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The Secret to SharePoint User Adoption: Forget Your Company Picnic

Oct 3, 2014 Cloud & Managed Services Scott Walsh

SharePoint User Adoption and PicnicsI’m as guilty of this as anyone. Having sat in countless SharePoint planning sessions and listened to business leaders list all the cool stuff they want their employees to be reminded of about their company every time they sign in, I know how common the mindset is. And I always went right along with it. Promoting a sense of shared culture for organizations is, after all, one of the things guys like me like to point to as something SharePoint is especially good at. But then I go to other planning sessions and hear about how one of the main priorities for their update is to improve user adoption. When you look at the company’s intranet, it’s pretty clear what the problem is. I can’t tell you how many homepages I’ve seen with pictures of company picnics taking up about a third of the space—even though the picnic was over six months ago.

Don’t get me wrong. Company culture is great. But if signing in to your homepage doesn’t save people time, provide them with useful information, or simplify their routines then it won’t be long before they simply stop signing in. As fun as your company picnic was, after six months nobody really cares anymore. Fortunately, SharePoint 2013 makes it much easier to bring relevant content to users than with earlier versions. But you still have to know what to avoid and what to focus on.

Let’s start with some of the most common mistakes I see:

Static Content

No one needs to read the company mission statement every day. Really, anything that’s not relevant to what people are working on that day is unlikely to be read. The layout and content of homepages are too often decided on in a top-down fashion based on the fantasy that people will simply read whatever their managers put in front of them. Yes, you can use SharePoint to help keep everyone in touch with your company culture and values, but you have to be much more subtle about it.

Assigning users to the role of content manager

Contosos_Intranet

The technical term for this is Distributed Content Management. What it amounts to in practice is leaving the same content on each department’s site for ten months at a time. In the example homepage here, you see the classic company picnic photo, and alongside it (maybe too mall to see) is a list of tips on how to strike a good work-life balance. This is someone’s idea of content that will be relevant company-wide, but for it to remain so (if it ever really was) it would have to be updated frequently. The problem is two-fold: first, someone has to take time away from other duties to write the content, which is why it ends up going for long stretches without ever changing; second, even if the content is fun or interesting when everyone first sees it, after that they won’t even look at it. Going to the homepage becomes just another unnecessary step.Before long, no one’s bothering to sign in at all.

One-way navigation

With older versions of SharePoint, documents were stored in separate silos. If you wanted a file from another department’s site, you had to go ask someone from that department. The 2013 version makes searching for documents much easier. But again you have to keep in mind when you’re creating your sites that if files are more than a few clicks away people are going to avoid storing and looking for them there, opting to save them instead on hard drives or cloud drives. Of course, that defeats the whole purpose of the collaboration tool, and before long you have multiple versions of important documents all equally impossible to track down. In the past, we at Aptera have also been guilty of making search and navigation far too complicated. The navigation tabs of our homepage took everyone to endless subpages with no way to keep track of past steps or search the site as a whole.

Instead of making everyone wade through pages of static, obsolete content using one-way navigation, you want your sites to be:

Dynamic 

The latest version of SharePoint makes it really easy to tag certain content and documents so they can be pulled onto your homepage and department sites. The key here is that content updates automatically, based simply on people doing their jobs. Essentially, you set rules so that whatever content is the most useful in helping people perform their daily duties is the easiest to find. And you don't have to rely on anyone keeping it up to date.

Relevant 

Instead of signing in and seeing old pictures of the last company event, people should be able to find things like all the documents they’ve been working on recently. If signing on actually saves them steps in doing what they need to do, that will be its own incentive to use the system. 

Demo_homepage

Simple 

Instead of a navigation path users can get lost on, aim for an experience that mimics what people are accustomed to doing elsewhere online. In the sample layout here, all you have to do is learn what the icons stand for—which shouldn’t take more than a few seconds—and you have an intuitive sense of how to move around in the site. Most importantly, if the document you’re looking for isn’t right on your page when you sign in, you probably already know how to do a search for it because it’s not much different from using Google or Bing. And once you’re finished with your search one click brings you back to where you started.

So, yeah, I’m sorry but nobody cares about your company picnic. And if you leave it up too long people are going to stop caring about your homepage too. Your intranet is above all a collaboration tool. So you want to make the content as close to your workers daily concerns as possible.

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