3 intranet secrets from the world’s happiest company

Imagine having 10,000 employees, not a single manager or HR department! The thought of this may be both fearful and preposterous in equal measure, but bear with me…

Buurtzorg is a home care provider in the Netherlands. Despite being in an industry where overbearing policy, regulation and structure are almost presumed, it has 10,000 employees and not a single manager in sight. Each small team controls their own programme, finances and kitchen sink.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine the possible chaos – you’re probably there already – after all, employees need to be told what to do, we’re told. Strategy ought to flow from the top to the bottom and somewhere along the way the people on the frontline will get the message. Right?

Well, not so fast. Buurtzorg is one of the happiest and fastest growing companies in the Netherlands. Sickness rates are 3%, compared with 7% for others in the industry. Overheads are 8% rather than the average 25%. They also make a healthy profit and deliver care so effectively that it’s been studied worldwide. Sounds ideal, I know, but how does it all work?

There are inevitably many success factors in a company like this, and unfortunately no ‘hack’ that can replicate it in a heartbeat. You can have a read about it here, but if you don’t have a spare few hours, a case study by The King’s Fund highlights 5 key components of Buurtzorg’s organizational effectiveness.

One of these components is an effective intranet. Buurtzorg’s intranet allows colleagues to talk with, rather than to, one another, and luckily for us they share how they do it.

1) Employees need to help themselves

“A lot of specific questions were recurring, and so the group decided to create a self-help section of ‘frequently asked questions’ on Buurtzorg’s intranet.”

Capturing your organisation’s knowledge is crucial. Sandra on the third floor is the only one who knows about labour law, so not only does she get disturbed all day answering the same questions, when she leaves, who will answer those questions? You may have to hire another expert, and experts don’t come cheap.

With a good intranet, you can not only expose that knowledge to every other colleague, but also uncover some experts you didn’t know you had.

2) Employees need to feel encouraged to ask

“When large groups are affected by a decision, the intranet is often one of the best ways to collect input. When affecting a great number of co-workers, the proposed solution is to use the internal social network to collect colleagues’ advice.”

The quickest way to find out whether you’re wrong is to post your opinion online and two heads are better than one. Combine those concepts somehow and you can chart a course of action which works and that everyone is happy with. Let’s call it crowd-sourcing change management. There’s a real sociological theory in that nugget, too – The Wisdom of the Crowds.

With your intranet you can utilise your colleague’s combined intelligence to deliver great results. But you can only do this by encouraging a culture where people feel comfortable asking for help.

The most important element, especially early on, is to ensure each post is responded to. Otherwise employees will be put off posting again, and you’ll discourage those who are already a little weary. This is where your intranet champions may come in handy.

3) Employees need to know who to talk to

“Through Buurtzorg’s intranet, nurses can easily identify and access colleagues with relevant expertise in a specific subject matter. A function within the intranet helps nurses locate the relevant colleague if they have a question or want a tip from someone filling the same role.”

How many times have you been fobbed off when asking a specific question because no one knows who to ask? And more scarily when you quantify it, a recent IDC study found that workers spend nearly 36% of their time searching for information.

In a thriving organization, a lot of time is spent bringing new colleagues up to speed by their more experienced fellows. It’s a crucial part of any company culture, yet it undeniably takes time and resources. Using an intranet, mentoring colleagues needn’t be in the same room, or even the same country. A good intranet will tell you who can answer your question, and the best way to reach them.

These are examples of when your intranet is invaluable.

Your intranet should search all content, including that in profiles, so finding the right person, previously answered question or document becomes easy. An intelligent intranet also enables suggestions based on previous searches and intranet behaviour, so the answers are even quicker to hand.