Ana Neves Partner of Knowman; Author and host of KMOL; Organiser of Social Now - Interview with Cristian Salanti

Cristian Salanti calls himself a architect of digital employee experiences. He's Romanian, has a background in technology and management, and in his own words, he “teaches a better way to design intranets and digital workplaces that improves the execution of all relevant tasks within an enterprise”.

I talked with him.

Ana NevesPartner of Knowman; Author and host of KMOL; Organiser of Social Now

Your model looks at intranets from a task efficiency angle. Why do you feel the need to encourage and evangelise this approach?

When you start looking at most of the intranet implementations on how they support the key interactions within the company, you start noticing the following patterns:

  • They are mostly biased towards news, some HR functionalities, and some core areas such as product descriptions and IT support. 
  • They are mostly focused on some repositories and tools
  • They are designed by asking the employees what they want. The challenge here is that if you ask two people doing the same work what they need from an intranet they would come up with different answers. Even if you ask the same person months apart what they expect from an intranet, you will get different answers. 

While this approach reveals some objective needs, is something that it is labor intensive, not very objective, nor comprehensive, and it delivers inconsistent results.

Over the years I was exposed to several experiences where I was involved in various process improvements, and I used the intranet as a support system. I generalized my approach to all the relevant tasks within the enterprise and came up with a simple, step-by-step model I call Zenify.

It is based on 2 core ideas:

  • Each task of an employee is somebody else’s internal service. If you want to improve task execution, you need to improve the way internal services are consumed.
  • For each internal service can be described with a simple Why, How and What model combined with 6 needs of the employee doing a task (motivation, information, training, support, feedback, and task management). (I wrote a detailed article on this topic.)

This approach is simple, comprehensive, and fast to implement.

From my experience, intranets for task efficiency and as single entry points to other tools was the prevalent idea and main focus of the first intranets. What changed along the way?

It is true that this is what people aim to obtain. And I think over time the general practices in this field improve quality of the intranet being built around the world. At the same time, it remains the challenge that the design of the intranet is managed by people with some biases (IC, HR, IT) and the process they are following is not really optimal. As a result, intranet implementations often leave large functional areas uncovered or not properly covered.

You advocate that one should not ask people what they need but rather what they do. How do you allow for innovation and continuous improvement?

I think that asking people what they need is still important. Yet I would do that after uncovering the processes/internal services that make the company work and using the model of the 6 needs an employee will have in relationship with that process.

Innovation doesn’t start or end with the intranet design process. It comes from better connecting specific roles into an organization: process owners and their internal customers. In my model there is a feedback loop that must be built for every process.  

Continuous improvement happens when the right people are better connected, and my model does just that.

Cristian, I hear you talk about “internal services” and “processes”. Are they the same thing?

I use the terms internal services and processes quite often yet there is a small difference. 

The intranet is used to connect people that are otherwise disconnected (different departments and locations). You don’t use it to connect people next to each other. In this case the term internal service seems to me more appropriate.

The digital workplace is a more comprehensive term. In this case the term process (which can also be seen as the internal service of the process owner) seems to me more appropriate.

You also have a very interesting view regarding intranet content and the way to "source" it. You suggest that those responsible for keeping the intranet alive with new content should look at process owners and suggest that they use the intranet to inform their internal clients. Doesn't this approach lean towards an intranet mostly dressed of static information about procedures, guidelines, etc?

First, one should focus the intranet development on directly supporting the business. And a business as a whole runs well when all the internal processes work well. Some of the supporting content changes seldom, some of it evolves constantly and these changes must be communicated to the impacted employees.

What governance models do you recommend to ensure that information on the intranet is remains "true" and up-to-date over time?

You might consider the Intranet as a shopping mall for internal services and each internal service would have basically own a store inside this shopping mall. The stores are clean, decently with their latest products on the store front because the store owners want to sell their products in an efficient manner. Once you establish the same level of ownership and awareness for the process owner, then the entire system would deliver better results with less effort.

Intra2 considers intranets can serve 4 main purposes: a library (for content), news (for internal communication), tool (to help executing tasks) and collaboration (for interaction between people, teams and communities). Based on your experience, what would be the ratio (percentage-wise) of these purposes on an ideal intranet?

For an intranet I use a different design logic, which focuses on function, rather than form. As a result, having any such percentages does not really make sense for me.

Finally, two questions: one on behalf of organisations which do not have an intranet and one on behalf of organisations which do. Take the case of an organisation which does not have an intranet. Should they create one? Or should they embrace other types of technologies to support communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing?

Every employee task is associated with a topic which is typically mapped with a process within the organization. To properly perform a task an employee would need one or more of the following types of resources: 

  • Why (some motivational content explaining the importance of the topic)
  • How (forms, procedures, operational news, training materials, link to the related software module, support contact, FAQs, and a feedback mechanism)
  • What (display open tasks of the user + the software module itself).

If you look at all these resources, the majority of them are best delivered to employees asynchronously by the intranet.

And now think of an organisation which already has an intranet for quite a few years and feels it's time to renew it. How should the organisation go about it?

There are 2 basic steps that they must do:

Service Inventory: 

  1. ask each director what services his people provide for the rest of the organization
  2. build a list with the following information: service name, service owner, audience, impact to the business 

Content gathering: 

  1. for each internal service work with the internal service owner to gather or produce the information described at the previous question in a “internal service page or section”
  2. have a phased approach: collect first what is available, improve it to a minimal short-term target, based also on the business impact of that service, and them improve it to meet the longer term needs of business.


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