Employee Experience: What’s in a Name?
This is the first of three blogposts written by Chris McLaughlin, CMO at LumApps, on the evolution of modern intranet offerings, why it’s past time that we drop the term “intranet” and its associated baggage, and of course, LumApps’ upcoming product innovations and roadmap.
It’s been a very busy start to the year here at LumApps, particularly with our recent and exciting announcement about our acquisition of HeyAxel, a powerful solution for employee onboarding and HR automation that will become the foundation for our new LumApps Journey offering.
As a result, I find myself a bit behind schedule on some of my regular blog postings. In particular, I usually like to start each new year with a discussion about our product strategy and roadmap. However, this year, before I do that, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the evolution of modern intranet offerings and offer an argument as to why I think it’s past time that we drop the term “intranet” and its associated baggage.
The Evolution of the Modern Intranet
Let’s begin our conversation by focusing on how both employees’ and employers’ needs are changing and evolving, and what impact this is having on the intranet technologies that have historically served them. Following is a very interesting diagram that I borrowed from a recent Gartner report entitled, “Reset Your Intranet Strategy to Advance Digital Workplace Goals,” written by Jim Murphy and Gene Pfifer.
Intranet presence: styles and tendencies
What I really like about this diagram is that it charts the evolution of the intranet market and recognizes the same shift in priorities that we are seeing with our customers
People and Relationships
As our world has changed, and as the in-person work experience has been supplanted by more and more online interactions, obviously there has been a shift in focus from information and insight to people and relationships – to finding new digital ways to engage employees and allow them new avenues to create relationships, exchange ideas, and even find greater purpose in their work. This doesn’t mean that a modern intranet platform isn’t still a great tool for providing greater access to information and insight, or isn’t an ideal environment for collaboration, it just means that the market has evolved and the focus for these solutions is now necessarily different.
What’s interesting also is that this change in emphasis mirrors the evolution that we are seeing with our customers. With the onset of the pandemic, many organizations’ first priority was business continuity and a mad scramble to maintain their operations with a newly remote workforce. Hence, they focused on providing remote access to various systems and tools, and intranets played an important role in providing access to information as well as corporate communications (which I’ll discuss in part 2). As the pandemic wore on, many customers then shifted their focus on maximizing productivity with their remote/hybrid workforce. Then the priority was on process optimization and project facilitation.
However, now we are having different conversations with customers. As we have all begun to accept the fact that remote or hybrid work is here to stay and that many employees actually prefer to work this way, many of our customers are now seeking to provide a digital employee experience that is focused on people and relationships. In many ways, this is a very practical exercise as their goal is to increase employee engagement and create a sense of community or belonging for employees in a world where they can no longer depend on an in-office experience to do so. And a key objective here is increased retention of top talent which is a significant source of ROI for many of our customers.
Part 2 - Discussion about our product strategy and roadmap, the evolution of modern intranet offerings and why it’s past time that we drop the term “internet” and all of its associated baggage.
We noted as an equally important matter, that our customers are concerned about innovation and fostering an online environment – a digital HQ if you will – where employees are free to interact with other employees and where they can recreate the serendipitous moments that used to occur in-office and which lead to innovation and new ideas to fuel their businesses. Ultimately, this is about enabling continuous innovation, organizational adaptability, and the future success of our customers – and this is why employee experience is so critical to competitive advantage. This is a very important and different challenge than that traditional intranet technologies were designed to address. And this is why it is such an interesting and exciting time for new, modern intranet solutions.
Similarly, Gartner is recognizing a trend in information flows – a shift from corporate, top-down communication toward employee-to-employee communication. In many ways, this mirrors the trend I detailed above. If people and relationships are the priority, then facilitating employee-to-employee communication is critical. But it’s also more than that.
Of course organizational alignment remains a key goal for a modern intranet and top-down or one-way-push communications are still a common customer requirement. In fact, in many cases, this is still a top priority for LumApps’ customers. But, increasingly, customers are looking to enable better employee-to-employee communications – bottom-up communications that facilitate knowledge-sharing, innovation, and even help to create a greater sense of belonging through communities, spaces, and other digital avenues for social engagement. The key point here – and it’s not as easy as it sounds – is that a modern intranet solution needs to support both top-down and bottom-up communications.
Let’s talk a little bit more about employee-to-employee communications. First, just as many organizations are interested in the voice of their customers, they are increasingly interested in giving a voice to their employees as well. Many of our customers have recognized that, by allowing employees to become more involved in determining the future direction of their organization, they can create greater engagement and a real sense of employee empowerment, both of which are critical in driving greater retention and employee productivity. Additionally, many employees want a greater sense of purpose at work – they want to be involved in actions and initiatives that are larger than their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. And finally, many of our customers are also seeking to make even top-down communications more relevant and impactful, which requires empowering mid-level management to help tailor communications for different levels of the organization, providing greater context, relevancy, and personalization. All of which are creating entirely new demands for intranet technologies that traditionally only focused on curated, top-down communications.
Thus far, I have focused on communications, but let’s also talk about information flow. In a world that is now dominated by social video technologies, e.g. YouTube, TikTok, etc., is it any surprise that employers are seeking to harness video technology similarly? As we have talked about previously regarding LumApps Play, there are many benefits to video communications, including improved consumption and retention of content. But we are also seeing customers begin to leverage video for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. This may be particularly beneficial for organizations with frontline employees who may only have access to mobile devices. As one example, it is incredibly easy for a field service technician to video a routine procedure and then instantly share it with all the other service technicians in the organization. This is very different from the traditional, top-down, curated dissemination of knowledge and training assets and is a great example of how information flows are changing in modern enterprises.
Part 3 - Chris McLaughling ends in this last part, his discussion about the evolution of modern intranet offerings and why it’s past time that we drop the term “internet” and all of its associated baggage, focusing on Knowledge, Applications and Personalization“Network of Work” as the new standard
There is still a place and real need in organizations for the centralized distribution of what Gartner describes as “authoritative knowledge.” Many customers, for example, still struggle with information silos, perhaps the result of SharePoint “sprawl” or simply the fact that they have multiple repositories of disparate information, and for these customers, simply establishing a “single source of the truth” or a “digital hub” where employees can search across multiple knowledge bases is incredibly valuable. Also, having a singular environment where curated knowledge assets can be distributed and even targeted to certain employees can fuel significant increases in employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and other key business outcomes.
As Gartner notes, many organizations and many employees still struggle with access to knowledge, with employees reporting that they either were unaware of critical information or were unable to find it due to either too many applications or simply too much available information. So, on one level, modern intranet offerings have to do a better job of dealing with clutter or information overload. One of partners, Coveo, in a survey of their own determined that 41% of the knowledge assets or information that an employee receives are completely irrelevant to his/her/their work. So, yes, this is where AI/ML so often comes in. Once we have begun to bridge silos and connect different sources of information, we now need to filter and target that information to individual users. As one of our customer’s put it, they want to better understand the relationship between people and content (knowledge), content and people, and even content with other content. In short, with recommendation engines and bots, or digital assistants, modern intranets can begin to cut through much of the information clutter.
But, I also want to explore the concept of inferred knowledge just a little bit, because I believe this is the real promise and future of the modern intranet. I talked earlier about people and relationships, serendipitous moments, and sustaining a culture of innovation in a digital world. But knowledge and information play such an important role here. And where it gets really interesting – and challenging – is not in figuring out what information a particular employee needs at a particular point in time to perform work, but in beginning to surface up information that creates new inferences and fuels innovation. This is another fascinating customer need that we are beginning to see which creates an entirely new set of demands for a modern intranet offering.
Applications and Personalization
Finally – and I’ll tie the last two concepts together here – Gartner is recognizing a shift from “broadcast” communications to highly personalized employee experiences. I’ll talk more about LumApps’ unique vision on personalization in my next blog post, but the topic of personalization comes up in literally every customer interaction I have. Simply put, employers are recognizing that – in order to fuel employee engagement in a digital world – they need to deliver a much more personalized experience for their employees. And, if they can deliver a highly personalized digital experience for their customers, why can’t they do the same thing for their employees. Why shouldn’t we employ segments and persona for employees and develop specific strategies for how we communicate with, enable, and empower different types of employees in our organizations?
In a similar vein, we are also beginning to see companies who are interested in applying the concept of “customer journeys” to their employees. For reference, a customer journey is a digital experience that incorporates different communications and information to drive a specific outcome (e.g. to move a consumer from consideration to a purchase decision). A customer journey is typically tied to a specific customer persona and takes into account the unique needs and purchasing behaviors of that particular persona. The same paradigm also applies to employees. As we start to think beyond one-off, broad- and narrow-cast communications and as we recognize that different employees may be at different stages of their employee lifecycle, then this concept of orchestrating different journeys for different employees, or segments of employees, becomes very powerful. And this was one of the very compelling reasons for our impending acquisition of HeyAxel.
But note also that this concept of employee journeys is about enabling specific business outcomes – and this is where orchestrated services from other applications become so important. The other thing that I am increasingly hearing from customers is that they want their employees to immediately be able to take action on different communications and information. This can apply to both work and “non work” activities. Many of the HR leaders that we speak with want to reduce the amount of time that employees spend on non-work activities, i.e. various HR actions that are necessary and important but not specifically related to the actual work the employee does.
Onboarding is a great example of this. During the onboarding process, we need to provide a new employee with all sorts of information and communications about different actions that we need the employee to take. Perhaps we need them to complete their employee profile in an HCM system. Perhaps we need them to provide documents for employment eligibility verification. Or, perhaps we need them to enroll in various benefits. All of this can be orchestrated as an employee journey. But it’s critical that we also orchestrate the underlying services, allowing the employee to seamlessly access the underlying HCM or Benefits Administration System, ideally without ever “switching context” or leaving the intranet environment.
So, just to belabor the point, the demands of a modern intranet are dramatically different, moving from broadcast communications with links to external applications to highly personalized experiences with embedded functionality (orchestrated services) from numerous external systems.
“Network of Work”
Lest I forget, I also really like the categories that Jim and Gene have chosen for their chart. Yes, traditional intranets have long been “destination” solutions that, rightly or wrongly, were intended to provide a common experience for employees and easy access to centralized communications and information. As these solutions evolved, they then became more “distributed,” comprising multiple sites, often for specific purposes or use cases. And, yes, sometimes this has happened purposefully, but more often randomly and with little organizational governance.
But I love this concept of the “unbound” intranet and a “network of work,” where your employee experience is “embedded” throughout your organization, when and where each employee needs it. This is the future of the modern workplace, where every employee is provided an entirely personalized experience, across any number of devices or even applications, and is given seamless access to the people, information, and services he/she/they need to not only perform work, but also to be fully engaged and and even empowered at work.
So, What’s in a Name?
So, to bring it full circle, what is in a name? As Gartner noted in their report, “The term ‘intranet’ includes no inherent purpose.” And therein lies the problem. The challenge that our customers are facing is to reinvent their digital employee experience, to overcome entirely new challenges and business issues, and to engage, enable, and empower their employees in entirely new ways. Simply relabelling an “intranet” solution as a “modern intranet” solution doesn’t address the issue, in the same way that labeling a Tesla as a “modern Model-T” is a complete disservice to Elon Musk’s brilliance.
I, for one, believe that Microsoft has it right. These are not modern intranet offerings. Nor are they simply employee communication solutions or any of the other names that have been adopted and discarded over the last few years. These are products that encompass the employee experience and are purpose-built with the needs of the individual employee in mind. I also believe that it is high time that employees received the same focus – the same intention of purpose – as customers, and that we should curate the employee experience in much the same way that we curate the customer experience. So, while it may seem a minor thing, I truly believe that these are – in every sense of the words – Employee Experiences Platforms and that they offer something entirely new and different from the intranet solutions that preceded them.