Marks & Spencer dress up their intranet

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We caught up with Roland Burton, Senior Employee Communications Manager at Marks & Spencer (pictured right), to take us through their journey of relaunching their company intranet, today@M&S.

What prompted M&S to develop a new intranet?

RB: Our old intranet had been in place for many years, and it was reliable and functional, but there was nothing for employees to get really excited about. It was built using quite dated technology, with no ability to accurately measure how many people were using it, or for how long. With a new business strategy in place, we needed a platform to tell the story in a compelling way. M&S is a great brand, we sell unique products, we have incredible people, and we needed a better shop window to highlight and celebrate those attributes.

What were the key steps in creating the new intranet?

RB: Consulting our users was a key step of the journey and we spent a lot of time understanding what they currently used it for. We carried out broad surveys and tight focus groups, and we learned that they mostly used it as a jump-off point to go elsewhere, or to read press cuttings, and weren’t really engaging with the content we were publishing. This wasn’t a big surprise, but by involving our users in the process early on, we gained their buy in and started generating enthusiasm and excitement for the project.

It was also important to get our business leaders comfortable with the change, and to act as ambassadors. Their time is valuable so we had to have a very focused approach; but again it was important that they felt part of the project, and they contributed some valuable insights. We ran a teaser campaign in the months leading up to the launch of the new intranet, with a slogan of “Guess who’s getting a hot new look this summer?” displayed on the old intranet, as well as posters and screens in offices. A month before going live, we announced that we would be introducing a new intranet, and played back the comments received in the focus groups and surveys to provide the rationale.

What were the main things you wanted to address?

RB: Our priorities were quite straightforward: to simplify the navigation of the intranet, allowing us to signpost the main news; to introduce more colour and photography, so that our products shone and the site had more visual appeal. We also wanted to introduce social elements so that we could encourage dialogue and develop a greater sense of community.

With this in mind we designed and developed a site which we felt would meet the first objectives of having a better ‘shop window’. We worked closely with the employee groups who had contributed to focus groups and surveys, to design a new look and feel which made navigation easier and was easier on the eye.

We also recognised the challenge for store colleagues and began a separate project to develop an internal app which would allow store managers to access the new intranet’s news stories on their corporate smartphone. Based on the layout of the BBC News app, the app pulls stories direct from the intranet. This has given store managers access to news and information they had never been able to view before, making them better informed and allowing them to enhance their own role as a communicator by giving them a wider range of news to share with their teams.

What did you hope M&S employees would get out of the new site?

RB: We had three main objectives. Firstly, to help our people understand and trust the M&S journey and their role within it. M&S was entering a time of significant change, and it was vital for our people to understand the vision and get excited about it. Secondly, to highlight employee and customer insight – allowing employees to share their views and see their peers doing so as well. Finally, we wanted to make the site more news-driven, being less reactive and more proactive in terms of giving employees greater variety of content – ranging from “need to know” to “nice to know”.

We wanted the site to become the go-to place for information – where they could always find news that was useful to them in their role. Equally important though was creating a sense of community, where people got to learn more about their colleagues both professionally and personally, and also see their name up in lights too – helping them feel more engaged and part of one big team.

Content-wise, what did you find most relevant for employees?

RB: We realised that a lot of what we wanted to achieve was possible through a shift in editorial focus, so we set about reframing our perception of what the intranet should provide, moving from a reactive, corporate loudhailer to a more personal, proactive storybook. Key to this was trying, wherever possible, to use employees as the focus for news stories, rather than a faceless “internal comms message”.

We sought out employees to tell the strategic narrative – by introducing a regular, simple “60 seconds with” feature, which posed a few brief questions about their role. This proved really successful, with hundreds of colleagues being featured already, ranging from our Executive Board to our Receptionists to our Store Managers. Analytics have shown this to be one of our best-read features and has allowed us to help stakeholders share strategic information in a far more engaging way. Quite simply, people prefer to read about other people.

We invested time and resources in sourcing and generating articles and having a forward-looking editorial calendar which meant we could better plan news stories to support strategic activity. We put a lot of focus on featuring real people, having faces rather than logos, and this was vital to generating and maintaining interest.

We also use video extensively and this is a great way for people to engage with content – and to feature more of our colleagues too. The new site also brought in live feeds from our pages on Facebook and Twitter, so that employees could see what the public are saying about M&S – unedited and in real time, keeping everyone close to our customers.

How have employees responded to the new intranet? What are you finding in terms of participation and adoption?

RB: We had a great response! Immediately, our people appreciated the site being much brighter, cleaner and easier to navigate. In our first month we saw over 300,000 unique hits, which was far more than we anticipated – and this has risen steadily since the launch.

After a few weeks of embedding the site, we then started to drive the social functionality a bit harder – actively requesting comments on stories. To help employees feel comfortable commenting, we introduced a regular feature, “Ask the Director”, where a senior manager puts themselves forward to answer any question. We also gave employees the option to email their question in case they were uncomfortable publishing it, but soon found that the majority of questions were posted publicly as comments.

We have seen some further notable successes, where employees have helped answer each others’ questions – for example during a time when many employees experienced problems with emails, it allowed them to communicate and share solutions.

It has also provided valuable feedback on products and campaigns, and has been used as a Q&A for the rollout of a Sharesave scheme.

From a measurement perspective, what overall benefits has the organisation seen as a result of the intranet revamp?

RB: We’ve seen an increase in strategic understanding as part of a regular communication survey – so that’s been a big tick in the box straight away. Since today@M&S has been in place, we’ve seen a significant positive increase in the following questions:

“I feel well informed about what is happening in M&S” (up 4.9%)

“I believe we are doing the right things to be successful in future” (up 3.9%)

“I have regular opportunities to share my own views” (up 2.8%)

Surveys have shown that employees are visiting today@M&S more frequently than the previous site and interaction has steadily increased too. Since we introduced a greater shift of emphasis onto “people” stories we’ve seen quite a significant increase of comments and interaction.

We’ve kept a careful eye on analytics to learn what type of stories work best and so have been able to tailor our editorial calendar to ensure that we’re engaging people.

What lessons can we learn from M&S’s new intranet launch?

RB: The biggest thing I learnt was to not be distracted by flashy technology and features. Yes, they can be great for grabbing attention, but will only get you so far. Investing time in regular, creative, fresh content is vital to getting traction and ensure people keep coming back.

Do you have any recommendations for other internal communicators that are about to make the same journey?

RB: Involve your audience as much as you can, as early as you can, make them feel part of the journey so they’ve contributed and feel it’s really been built with their needs in mind. When it’s launched, that’s not the end of the journey, it’s the beginning – be creative, work hard to create interesting content and use a variety of narrators.

Where do you see the future of the M&S intranet?

RB: The world is changing fast. Customers have so much knowledge at their fingertips, it’s vital that when they come into an M&S store our employees can still add value – through their knowledge, passion and personal experience. Our intranet will be key part of that, and now that the site is established we’re thinking about the next steps – making it more social, and finding ways for it to be available on employees’ personal devices so that anyone in the business can access it, anytime anywhere.