Change Management for Enterprise Content Strategy

In my first job out of college, I landed a job as a territory marketing manager for a Fortune 500 financial company. The competition for the position was extremely fierce, and I was fortunate enough to be selected from over 500 candidates who applied. Shortly after I started, my company acquired an industry-leading competitor and I soon learned that change management is so much more than simply understanding people’s feelings and making everyone feel heard.

You see, it was my job to successfully orchestrate the merger at the regional level and without much work (and life) experience under my belt I approached it with an air of compassion and a big old side of naivety. I felt that if I spent quality one-on-one time with each and every manager who was affected (some who had been with their former company for over 40 years), they would feel listened to and somehow would be able see that our company could bring them far more value than their own company ever had.

Boy was I wrong!

It didn’t matter how much I told them I understood what they were going through, how much I intently listened to their situation and how much I conveyed I cared, I really couldn’t appreciate their experience of being down-graded, down-sized and culture-shifted to a new way of doing things. How could I? I had never experienced these things myself in my 23 years… and their push-back reflected this in spades.

While I thought I was helping them to embrace change, I was coming across as trite as a long-lost relative at a funeral offering condolences for a life never witnessed or shared. That’s when I learned, empathy without first-hand experience is merely sympathy… and when it comes to change management that contextual difference is paramount.

Empathy vs Sympathy

So what does this have to do with content strategy? Content strategy, its processes and tactics, are for many employees a new way of doing things. With so many content stakeholders and creators within a company, it can be incredibly difficult to not only get buy-in for strategic enterprise content approaches, but also on-going adoption.

As I tell clients all the time, a content strategy isn’t a document that you create once to be filed in a desk drawer forever. It’s a living, breathing guide to how content across the organization is planned for, created and managed. A content strategy must encompass the organization’s core values in order for it to become practice, and therefore it’s important to account for change management prior to its on-going roll-out.

Here’s where it gets complicated, because people are complicated. At its core, all organizations are made up of the company itself and its own contributions to the market. But it’s also made up of employees whose work is directed in two ways:

  1. their own individual contributions towards the organization’s objectives – i.e. its success; and,
  2. their own individual contributions towards their own career – i.e. their own career success, however they may define it for themselves.

In order for fundamental change to occur, you have to address both factors in the individual.

This is where I went wrong back when I was leading the regional merger for my former employer. In sympathizing with those affected and trying to instil buy-in through positivity, I failed to acknowledge their own personal vested interest in their careers and in their company’s success. For at its core, change management isn’t about expressing your own vulnerability, but about recognizing and acknowledging those whose careers have been made vulnerable by the new policies, practices and procedures in place.

This is especially true for content work. A common output of every organization, no matter the industry, is content. Which means, there are plenty of people who have had a say in that content long before any content strategist came onboard or any content strategy was implemented. The worst thing you can do is to not acknowledge corporate history, insights and perspectives from those who have been in the trenches of each silo long before you came along.

Learning from my past mistakes, I put this knowledge to good use in a situation I faced recently. Once again, I was placed in a position to instill corporate change within a financial organization. This time it was around enterprise content strategy and not nearly as contentious a situation as life-altering downsizing. But, it still touched on employee values sacred to both the company’s success and the success of the individual. As an outside consultant, I was hired to not only help the company with solutions but to also be the scapegoat for the company. The bearer of bad news. The target for bitter arrows.

But this wasn’t the case.

This time, rather than one-on-one interviews where I pretended to understand the plight of experts who knew their job inside and out, I made sure key employees had a hand in creating their content strategy with me. I didn’t pretend to know what they were going through and I didn’t impose those beliefs on others in the organization.

Conversely, I also didn’t let content workers build on their own false assumptions and beliefs about what other departments felt, understood, or presumed about their own content work and that of other departments. Rather I empowered them to generate an understanding of all of the content that was being created across the organization from sales to communications.

In the process, we learned of an incredibly valuable asset in HR who was in charge of the internal company newsletter, and the lone editor who had been in charge of the company’s print publication for more than 20 years, and the employee whose pet project had become the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, and many others who all had a hand in creating the company’s content assets.

In doing so, we uncovered some pretty powerful content channel synergies that not only aided in more streamlined workflows but in improvements to the bottom line as well.

Facilitating Change Management for Content Strategy

I love the following video because it really explains how you can facilitate change management in a manner I had to learn the hard way – by empowering your team to engage in the process with you.

I have had a lot of success bringing key content stakeholders into a room and facilitating workshops that lead to the creation of their own content strategy. I have come a long way from when I was the one standing at the front of the boardroom table telling employees how change was going to happen. Now, I am the one at the back of the room watching change happen for itself.

Take-Away

Here’s an exercise I like to do with content teams prior to starting any content strategy engagement. It allows everyone to have a voice in constructively communicating their fears for change while channeling their collective wisdom towards solutions that will ensure success.

For this and other great games for change management please visit: Gamestorming (online or in print)

Pre-Mortem Exercise

Pre-Mortem

Object of Play

Often in projects, the learning is all at the wrong end. Usually after things have already gone horribly wrong or off-track, members of the team gather in a “postmortem” to sagely reflect on what bad assumptions and courses of action added up to disaster. What makes this doubly unfortunate is that those same team members, somewhere in their collective experience, may have seen it coming.

A pre-mortem is a way to open a space in a project at its inception to directly address its risks. Unlike a more formal risk analysis, the pre-mortem asks team members to directly tap into their experience and intuition, at a time when it is needed most, and is potentially the most useful.

Number of Players

Any, but typically small teams will have the most open dialogue

Duration of Play

Depends on the scope of an effort; allow up to five minutes for each participant

How to Play

A pre-mortem is best conducted at the project’s kickoff, with all key team members present and after the goals and plan have been laid out and understood. The exercise starts with a simple question: “What will go wrong?” though it may be elevated in phrasing to “How will this end in disaster?”

This is an opportunity for the team to reflect on their collective experience and directlyname risks or elephants lurking in the room. It’s a chance to voice concerns that mightotherwise go unaddressed until it’s too late. A simple discussion may be enough to surfacethese items among a small team; in a larger group, Post-Up or list generation maybe needed.

To close the exercise, the list of concerns and risks may be ranked or voted on to determine priority. The group then decides what actions need to be taken to address these risks; they may bring these up as a part of ongoing meetings as the project progresses.

For full game instructions, please visit: Pre-Mortem, Gamestorming

3 thoughts on “Change Management for Enterprise Content Strategy

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Best of the Rest

    • Hi Steve, Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found the post helpful!

      I’ve actually seen 2 situations transpire with respect to project failure: the first happens when someone jokingly puts it forth in a sarcastic, over-the-top manner and the second occurs when nobody mentions it and I have to bring it up as the facilitator. Both elicit the same reaction – laughter.

      This is where being a strong facilitator comes in. The best way to manage the situation is to soberingly repeat the question to the group: “No, what really does happen if the project fails?” I’ve found it important to stay silent after posing the question in order to make people feel uncomfortable in that silence. It’s in that space where those in the room will start to brainstorm ideas around this. Nobody likes failure and nobody likes pregnant silence.

      I then like to ask questions like: Is failure bad? Is it an option? If we fail at this does it mean we’re on the wrong path or does it simply mean we’ve missed something along the way?

      I think you’d be surprised though. If you have a group of people in the room who are all from disparate departments/divisions within a company you’ll inevitably have a few “negative nellies” in the room who will happily bring up failure and guide the conversation to talk about those negative things. This is what I think is so great about the pre-mortem technique. It encourages a safe space for everyone to talk about the elephant in the room, because even the most positive person will still always have doubts.

      Hope this helps! I’d love to hear your experience with pre-mortems if/when you give it a try.

      Cheers!

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