morning to find your skin has turned green.

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.