LavaCon Session: Liz Herman on Change, Leadership & Content Strategy

Jumping into a Leadership-Focused Content Strategy with Four Left Feet

LavaCon-Session-leadership-focusedCSPresenter: Liz Herman, PhD (Twitter: @dr_herman)


More than once I have attended a presentation where the speaker describes a thorny technical implementation that seems to have proceeded without any serious hitches and to the general acclaim of all, almost as if a superhero made it all happen. This is wonderful when it occurs, but many of us have much more experience with messy implementations that may not go quite right and require continuous effort to manage the political and human aspects of the systemic changes.

Liz Herman began her session with how she was brought in to a non-profit research organization in the Washington, DC area to develop a content strategy. Her mandate was to institute widespread change in the form of a content strategy. Liz has a long set of educational and practical accomplishments in the fields of content strategy, project management, and related topics, with a base in technical communication. I really appreciate when someone can discuss a situation in painfully honest detail, even at the possible expense of losing superhero status. Rarely, I suspect, does being a superhero work well in an institutional setting.

Liz used Rahel Bailie’s definition of content strategy (from the Language of Content Strategy).

The analysis and planning to define a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the whole content lifecycle.

Although content strategy can also have other meanings, the focus with this definition is on the development of a system.

Liz moved halfway across the US to take this job, juggling the chaos of moving with the chaos of a new and challenging position. She showed a before and after picture of her bedroom stacked with boxes and then a serene room in good order. I found this very human; we do not glide in on angel wings, but have to deal with numerous practical and personal realities when we do our work, particularly when starting a new position (and that includes being asked for one’s weight in a semi-public setting when getting one`s new identification badge!).

The immediate challenge that Liz faced: come up with a content strategy quickly at an organization that had never had one, before having thorough grasp of the organization’s processes or the trust of long-term members of the organization.  She started with a kickoff meeting, she set up a series of regular team meetings to work out what to do, and she set up a decision matrix. The organization made the decision to use SharePoint to implement the new content strategy. So, in order to make this content strategy work, there had to be a clear leader, everyone needed to understand what was happening and why, and there had to be a good user experience in order for the team to accept the new system.

Liz made clear that the process was not easy, in fact, the content strategy is still a work in progress. Along the way she has implemented some basics, such as templates, dedicated repositories, tagged content, standard processes, version control, and repurposing of content. (Liz described these as basic, but I know that actually getting these key elements in place and working is anything but basic!)

What I took to heart most from this presentation is that intensive immersion and planning and consultation, all involving a lot of hard work, are instrumental to developing an institutional content strategy. Managing interpersonal relationships and recognizing when change can feel threatening to employees is very important too. Her approach, presenting the very real, very messy process with the total lack of grandstanding, while still conveying professionalism and competence, made the super-heroic seem possible.



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