Web Governance: Use the influence of individuals to turn the plan into action.

Web governance is what allows your team to turn the corner from thinking about the website as a project to instead sustaining and enhancing it every day. After your web governance plan is in place, you need people to implement it. Don’t underestimate the influence of the individuals who take the plan from its consensus-formed state to a living, breathing set of concrete actions.

I’m not downplaying the importance of the plan; I’m just saying the plan is only the solid start. To illustrate what I mean, let’s think of your web governance plan as akin to the architectural plan for a new house. Yes, the architectural plan lays out the type of foundation, the number of full baths and the placement of windows. While agreed upon and compliant with professional best practice, the architectural plan is not all you need before you move in…

The homebuyer is the decision maker who begins to put the plan into action. There are choices: modern or traditional light fixtures, carpeting or hardwood, heat pump or gas. And unless you’re going to live in this house alone, two or more individuals will work together on the choosing (and the deciding). Together, they will influence the implementation of the architectural plan, perhaps even disagreeing along the way.

It’s the together and disagreeing part that can stall web governance on a campus. Your governance plan likely spells out that the university website will be published with an approved set of branded web templates; yet the dean of the engineering school may refuse to adopt the university templates. Your governance plan may outline the CMS training and support available to decentralized web editors; yet the financial aid department won’t flip the switch to publish the new webpages they’ve had underway for six months.

Although every campus is organized differently (and web governance plans should reflect that), most plans designate authority to a central web team. The individuals on the central web team influence a web governance plan because they often are the ones moving the plan into action. Here are some tips for them:

Develop and rely on relationships.

It’s impossible to underestimate the value of relationships in the workplace. If people like and respect you, they will listen even when they initially don’t agree with the governance structure. If people trust you, they will be more willing to take what they perceive as a risk and follow your guidance about their web content. Nurture your campus relationships and try this:

  • View what you say and write as educational. Those you meet with and send email messages to will know less about web best practice than you do. It’s easy to be surprised and frustrated by that. Remember, you can more easily influence someone when they are informed — they will agree more quickly and ultimately be more self-sufficient.
  • Early on, spend time on the bound-to-be-successful aspects of your web governance plan. Collaborate with the schools, departments and units that are ready and willing to accept the benefits of a new governance structure. Partner with those who have the greatest vested interest in the website — often this includes the admissions office. Reach out to departments and units with limited staff — by necessity they are more likely agree to the benefits of an easy-to-use CMS and support from a central web team. You will be able to build on all of these successes as you make your way toward the resistors.
  • Use the power of personal communication — meet face-to-face, letting your tone convey commitment and support for the less agreeable units you’ll need to bring into the fold. Be direct, sometimes saying what feels uncomfortable to get your point across. For example, when a department delays (and delays) the launch of new web pages because they just aren’t sure “they are 100% there yet,” remind them that their current web content is bad — worse than the new, ready-to-be published pages. Give them your word that you’ll work with them to continue enhancing their web pages after an initial relaunch.

You don’t have to be right, you just have to get the right outcome.

Sometimes, you influence others through careful research, hard data, or clear articulation of your point of view. It’s great when that happens. When being right isn’t enough, try this:

  • Let some time pass. Often obstructionists will lose interest and stop paying attention. They might even come back to you later as if they never had earlier objections. Go with it if that happens.
  • Move ahead without consensus; sometimes you can’t wait for approval. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
  • As a last resort, rely on an executive sponsor to reinforce your decision-making authority. Sometimes, it takes the overt laying down of the hammer to get compliance with your governance plan.

It’s never enough to have a plan. The daily influence of the “web people” on your campus take governance from a plan to action.

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