Reimagine Employee Engagement: From Portals to Social Intranets

March 21, 2013 Michael George

The Problem with Today’s Employee Portals

social intranet

When properly designed and executed, employee portals enable HR and IT to be more strategic, improve productivity and increase employee satisfaction. Corporate web servers around the globe are littered with the remains of a once-painstaking effort by HR to improve service delivery. We called them Intranets. The idea was to create a single online destination that could meet the information, transaction, and collaboration needs of the workforce, while delivering real-time business and talent intelligence to executives, all in a brilliant dashboard.

These first-generation intranets didn’t fail because they were a bad idea; they failed because HR and IT didn’t understand the need to create a compelling and valuable user experience – which was never really the goal. The goal was to make things easier for content providers — in this case HR — not the consumers. The objective of these “sites” was to centrally manage information, content and access to transactional tools with the hopes that employees, managers, and executives would visit and consume all that HR had created (or linked to).

What resulted was stale and outdated information, links to nowhere, and redundant or confusing processes. Today, many are still using their company’s first-generation Intranet because it is the only way they know how to access certain talent management functions or workplace information, like opening a job requisition, accessing the performance review system, reading the Employee Policy Handbook, or looking up details on their benefits plan.

Others have abandoned the idea of self-service altogether in favor of direct contact with the HR department. Not only does this perpetuate HR’s role as an administrator – limiting opportunities to provide more strategic value – employees are often run through a maze of corporate, field and other contacts before getting what they need.

Cloud, Mobile, Social are Catalysts to Rethink the Portal

Today’s cloud, mobile and social technologies offer a way to expand on the idea of delivering HR information to employees with a set of robust tools that offer anytime, anywhere access to organizational information, knowledge, expertise and tools – all designed with the employee experience in mind. It is this critical shift in providing a compelling employee experience that is allowing portals to have not only a dramatic impact on productivity and efficiency, but employee engagement as well.

What is important to understand here is that a “compelling employee experience” doesn’t mean your portal has to be a multi-media extravaganza – it simply means it needs to serve each individual in a personalized and relevant way. This means bringing some intelligence to the party.

Next-generation portals can be tailored to deliver relevant content to specific users and user types with integrated search functionality providing instant access to relevant transactional data from across HR and business applications, all with security and role-based permission managed through single sign-on. When employees, managers or executives log in, the portal must know who they are, their role, location, and function in order to deliver a highly personalized, consumer-grade experience much like they are accustomed to when accessing personal portals like their retirement planning website, or their insurance provider’s policy management page.

For HR, this translates into fewer phone calls and emails from employees, quicker answers to frequently asked questions and the ability to manage the level, frequency and relevance of information consumed. This reduces the cost of HR service delivery while dramatically improving service levels and employee satisfaction.

In addition, today’s employee portal technologies ease the burden of content management by allowing HR and other departments to create and curate content with easy-to-use publishing tools that don’t rely on IT or outside vendors, which often slow the frequency of updates, and delay access to new applications, functions and modules.

Today’s employee portals are fast becoming more than simply efficient repositories of content. They are the nerve center of the employee experience — the jumping off point for everything from requesting personal time off to starting a performance review, as well as the place business leaders can quickly access business and talent metrics and intelligence to support better decision making. The employee portal is becoming the face of HR reimagined.

An Example of What’s Possible: Virgin America’s Social Intranet

As inspiration, check out this video demonstrating how Virgin America’s new mobile friendly, easy-to-use social intranet, called VX Connect, is helping their 2,500 on-the-go pilots, flight attendants, and team members stay connected with each other and the company as they travel. Built using Salesforce’s Company Communities in less than two months, Virgin’s social intranet has already increased employee engagement by a factor of 6.

How You Can Get Started

  • Define your goals in an employee-centric way: As you begin to think about ways to reimagine your employee portal (or create one), keep in mind who, and what, you are building for. If the first thought is, “make it easier for HR to inform the workforce of policies and procedures” or “reduce cost of HR service delivery,” think bigger and more employee-centric. Your employee portal initiative’s prime objective must be to better meet the needs of your workforce, followed by a set of defined business goals. Meeting the needs of HR — such as reducing service delivery cost or easing the burden of content management — is a product of a well-executed deployment, not a strategic objective. To truly meet the needs of the workforce, HR must have a reliable way to uncover those needs and ensure the portal can adequately address them, while accounting for differences across business units, global geographies and employee populations.
  • Look beyond just current employees:  It’s also important to understand the reach of the portal beyond current full-time employees. Organizations must think about how the portal can serve employees’ spouses or dependents, retirees, and other contingent groups outside of the organization. Access, content and data filtering and delivery decisions must be made for each of these groups to ensure high value and a consumer-grade user experience for all.
  • Determine content/tool elements and owners: To create such a useful and compelling environment, an upfront effort must be made to determine what content, applications and dashboard metrics will be included, as well as how those elements will be filtered and targeted. Further, determining ownership and governance will be critical to long term success of the portal. HR, IT and business leaders should seek to answer these types of questions before settling on a specific technology solution, but technology parameters should absolutely be a part of this strategic discussion. For example, it might be important to establish technology requirements such as:
    • Ability to personalize with links, tools, content and services based on role
    • Flawless search capabilities that make things easy to find
    • Robust, easy-to-use content management tools
    • Consumer-grade interface – modern and engaging
    • Collaborative capability to connect users, share information
    • Bug-free, technically reliable
  • Don’t forget that you need an adoption plan:  Delivering a great employee portal, however, doesn’t mean the workforce will show up. There must be an ongoing internal PR and marketing campaign to communicate the benefits. Too often, a big splash is made at the initial launch or roll out with no follow up, ensuring enthusiasm and useage fizzles. HR and IT leaders must plan on a consistent, long-term marketing effort to address new employees and constantly re-engage existing employees with compelling reasons to make visiting the portal part of their daily routine.

With today’s technology, an engaging social intranet is within reach of every organization. If you’re interested in learning how your organization can get started, download our whitepaper “Make Your Employee Portal Habit-Forming: Create a Social Intranet for a More Engaged and Effective Workforce“.

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