Where you lead, I will follow. #HigherEdLeadership

There are many talented and dedicated people working on campuses these days. Yet, in front of your laptop or while swiping on your phone, you might get a different impression. There is scrutiny on higher ed in particular, and often the emphasis is on the failures or inadequacies of individuals and groups on our campuses.

When I’m away from my devices, I am face to face with warm and engaged leaders who make higher education better. They inspire me. They talk about the ways in which education transformed their own lives. They recall students, by name, sharing their fascinating stories with detail. These leaders are working hard every day on creative and visionary solutions to chore challenges at their institutions.

For me, leadership and strategy go together. If you’ve heard me speak during a conference or webinar, or you’ve read my blog, you already know a few of my own catch phrases about strategic leadership. Here I pair up some of my thoughts with those of higher ed leaders who inspire me.

Strategy is difficult, it takes time, it involves risk, and it requires decisions. But there is a huge pay off.

A college president I interviewed recently said it better when she recalled the advice she got from her earliest mentor: “Write down everything that’s important and then put it all in priority order. And, by the way, all the items on the list can’t be priority number one.”

Without a strategy to guide your choices, everything you do (or are asked to do) seems like a reasonable option.

On HigherEdLive, Rebecca Bernstein, director of digital communications strategy at University at Buffalo, said it succinctly, “Everything I do is something I don’t do.” If you haven’t watched her appearance on HigherEdLive — “The Homepage is Dead; Long Live the Homepage?” — you should. You must. Please do.

Marketing and communication plans are easy to create when you don’t have to pay attention to the facts.

mStoner’s, Greg Zguta says, “Not everything can be measured. And not everything that can be measured is worth measuring.” The stakes are too high; we must evaluate the individual tactics in our marketing plans. Planning + execution + measurement.
Is strategy a buzz word? Not in my book.

Strategy is for thinking about, and planning for, the future.


This post was originally published on January 31, 2015. I have updated it for accuracy.


What about you and the leaders you meet?

The fact is, when you have a job, you are going to run into bad leaders. Why? Because leadership is difficult. Even for those with natural leadership ability, it is not easy. As the saying goes, “People quit their bosses, not their jobs.”

In earlier posts, I wrote about two extremes of leadership: the good and the bad. This post is about you and what you do with the leaders you meet: 1) Be reasonable in your own expectations; but 2) Remove yourself from a bad situation when you can.

Don’t expect your boss to be able to do your job.
Often, people have the belief that, in order to supervise a [occupation here], you have to have worked in the trenches as a [same occupation here]. It’s a mistake to think the leader must be able to do your job before earning your full respect. The right kind of leader — and I hope we are all trying to be that kind — can lead individuals in all types of jobs. I can name several web programmers who would serve as references for my leadership, and, to this day, I don’t know javascript or PHP. Leadership is not about performing the specific job duties of individuals on the team you lead. We all need bosses who lead, not people who would know how to do our jobs when we take a day off.

Don’t expect every good idea you share to be acted upon.
A leader is listening to you even if she chooses not to act on your idea. If your leader doesn’t follow through on a suggestion you make, it doesn’t mean you weren’t heard. When you’re the leader, people regularly come to you with advice about the problems you face. From the outside, it probably appears easy to solve a particular problem. Give your leader the benefit of the doubt! Assume there is information, detail, or context you don’t have about a situation. Given full information, your easy-to-implement solution might not be the right one. By the way, the worst thing you can do is stop expressing your ideas. I have watched people do this as a way to get back at the leader for not accepting an idea or two. It is your job to have good ideas, to share them with the leader, and to realize what you have to say is not the be all to end all in every circumstance.

It’s not you, it’s them.
I am keenly aware that bad leadership is a serious problem — it can ruin careers we love and organizations we are otherwise passionate about. I’ve worked for my share of bad bosses and I don’t minimize the effects on us as individuals. At the risk of sounding trite, I suggest staying true to yourself when faced with a bad leader. Draw from internal motivation but don’t internalize the negatives from your situation. And, when you are able, you should change jobs.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Do you know a good leader when you see one?

My earlier post identified leadership as the good, the bad, and you. I wrote about six behaviors typical of bad leaders. While the opposite of my six observations of the bad are a place to start, there will be no getting off easy for me. Here are my top six qualities of good leaders.

You work hard to build trust and earn respect.

Sure, your team will trust you at the start, and your leadership role comes with some built-in respect. But strong leaders work continuously to prove themselves. At the beginning, in the middle, and throughout, your actions are your leadership. When a person you work with shares a confidence, you keep it. When a complaint comes in about someone on your team, you reserve judgment and talk directly to the person involved to learn more. You say what you mean, and you mean what you say. Yes, it’s just that simple.

You are who you are.
You should learn from, and be inspired by, the leaders you’ve observed. You should also be who you are because the strongest leaders are authentic and true to self. Take a tip from Judy Garland, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

You hire people who aren’t you.
Leaders build teams. When you hire someone new, avoid the stereotype; don’t hire people exactly like you. Instead, hire individuals that bring new points of view and different work styles. Your team can better respond to current challenges and more successfully evolve to meet what will come in the future when you have a powerful mosaic of perspectives and styles.

Your modify your approach as needed.

You are leading individuals. What works with one may not work at all with someone else. Getting to success will require you to modify your approach based on what you understand about the motivations of different types of people.

You roll up your sleeves and work shoulder to shoulder.

In the middle of the challenging times, you are in the mix with your team. During a crisis or when a lot of hard work is needed, you are visible and participating in whatever needs to be done.

You keep in mind that people are counting on you.
In a leadership role, you have more ability to influence the future and you know your job is to evaluate risks and identify opportunities. You are responsible for positioning your team to do important work that has value to your organization. After all, the individuals you lead are counting on you to protect their future livelihoods.

You celebrate successes!

Strong leaders understand the long-distance race and the mileposts along the way. You think long term, and you intentionally pause to call attention to goals achieved. Cheers and shared rewards for great work lead to team solidarity.

In my third post about leadership: we’ll talk about you, and your approach with the good and bad leaders in your life.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Leadership: The good, the bad, and you.

For simplicity’s sake, we can boil leadership down to: the good, the bad, and you.

This is the first of three posts to cover all three. When the topic of leadership comes up, most people think first about “bad bosses” — they skip right over the good, to the bad. So here goes, I’ll use this first post to explore bad leadership.

Really, is there anything left to write about bad leadership? I’ve been known to say that every problem within an organization can be tied back to a lack of leadership. Bad leaders, I’m talking to you about six behaviors that don’t serve you well.

You don’t listen.

When you interrupt, you might shut off information key to your decision making and you potentially discourage someone from coming back to inform you in the future. If you aren’t listening to your team, they can’t ask get the answers for directing and improving their daily work. While listening, you should ask questions to clarify or learn more. No questions might send the message you aren’t listening.

You don’t understand your own success depends on the quality of your team.

A leader leads people, not a department or unit. People are the secret sauce for completing projects that accomplish your goals, support your vision, and frankly, make you look good. The ability of your team to do high-quality work depends on your leadership.

You use phrases like “my employees” or “the people who work for me.”

Your collective team is made up of individuals with unique skills and talents you need to develop. Remember, different people require different leadership styles. If you think of them as employees who work for you, you aren’t building a team; you won’t have their loyalty and the good ones won’t stay.

You don’t say thank you.

You point out the negative and are silent about the positive. This is not the right approach: in fact, the no news is good news mantra for leading people was never right. Individuals you work with need to know you appreciate and value their contributions. Saying thank you is the out loud way to be sure they know you are grateful for their work. Really, how hard is it to do?

You aren’t honest about feedback.

At the end of the day, people want to know where they stand. If you’re unable or unwilling to look someone in the eye and share honest feedback, you are unfair and a bad leader. When you accept a leadership role, you take on responsibility for helping people improve and the only way to do that is by confronting them directly about what they need to do differently.

You act like a manager.

You think about the org chart, the non-people parts—the process, policy, scope, and tasks. When you act like manager, you are less focused on goals. Tied to the here and now, you are likely to protect turf, invest in the status quo, and reduce risk. To be innovative, people need vision and inspiration. If you manage, you must also lead.

In my next post: The Good Leaders

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Web Governance: How do you get the right kind of feedback from your advisory committee?

One element typical of web governance frameworks in higher ed is a website advisory committee. If you are a digital professional on a campus, you may be facing challenges from a committee that is unwieldy, slow to act, or focused on the lengthy discussions needed to get to consensus decision making. Getting timely and useful feedback from an advisory committee isn’t easy. Here are some suggestions:

Create a structure for providing useful feedback.

A committee of non-experts might need direction on how to provide useful feedback. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that, absent a structured process, individuals will default to watered-down responses that don’t get you what you need. To structure the process:

  • Provide context. Present background and detail to fully explain what you recommend.
  • Allow a set amount of time for discussion and perhaps allow your committee time between meetings to process.
  • Consider getting feedback from individuals after holding a committee meeting for group discussion.

Make it a no-brainer.

Whenever you can, ask for feedback on ideas and recommendations grounded in research. Use best practice, benchmarking, and testing to inform what you present to your committee. The less the committee has to connect the dots, the more successful you’re likely to be.

Ask the right questions.

The way you phrase your questions during feedback discussions can make a difference:

  • Avoid open-ended questions like, “What do you think of this design?” or “Which message platform do you like the most?”
  • Instead, use more focused questions like, “How well does this copy explain the strength and uniqueness of our academic programs?” or “How well does this design communicate that our college offers high quality academics and a range of opportunities for students?”

Be sure you’re clear about your committee’s role in making decisions.

I think the feedback loop is endless because we aren’t clear about when a decision is required from the committee. If yours is an “advisory” committee, you don’t need a decision; get the best feedback you can, and move on. If decisions are made by the committee, structure your meeting agendas to indicate which meetings are for update and discussion and which are for a final decision. Also:

  • Make it clear you will sometimes need to decide even when all committee members aren’t present.
  • Take a vote. Sometimes, consensus takes too long and you need to force a decision.

Identify a release valve.

If you’re leading a website advisory committee, make sure you have an executive sponsor. If you’ve done the best you can, but the committee is stuck and needs to get back on track, ask your executive sponsor for cover. Avoid asking for help making the decision; just make sure your decision is in sync with the leadership team that charged you to lead the committee.

Do you need a website advisory committee?

Who owns your website? A simple question that prompts many more: Who sets your editorial direction? Who controls access to your CMS? Who do you go to when you need a microsite? Who decides what goes on your homepage?

The best website governance models answer these questions by offering the right balance of oversight and support. Campuses need processes and policies for effective and sustainable website management. And individuals who write, produce, and edit site content need training and tools.

Website governance is a blueprint — an intentional, specific plan for who does what, when, and how. Be aware: figuring out the plan is only the first part of website governance. No model, framework, or structure will substitute for the ongoing communication between the people involved in your website.

Often, discussions about governance start this way, “Okay, I know I need governance but do I need a website advisory committee?

Three reasons you might:

  1. Your website is currently wild and woolly. After years of everyone doing their own thing, it’s time to relaunch your site and put a structure in place to keep it fresh, vibrant, and sustainable.
  2. You want to take your already solid website to the next level. You know the site is critical for recruiting students, raising money, and enhancing reputation. Maybe you have no budget for creating new positions, so you need a decentralized way to manage your site. You need to gain support for distributing website tasks to people in different units across campus.
  3. You have a website governance plan…that no one follows. The people you designated to update your site are busy with other tasks and responsibilities, and your website is their lowest priority.

Two reasons you might not:

  1. Your campus has a mature and talented communications operation and website relaunches are a thing of the past. People across campus understand that you have authority for your site, you are regularly updating your content, and you have a team of highly skilled people enhancing your site daily.
  2. You’ve just completed a highly successful website redesign project on your campus. The redesign team wrote policies, set up a training and support plan, and have gotten website editors across campus into a good groove.

Let’s suppose you decide you need a website advisory committee…then what?

Considerations when planning for a website advisory committee:

What is the charge of the committee?
The charge, or charter, is the purpose of the committee — it outlines what they do, and what they don’t do. You also will need to determine if the committee is truly advisory or actually the final authority for decisions about the website. The website advisory committee could:

  • Review and enforce the website governance plan.
  • Reinforce with deans and directors the importance of web page management as an official responsibility and high priority for staff in their respective units.
  • Provide feedback about enhancements and changes to your website and related digital communication initiatives.
  • Recommend the allocation of shared resources for future projects and enhancements.
  • Consult on policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines related to the website.

How large is the ideal committee?
Keep it as small as you can get away with. Avoid the typical Noah’s ark, two-by-two approach where every division has to send one representative. Large committees are typically not successful: they create more scheduling difficulties (nightmares!), require more time for getting feedback, and are more likely to resort to consensus-based decision- making. Committees get large because we view them as the only way to offer feedback and suggestions. If your governance plan includes other feedback options, you’ll be able to control the size of your website advisory committee.

Governance matters. Along with vision and staffing, it is how the sustainability of your website actually happens.

More on governance:

OH in Higher Ed Circles: 6 things that drive us mad (and a new webinar!)

Picture this: Six people working on six different campuses are seated around a round table having lunch at a higher ed conference. Before the salad course ends, they’ve figured out how much they have in common. All are facing similar challenges — and more relevant to this blog post — all regularly experience the same frustrations.

Next imagine this: 600 people working on 600 different campuses are members of a circle in Google+. These folks are sometimes even more direct as they selectively share their frustrations and the barriers to high-quality marketing and communications programs on their campuses. It’s been know to happen.

Regardless of their institutional affiliation, when marketing and communications professionals gather they bond over similar concerns. And, when I consult with community colleges, multi-campus publics, music conservatories, or small liberal arts colleges, I observe a similar chorus. Six themes overheard in higher ed are:

  1. Committees
    Often viewed as the bane of the higher ed administrator’s existence, committees are unwieldy, slow to act, and sometimes set up to avoid a decision. Even when called by another name (task force), they present challenges; you must find ways to use them well.
  2. Feedback
    It’s exhausting when you are caught in a seemingly unending feedback loop while staring down a deadline. Worse, you find yourself responding to the personal preferences of internal stakeholders at the expense of the target audience. You need to control the fire hose.
  3. Resources
    Another week, another new task or set of expectations. Our teams regularly take on new initiatives and responsibilities but rarely stop doing the less valuable work we’ve always done. You need to make it stop.
  4. Change
    We’re pretty good at digging in within the academy. But some amount of change is needed for almost any great idea. Take off your blinders, stop pushing past the resistance, and instead use personal benefits to influence stakeholders.
  5. Turf
    Using softer language, we refer to silos when we’re really talking about turf. Regardless, we’re not farmers and we need to turn things toward a focus on business needs and the greater institutional good.
  6. Relationships
    Perhaps a surprising addition to this list, relationship building should always be a factor. Regular reflection about the approach and style you use with peers, members of your team, senior leaders, and your boss is never a waste of time.

Perhaps this post is spot on with its summary of concerns you have. Next up, let’s address those concerns. I’ll try to do just that on Thursday, March 27, at 2:00 PM ET, when I host a free webinar entitled, “OH in Higher Ed Circles: 6 things that drive us mad.” Talking through each of the six things that probably bug you every week, I’ll share tips, ideas, and advice for making your way around the barriers to excellent marketing and communications work on your campus. I hope you’ll join me for this free mStoner webinar as we discuss ways to cope and succeed!

Ready to Roll: Expanding your team.

It’s 2014. If you have the chance to expand your team, what skill sets should you add? I address this question in Ready to Roll, a feature I wrote for CASE CURRENTS. In case you missed them, part one and part two also appeared on this blog.

Expanding the team
What one or two positions should you add, if possible, to your communications and marketing team? If it were up to me, I would find a professional writer and a person who knows how to identify metrics and measure results.

Writing is vital to almost every communications and marketing activity. Content that engages, inspires, and romances your audiences is at the core of every communications channel and platform. Whether they’re written for a 140-character tweet, a 90-second video script, or a 1,500-word article, words are the tools you use to describe your institution and its brand, communicate its value, and speak authentically to its audiences.

At the same time, measurement is important to demonstrating the value of your work and the success of the institution’s brand. We need to get deadly serious about focusing only on the work that aligns with our communications and marketing goals and achieves the necessary results.

Your team’s goals come from an overarching strategy; your metrics are defined by what your team needs to accomplish. Determining upfront the measures of success for each project or initiative your team undertakes is essential. For a video, that measurement might be the number of views or the amount of time viewers spend watching the video. For an email marketing campaign, indicators such as open rates and click-thrus will help determine your message’s reach and identify where to make adjustments.

The challenge for most communications and marketing leaders is not being overwhelmed by the seemingly endless number of possibilities, ideas, issues, and projects they need to address or want to pursue. Keeping up is always difficult—and it always will be in a rapidly evolving culture of communication. Leaders must stay focused on the options and opportunities they have to further develop and execute their strategy, while making sure their teams are consistently telling the institution’s brand story to key audiences. The people who have the potential to adjust and enhance their skill sets today and be ready for what’s on the horizon five years from now are the ones most likely to succeed in bringing value to your team.

Let’s use 2014 to concentrate on goals, messages, and audiences rather than platforms and tools. By year’s end, I hope to see many more centralized, multidisciplinary communications and marketing teams successfully engaging and leaving long-lasting impressions on their target audiences.

Hiring for potential
When I offer someone a job, it’s mostly because I think that person has potential. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who has the experience and the skills that match the job and the potential for whatever comes next. But when I have to choose between skills and potential, I’ll choose potential every time.

Throughout my career, which includes working in human resources, professional development, and organizational management, I have regularly hired people who did not have the prescribed educational experience or specific skills referenced in a job description. Why? Because what you really need is a team of smart, curious, talented, energized, passionate, and committed individuals. You can teach people the software programs your team uses. They will gradually come to understand the higher education environment. You can give people time to learn some of the specific tasks within a job. But they have to bring their potential.

How do I know when someone has potential? I look for people who:

  • Show interest in a variety of topics and ask a lot of questions in a conversational way.
  • Give an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Freely admit when they’ve never done a particular type of work but tell me why they can learn it or figure it out.
  • Speak confidently about their contributions in previous jobs without seeming embarrassed.
  • Like to work alone, like to work collaboratively, and like to learn from other people on the team.
  • Want to fill their workday with a mix of duties, responsibilities, and projects.
  • Can think critically, assess situations, and present solutions to complex problems.
  • Are able to build on the ideas of others.
  • Have held a wide variety of jobs. This may include work experience gained during high school or college. A diverse employment background demonstrates knowledge of different kinds of people and professional environments.

If you’re not convinced, think of it another way. People with potential become the employees you can send anywhere. They’re the ones who can attend any meeting and always contribute productively to the discussion. Taking it a step further, these exceptional employees can go unprepared to a meeting of strangers but still discuss an unfamiliar topic or issue, ask appropriate questions, and make worthwhile suggestions. These individuals have the skills to adjust to new tools, changing platforms, and a communications and marketing environment we can’t imagine today. We need them on our teams.

Read more from Ready to Roll:

Copyright 2014 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Leading a campus-wide initiative: What can go wrong?

This is a post about leadership. It’s about the responsibilities of the individual asked to lead a campus-wide initiative.

Here’s the context. You are leading something like a website relaunch, a redesign of the alumni magazine, or the deployment of an intranet. You’re a smart person so you’ve already rounded up executive support for the project and you have a strategy. You even have a project charter that clearly articulates goals, objectives, and a project plan.

What can go wrong? Plenty. Here are just a few possible scenarios:

Stakeholders are confused about the project goals.
As the project lead, YOU are the voice. It is up to you to be the regular reminder of project goals and talk about what’s included and what’s not. Don’t be afraid to, “Rinse. Repeat.” It’s also your job to help people understand the overarching strategy. Don’t be frustrated by the job of regularly informing your campus. Use the strategy you have in place as a foundation for talking about what the project entails. Expect to participate in internal communications about your project; in the long run, good communications with your campus will keep expectations in check.

The project is “growing” and now includes work you didn’t plan for.
Scope always creeps. It’s just a matter of how much. It is incredibly difficult to control the scope of a campus initiative. Frankly, internal stakeholders are looking to any new project as a way to solve a problem they have. (This is why your meeting about selecting a new CMS becomes an opportunity for people to talk about how much they hate your email software.) In order to launch or publish or go live, you have to have an endpoint. A limit to what you’re doing — a defined scope — means you’ll actually finish. Once you have a scope, you can’t be afraid to say it out loud. That’s how you enforce it. In my experience, people respond well to honesty. I’ve been known to say, “The team is working 24/7 to get done what’s already in scope. How about we add that to our list of phase two items? We understand it’s important; we just can’t make it happen in the time we have left.”

Your boss is focusing on consensus and risking the success of the project.
Sometimes, your boss is the biggest barrier to your leadership on a project. This may be because people in management positions filter every decision based on the personal risk it means for them. Sometimes, they have seen other projects fail miserably and they are trying to protect you (and themselves). Sometimes, they are good managers of the present but they are not thinking long term and they do not have vision. In my view, this is the real reason that campus-wide projects need an executive sponsor who can take the heat on the team’s behalf. Keep your boss informed but use your executive sponsor for cover and for making progress.

Meetings of your advisory committee aren’t productive.
Focus on the word “advisory” and keep in mind that YOU are the expert. Step into that role and build on the momentum from your past successes! When working with your committee:

  • Go in with the best answer. Propose a plan or solution that the committee “advises” on.
  • Avoid asking open-ended questions. Frame the way you ask for feedback and set a deadline for getting it.
  • Ground your recommendations and plans in best practice, research, and data.
  • Talk informally to members of the committee to get their support for a particular idea or recommendation before formal discussion at a meeting. Ask your supporters to speak up if needed during the meeting.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a vote. Sometimes, consensus takes too long.

Campus politics are getting in the way.
Yes, it is your job to manage the politics. Get over it and move on. Remember, leadership is about discipline. It’s about what you do and what you don’t do. It’s about having a vision for a project and understanding that not everyone will like the choices and decisions you make. When all else fails, stick with your strategy. Keep calm and follow the plan. Consult with your executive sponsor and refer back to the project goals and objectives to make your case. Sometimes, I was known to ask, “Why did we start this project and invest valuable resources if we only wanted to keep what we already have?”

More on project leadership:

What do you need when a web redesign is on the table?

I spend a lot of time with people who care about college and university websites. We talk on the phone, on Google Hangouts, or on campus during visits. I talk with people representing what happens in a day in the life of a university — the admissions dean, a web programmer, a professor, a fundraiser, a president. Still, in my two years working at mStoner, I have not heard anyone say, “Susan, just tell us what we need to do. We have unlimited funds and unlimited staff so we can do it all.”

Communication options are driven by strategic priorities. You can’t do it all so you have to make choices. When you choose to relaunch your current website, what should you think about? What do you need when a web redesign is on the table?

To avoid writing a novella instead of a blog post, I’ll be narrowing my perspective as I answer this question. I’ll focus on the internal resources you’ll need, using two categories — the must haves and the nice to haves. My answer assumes that some flavor of web and/or communications team is in place, allowing me to highlight roles you may not have considered.

Must Haves
In my view, these are the must haves; the people most critical to the success of a campus-wide web redesign project:

A project manager.
One individual has to be accountable for the project. Typically, the project manager will manage the full range of tasks and be the link between the core project team and a project advisory committee or external partner/vendor. You need an individual who is positioned senior enough on the organizational chart to have credibility and respect on campus, but junior enough that he/she will dig in and help get the work done.

An internal communications specialist.

People pay attention to campus web redesign projects. Almost everyone is an “expert” with opinions, suggestions, and ideas about the institutional website. The best way to maintain momentum and get useful feedback from internal stakeholders is to keep them updated and informed. An internal communications specialist will emphasize project goals, and manage the feedback loop and expectations about the project. Use the communication tool that suits your campus best: a project website, a blog, email, a portal, etc. Remember: if you don’t tell people what’s going on, they will make up their own version of reality to fill the void.

An information architect.

First and foremost, the web is about content. Someone really, really good at IA can make sure that what people expect to find on your site is in the location where they expect to find it. An information architect understands how to organize information in a visitor-centric way. Without this expertise, the IA of a college/university website often ends up looking like an organizational chart.

A writer.

Speaking of content, you need someone who can write some stuff. No matter how beautiful or whiz bang your site is, you need authentic, compelling, and engaging content. The web is a storytelling platform and your effective communication with target audiences relies on copy. Nearly everyone I talk to underestimates the talent and time required for writing. Hire a professional.

An executive sponsor.

The job of the executive sponsor is to ‘have the back’ of the project manager and to take the heat. There will be roadblocks and disagreement about what’s best. Use the executive sponsor to send the message about project goals and demonstrate trust in those who are responsible for the redesign. Even the best project managers occasionally need someone to bring down the hammer or tilt the windmills on their behalf.

Nice to Haves
When the good guys are winning, someone offers you additional resources. If you can make it happen, here are the nice to haves during a website redesign project:

A campus photographer.
Images are content and web designs rely on high impact, large format photography for storytelling. New photos are needed in abundance for a relaunch and for a newly-launched website. Refresh the photography regularly; it’s surprising how quickly a photo is outdated. A tree gets cut down in front of an iconic building, a new building opens, hairstyles change. A regular influx of new photos supports a seasonal or thematic approach to your content strategy (e.g., start of classes, homecoming, snow!, fundraising).

Some student workers.
A web redesign project includes many, many routine and tedious tasks. Student workers can get a lot done, especially since they don’t have to go to meetings and answer email. They can migrate content, build out the IA in a new CMS, or upload photography. Student workers allow you to extend your team and they get some great work experience.

A digital evangelist.

Too many universities focus on the technology around a website. Here’s where we have something to learn from the newspaper industry: the web needs content, every day. A digital evangelist will direct the strategic vision for a cohesive web presence and provide the editorial approach for developing content, integrating social media, and keeping it all on message.

BONUS: A conference room you control.
If your website redesign doesn’t include a million meetings, focus groups, planning workshops, and brainstorming sessions, you’re probably not doing it right. Having a space that your project team controls is convenient and less stressful! Shared space where the team can come together leads to better communication.

Good luck if you are planning for, or midstream on, a website redesign. Here are a few other posts from my past about getting started and staying focused on the right stuff:

[This post first appeared as a guest post on Chris Syme’s blog.]