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Content Strategy Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath (authors of Made to Stick) describe different organizations and how they applied change management techniques successfully.

The stories in the book were very helpful to me as a content strategist, as I am often implementing organizational change. In fact, at the very heart of content strategy is our ability to understand what needs to be changed and when.

Content strategy is difficult for organizations to adopt because of classic change management challenges. Content strategy is really about choreographing multiple talents, roles and personalities to stand in one line and kick at the same time. And usually, these people are not trained Rockettes.

My experience is that every organization has the tools to implement a content strategy. Sometimes what’s lacking is passion. I cannot help you there. If what is lacking is inexperience in change management, I have some proposed solutions below to different challenges that may help.

Change Management Challenges
There are three major areas where you will face change content strategy implementation challenges:

1.       Lack of organizational oversight
2.       Talent mismatch
3.       Political infighting
While every organization is different, I think the following solutions can work almost everywhere, provided they are approached with patience, resolve and clearly stated objectives.
See if you can recognize your organization in some of these challenges and let me know if you found any of these solutions helpful.  The best part of my day is when someone tells me that this blog helped them do their job more effectively.
Lack of Organizational Oversight
People only want to please the boss directly above them
In large bureaucracies, most professionals have their eye on pleasing one or two levels above them. However, implementing a successful content strategy means involving the entire organization.
The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to convince the corner office. This means that the top of the marketing, digital, IT or Web departments need to buy into the idea of content strategy. Ways to do this include case studies, articles about content strategy, presentations and the proposal of a pilot project. 
Most executives care about some sort of ROI—if you promise them that efficiency in the workplace will increase, they are usually intrigued.  Don’t talk about numbers or bottom line profits—address concerns about constantly reinventing the wheel or using talent to your best advantage. These are more convincing arguments than, “Maybe we’ll double our traffic and conversions.”
The culture rewards disorganization
Many corporate cultures seem to reward disorganization. Sometimes, people are communicating about the wrong things, or they are not communicating enough. Whatever the reason, in a disorganized culture, it’s going to be hard to implement a content strategy.
One solution would be to organize working groups around the different phases. Different professionals would overlap, giving them access to each other and ideas. This usually fosters a more collaborative environment and the desire to organize comes from within.
Again, make sure you do reward those efforts at more efficient work, so that the culture of embracing disorganization slowly weans away. Make successes public, at weekly or monthly meetings, and give out bonuses if you can.
Siloed approach to working
In many corporations I work with, the IT, marketing, customer services and communication departments are still spread out across the organization, with different responsibilities. It makes running a multidisciplinary change like content strategy extremely difficult.
Obviously, as the digital age speeds along, corporations are going to open their eyes to the fundamental flaws in siloed operations. Until then, you need to find solutions that work for you. Consider an off-site working group with some of your counterparts in these departments. Come at it from a “Every problem has a solution” attitude. 
You will probably find your counterparts have similar frustrations. See if you can open the lines of communication. Start small with a pilot project with low visibility.  When you prove that working in a cross cutting fashion is more efficient and yields better results, you’ll be able to make a persuasive argument for some sort of reorganization.
Talent Mismatch
Skill mismatch
Often times, content profesionals encounter the wrong talent in the wrong roles. Sometimes the talent isn’t there at all. But, more often than not, the wrong people are doing the wrong jobs.
This is an easy challenge to solve, but one that meets with tremendous resistance. People take their jobs and roles personally—how can they not?
We have found the most effective solution to this problem is to set up one-on-one interviews with professionals to discuss their strengths and weaknesses.  Often in doing so, we reveal a workflow pattern that suits the entire team much better.
We also find that shared responsibility works well. Pairing a weaker talent partner with a stronger talent can result in improving the weaker talent, and training the strong talent for a management role. Consider the individuals in your organization and how their individual talents would be put to better use in some other phase of content strategy.
Unreasonable expectations of tools
Sometimes individuals are passionate about embracing a content strategy and then are quickly disappointed when it doesn’t go smoothly from day one. This was a mistake made during expectation setting.
Make sure professionals understand that it takes nine months to a year to establish and succeed with a content strategy. It may seem like a long time, but once through the bumpy ride part, organizations usually find they are sailing faster and more clearly into the sunset.
That’s the promise to your employees—the same way it’s a piece of advice to marathon runners—don’t make any decisions about bugging out of a race when you’re on a hill. You cannot think clearly when you’re expending so much energy—you have to wait until you get to the calm part to make well-informed, smart decisions about what’s working.
Political Infighting
Empire building
How many executives or middle managers do you know who are collecting roles in the hope of empire building? We are not sure why they do this—who wants MORE responsibility at work? And yet, political infighting is the most challenging part of implementing a content strategy because it really does cut across organizations into so many departments and teams.
The most effective solution we’ve found is executive level buy-in and a mandate to improve content planning and production. Political infighting stops when organizational mandates clearly state that people MUST work together for the sake of the organization’s goals.
There is a lack of belief in the organizations’ goals
If you’re experiencing this change management challenge it’s because the organization’s goals are either weakly defined or not well communicated to its staff. In either case, again, content strategy is about marrying content development efforts to business objectives. 
Therefore, when managing a lack of belief in the organization’s goals, it’s important to state what they are repeatedly.
By doing this, you remind the professionals you are working with about the achievement thresholds at play. Since reviews occur once a year and people’s performances are tied to these thresholds, it will help them wrap their minds around content development as a serious and respected part of the corporate strategy.

About Ahava Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag, MA

Ahava R. Leibtag has more than 15 years of experience in writing, messaging and marketing. She is a well-recognized content expert and writes thought leadership about content strategy and content marketing. Ahava is the President and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She... More >