Content design is the front line of digital transformation. As a content designer, you’re right there in between the subject matter expert and the user, and often between your team and the wider organisation.
Digital transformation requires the hard work of developers, designers, UX specialists, user researchers, agile coaches, and many others, but often it’s the content designer that talks with subject matter experts, lawyers and others in the organisation.This means content design is as much about relationship management as it is about writing. A content designer, and the way they manage relationships with stakeholders, can make or break a project.
I get to talk to a lot of content people about their work. Public sector, private sector, charity sector – wherever I go, the story is pretty much the same.
The people at the top of the organisation are excited about what digital transformation means: improving the reputation of the organisation, improving the service it gives its users and reducing the cost of doing business. What’s not to love?
The content designers are also excited. People working in content are usually passionate about their users and they want to serve them. They’ve long been aware of the huge room for improvement when it comes to the content on the website, and they’d love to just roll up their sleeves and get it done. For them, ‘digital transformation’ is something they’ve been itching to do for ages, and now the bosses say they want it to happen. Hurray!
A few months go by, however, and despite lots of work and the best intentions, not much has changed. Except perhaps morale is a little lower, the vision is a little more cloudy, and the success seems a little less certain.
In short, the people in the middle of the organisation are your problem. Your project requires their cooperation, and as a rule, they don’t want to cooperate.But most teams I speak to already know that. What they don’t know is how to change things and get the project back on track.
Before you can make changes, you need to know more about why people aren’t cooperating. Here are a few likely reasons:
Internal resistance is a big deal for an organisation in the midst of digital transformation. If inertia wins out, the organisation won’t keep up with what the rest of the web is doing, and because the web is now so important to the way we connect with customers, the organisation will eventually go under.
You need to find a way to keep things moving. In the end, to make this happen you only need to focus on 2 things:
To build the trust you need communication, and you need to show evidence that what you’re proposing will be an improvement.Take the time to respectfully communicate what’s happening – regularly and in different ways. Keep up a blog, do show-and-tells, write things for the intranet, speak at whatever events you can. And be friendly! I know you’re busy, but make yourself available to meet up with people face-to-face and answer their questions.When working on a piece of content, get in touch with subject matter experts early in the process and keep in touch throughout it. Collaboration in one central place is key. Maybe even try some pair writing. That way when you hack their beloved 30,000-word opus into a 300-word web page they’ll be less likely to faint.
You won’t get, and don’t need, unanimous agreement throughout the organisation before you can move forward. Just make sure you have:
One final recommendation – be bold! You have more power than you think. You can take actions right now that will improve things. What are they?For one thing, you can change the narrative. Your organisation’s narrative is probably supporting the status quo. The system is set up to remain stable. This means you’ll hear things like:
Change the narrative! Be fearless, but not reckless:
Padma Gillen is a digital content consultant. He uses his expertise in content design management and agile content production to help organisations create quality content and maximise the effectiveness of their content teams.
He also advises organisations on how to set up and deliver successful web content projects, coaches them through the process, and provides content design teams to make it happen. He is currently helping the University of Southampton shape and deliver their content-led digital transformation project, OneWeb.
Previously, Padma was Head of Content Design at the Government Digital Service (GDS). He had overall responsibility for the quality of content on GOV.UK, the award-winning website of the UK Government.