Intranets, culture and Virtual HRD
One of the on-going intranet debates is whether intranets have a role to play in supporting organisational culture. There is a substantial amount of anecdotal information (there always is around intranets!) but very little in the way of well-grounded research. Reading my way through the current issue of Advances in Developing Human Resources I came across a paper entitled How an Intranet Provides Opportunities for Learning Organizational Culture: Implications for Virtual HRD by Dr. Elisabeth Bennett at Northwestern University, Boston. Virtual HRD is defined as “a media rich and culturally relevant web environment that strategically improves expertise, performance, innovation and community building through formal and informal learning”. Elisabeth Bennett, along with Rochell McWhorter (University of Texas) are very much at the forefront of this still novel discipline.
Her paper describes a case study on how the organizational culture in a large community hospital was embedded in an intranet. Twelve managers were interviewed in depth using a semi-structured interview, supplemented by a review of the hospital’s intranet and other contextual information. The primary research question was “how does the intranet provide opportunities for adults to learn organizational culture?” The analysis indicated that the intranet provided cultural learning opportunities through members (a) experiencing the wider organization, (b) recognizing and rewarding performance, (c) reinforcing organizational expectations, and (d) modelling corporate communication style. Each of these is discussed at some length in the paper in a very practical way and providing a wealth of ideas for any intranet manager to capitalise on.
The overall conclusion is that that cultural knowledge is conveyed and renewed through the intranet. Even though this study is based on just a single organisation the implications for intranet managers are important to consider. Indeed probably the most valuable section of this paper is a set of four questions that in my view could well be the basis of an “away day” between the intranet manager and a group of HR managers that could well lead to a re-evaluation by the HT team of the role of the intranet in supporting organisational culture, especially in larger organisations.