Global & Local

When “global & local” becomes “common & specific”

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in November 2009 ……

How do you handle global and local content on global intranet? A question that has as many answers as intranets! However, in my work with many complex, global organizations, I have developed 8 fundamental guidelines.

1. Replace the concept of “global/local” with “common/specific”.

“Global” suggests from the top; “local” suggests from the bottom. In reality, global companies have content that is
common to all that may have been developed in a “local” part of the organization.

Likewise, content developed globally (by HQ for example) may have a very specific, “local” audience.

Using the terms “common” and “specific” remove the hierarchical angle and make people focus on who needs the content rather than who created it.

2. Think of the global intranet as collection of spaces, with each space having a purpose from the user viewpoint.

Examples of spaces: News, Workplace, Employee Services, About. These spaces will later become the components of the global navigation bar.

Develop several hypotheses, each one with a combination of spaces. You should be able to make a simple statement about each space for each hypothesis: “This space is designed for (user) to (action)”.

An example will show you how important the exact wording is. What follows is 3 different ways of describing the “News” space.

  • This space is designed for all employees to be informed about news from the company. (meaning primarily internal communication-driven)
  • This space is designed for all employees to be informed about news from and about the company.(meaning both internal and external news sources)
  • This space is designed for all employees to share news. (meaning users can contribute news)

Attention: The success of this step depends on having already positioned the intranet and where it fits in the overall intranet landscape or eco-system.

3. Identify the type of content, services and features required for each space.

Do this for all the spaces involved, for all the hypotheses. This will help clarify the real differences. Go into just enough detail to be clear on the purpose of the space.

Each space will have a combination of common and specific content. Some spaces will be primarily common content, others mainly specific. The specific may be driven by geography, profession, organizational. For example:

  • The news space will have a few news items relevant to everyone, a few more relevant to the person’s country or business division, and others specifically relevant to the person’s profession.
  • The workplace space will be heavily dependent on profession and organization.

This work can only by done in close collaboration with business and functional managers. Users must also be involved, but not at this stage if your organization is large. They will be involved later as the spaces are developed in detail.

4. Identify the appropriate type and amount of customization.

This will differ for each space and for the landing pages for each space. You will need to distinguish 3 types:

  • No customization = same for all
  • Implicit customization = controlled by the system, based on user profiles (e.g. geography, profession, organizational unit)
  • Explicit customization = controlled by the individual user

Then you need to define who determines the content/services required for each type. Some examples:

  • The communication manager may control what everyone in a given country must see
  • The global marketing manager will decide what marketing people around the world need to access
  • The local marketing person will decide for the local team

Work out general principles at this stage, without actually assigning names. This work is a starting point for some of your governance principles.

5. Sketch out wire frames for the landing pages for the spaces.

This is the fun part where you put pencil to paper. I highly recommend not using computers at this point. Let people sketch the way they see the landing pages. Ask them to add arrows, notes and details about the type of content, who owns it, what type of customization, etc. Keep this work at a high level.

A couple of suggestions:

  • Make sure the common content is visible, but give priority to specific over common.
  • When you have disagreements, don’t force a decision. Draw both ideas. List the advantages and disadvantages of each.

6.Determine the appropriate place for collaboration spaces.

The debate will be: should they be inside the “workplace”-type space, or should they together in an area called “Collaborate”? There are advantages to each. Some companies decide to do both.

Whatever the decision, ensure that they do not become mini silos of their own.

7. Use the “About” space to counter balance the customization of other spaces.

Just as web sites have “About” sections for the public, an intranet should have an “About” space for employees. There are a lot of exciting concepts that can be developed for this.

A major objective is to ensure that people have visibility across the organization. This is the place where business units and teams can present themselves. It can include a section specially designed for new employees. It can be highly user-driven; it can be primarily corporate communication-driven. Senior management can have their own communication platform here.

These choices will depend on your culture, intranet maturity and resources. This section will evolve over time.

8. Attack the home page last!

The home page is the hottest territory on the intranet and will be subject to much debate! It is the “promise” of the intranet. It symbolizes what the intranet is all about.

Examples of decision you need to make:

  • It should not be completely news-driven if the intranet is intended to be a work tool.
  • It should have some degree of user control if the organizational culture embraces empowering employees.
  • It should give “equal billing” to news from headquarters and news from countries and business units if the organization considers itself to be global.

It is critical to leave the home page discussion to the end. It take on real meaning after the other points have been discussed and agreed.


There are a lot more criteria to be considered, but this post is already too long!