For web managers and public affairs officers in charge of websites, my belief is you must look to your stewardship and communication systems as significant factors in your capacity to lead an organization. Both of these have structure and systems – proven winners – that forecast strong successful leadership. If you have these systems in place, you are ready to thrive. In their absence, you are swimming upstream.
Think of this article as a cookbook. It describes the recipe for web manager leadership. It has essential ingredients for strong stewardship mixed together with four proven communication systems put into the stew as the secret sauce. Putting it all together requires skill and patience, but done well it means your cake rises.
BUILDING A STEWARDSHIP CULTURE
In my view, durable stewardship translates into three things:
- Clear decision-making authority and formal structure must exist to set program direction, policy and operations:
- The organization’s leadership is mobilized and aligned with web program; and
- A culture of consultation, review and challenge exists – free of freelancing or benevolent dictators
When your leadership mobilizes and aligns with your web program, it means that foundational agreements that are critical to program success are in place. A web program’s maturity is demonstrated when they have a written charter signed out by the organization’s leadership that spells out roles and responsibilities for the organization.
When the highest person in your organization approves your charter, it assures buy-in and “official” status which aligns your organization’s leaders with your program. During the phase where you seek support, if you discover hidden issues that require you to make changes in your original plans it is all the better. Surfacing problems and getting them out in the open will make you stronger and assure an alignment that is long-lasting. The signed-out charter also provides you air-cover if you meet problems at lower levels of the organization moving forward.
The charter document does need not be long or complex – but it does must be signed out at the highest level and distributed to all stakeholders. Then, like the life-cycle of any documentation in your program, you must use it, enforce it and evaluate it. Baking this life-cycle into the program supports your culture of review and challenge.
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A CHARTER?
A model charter addresses the committee’s name, as well as the organization’s objectives, scope of activities and duties and any termination date. It also spells out the time period necessary for the committee to carry out its purposes and which program office is responsible for providing necessary support for this committee, and who chairs the organization.
The charter also should define membership and the duties for which the committee is responsible.
Details about its activities should include the estimated number and frequency of committee meetings, and if there are any standing subcommittees. For a web organization, some choose to name one standing subcommittee of experts on advanced applications. Another could be the voice of the customer, with a charge to bring information about public feedback and audience focus to the at large group. Another standing subcommittee might be in charge of policy reviews and recommendations. And a mechanism for creating future subcommittees should exist.
A best practice is to also use the charter to document the plan for reports and transparency. The charter itself should require the committee to send an annual report to the top of your organization. This report should look back at past performance and look to the future for what is on the horizon. The report can become a vehicle to get actionable recommendations in front of the organization’s leadership on a routine basis so you can get executive support for funding and visibility.
FIVE TACTICS FOR STRONG COMMUNICATION
A web manager must help leadership learn what they can do to support the program. This underscores the need for strong communications systems both up and down. There are five essential tactics to assure your communications are strong.
BUILD PROGRAM AWARENESS
First, it is the web manager’s responsibility to build program awareness and understanding by using a core message set to build program awareness and understanding.
Looking up the food chain, senior leaders across the organization must deliver critical correspondence down their chain of command. Unfortunately, in many organizations, it is not uncommon to have senior executives attend meetings and fail to return to their organizational unit with a plan to share information learned at the meeting such as what occurred and what it means to them. One way to combat this failing is to flatten the structure and create a unified online hub of information via your Intranet to share program documentation, best practices, a glossary of terms and lessons-learned in real-time.
PUT A STRONG SENSING MECHANISM IN PLACE
Secondly, the web management team must have a strong sensing mechanism for receiving info from all parts of the organization. The larger the organization, the more critical this is and the harder this objective is to carry out. There are several good ideas that have crossed my radar which can help you get an early warning system.
To get an early warning system, consider asking organizational units or departments to report a calendar of public or soon-to-be public events 30 days out, 60 days out and 90 days out. These so-called 30-60-90 day reports give visibility to what is perking – good and bad – so you can offer support to the good ideas and kill the bad ideas before it is too late.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION COUNT
A third tactic involves an awards and recognition program. If you put some seed money together and put out a call for good ideas matching certain criteria, it is phenomenal to watch what can come out of the woodwork. People self-select from all parts of the organization to promote their pet rocks. Some of these ideas have languished on the shelf looking for a sponsor, and others are pure inspiration that can blossom into something bigger with your help.
BE READY FOR EMERGENCIES
Fourth, to manage risk adequate emergency notification protocols must exist and be exercised. Do you have alternates in place for all your key roles in case something happens that prevents the lead people from participating? Is there a plan to work outside normal working hours? Are there systems in place to report and document problems to the right office so they are fixed promptly?
HAVE A FAIR APPEALS PROCESS
Finally, sub-organizations have a redress mechanism in place. This last point is one of your leading indicators of whether your governance structure is mature. If people in your organization don’t feel like a fair appeals process exists, it is likely they will hold you at arm’s length and your structure is vulnerable to trust issues. At best this means participants may shut down and not contribute their best ideas. At worst you could be attacked for lack of “fair play”. Once you have a written policy that spells out how your organization resolves conflicts, it’s my experience everyone settles down and is ready to work because they can anticipate how the game is played.
I challenge you to measure yourself and your organization against these leadership attributes. Do your systems for stewardship and communication match up with these best practices? If not, what are you willing to do today to start your transformation?
When your culture, structure and communication systems are mature your team is poised for strong web governance.