Empathy or Business Sense – a key quality for intranet professionals

Once upon a time there was a Team Site Owner with an approval workflow in his site. It was an important process in his team, deciding if a customer will or will not receive a discount, depending on their ordering profile. The final decision was made in that workflow.
The process was not going very smoothly, and an email discussion followed between the Site Owner, the team accountant, and some of the approvers. At the end of the discussion an email was sent to the intranet team: “how can we add a column to the view, that shows the next approver?”
A colleague informed them helpfully how to add a column to a Library. Did they want a single-line-of-text, a drop-down, or another way to pick the next approver?
“No”, was the reply, “this field needs to be filled automatically”.

At that point the email was forwarded to me to ask if I knew how to make that column appear. Could we use a calculated field perhaps?
I first read the email exchange. My fellow experienced intranet managers will have guessed that the approval was not going fast enough and they never knew where the document was in the workflow. So their real question was: “How do we know the approval status for a document?”
A column was not possible in this case, but I could tell them how to check the status for each document. THAT was a good answer to their question.

Now, that colleague is a smart, knowledgeable and helpful person. But he did not ask “why?” 5 times in a row to find the real question. And asking that is essential if you want to make sure you give the best possible solution to a problem. We all have to have “business sense” or “empathy”. (Please do not hesitate to suggest a better word)

Let me give you some more examples:

  • Is it the time of the year when the deadline for next year’s financial planning is approaching? If yes, wait with those questions or surveys. Even the summer holiday period can be a better time!
  • Are your Site Owners always very busy, not allowing themselves time to think? In that case, make things simple; provide them with a low–maintenance setup of their Team Site and a short training. Do not give them a choice – make the decision for them. (e.g. “we will delete your Site which has not been updated for 12 months – unless you react within 5 business days”)
  • If they ask a question, what is their underlying need? You have to be able to read between the lines. The request for “Facebook functionality” was a similar case!

This post was triggered by a discussion in the “Intranet Career Path” group on LinkedIn, where the owner asked: “What is the key personal quality needed for online professionals?”  Please add your suggestion, because it is an interesting topic that could do with some more replies!

If you have a similar example to share, please add it to the comments here.

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