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Employees Walk Away the Winners in This Intranet Contest

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're looking to develop or improve a successful intranet for your start-up or business, you might want to take a look at thecommon themes identified among the winners of this year's Intranet DesignContest put on by the Nielsen Norman Group.

Not familiar with this international competition? NNG isa Freemont, Calif.-based website usability research firm. Thegroup co-founded by Jakob Nielson is known as the world's leadingauthority on website usability, and this year's Intranet Design Contest marksthe 11th time NNG has ranked the leading intranets on the planet.

Unlike public-facing websites, company-wide anddepartment-specific intranets are private sites protected by company firewallsand accessible by employees only, usually from within the company's officebuilding or via VPN connectivity from an approved computer or smart device.

The advantage of intranets is the ability for companies to post updated versions of policies, procedures and guidelines, as well as the ability for employees to interact and collaborate in an environment safe from outsiders. Successfully implemented intranets include staff directories, workflow collaboration tools and company messages and notifications -- all hidden from public view. Managing these intranets usually falls to the folks in human resources or corporate communications, or a combination of both.

NNG's contest has the intent of recognizing the best company intranets -- those that are not only easy to use, but actually provide useful information and interaction with employees and lead to an increase in productivity. Companies interested in competing were asked to submit screenshots of their intranet, detailed descriptions on how it works, information about the design process and the goals of the company.

The 10 winners of this year's contest are headquartered in eight countries and have an average of 37,900 employees. So who won this year's top honors?

And what exactly made these companies' intranets stand out above the rest? Well, according to NNG, the following items tilted in favor of the companies listed above:

You show me yours: This year, intranets discovered the advantage of sharing knowledge -- inviting employees to contribute to this internal information platform. It's no longer a one-way street. Employees were encouraged to post comments, ask questions and take advantage of case studies provided online. Among the innovations were Q&A areas where employees can seek help from their colleagues. By providing comment features, employees aren't stymied by the need to create original content. Instead, they can continue a previous thread or add a fresh comment, thus encouraging more participation.

On a scale of 1 to 10: Sometimes it's easier to get employees to check off their opinion as part of a rating system, saving them the effort or the angst of creating a comment or opinion on their own. Such a system encourages user participation and can provide an accurate count on how many employees are using a certain intranet resource.

Improvements and innovations: Several of the winning intranet sites made it easier for employees to present innovative ideas by means of user tools. Far more than just a suggestion box, these tools provide a step-by-step means of taking ideas from the planning stage to fruition.

Gameifying with rewards and recognition: If you want your employees to participate, offer them incentives in the form of rewards, points or badges. Better yet, apply game theory and offer them real prizes -- cash comes to mind, as does an extra earned day off, or a one-on-one lunch with the CEO, or the opportunity to put a supervisor in a dunk tank, but I digress.

Rewards encourage employees to share their knowledge or provide constructive comments about issues on the intranet. Many of the recognized intranets found employees participated more often and more enthusiastically when some form of carrot was dangled in front of them. For more information on 'gamifying' your intranet, read my article Game Theory and Game Mechanics for Your Website.

What stood out most among the winning intranets was the acknowledgement that employees can provide a wealth of resources to any enterprise. The trick is to design an intranet that helps those employees share that knowledge and still be productive.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

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