You’d be forgiven for thinking my employer doesn’t have a blog. It (and the website it’s a part of) haven’t been updated in a while, and while the content is interesting, it’s a little wooden and sparsely published, to the tune of an article or two per year in past years, and none this year.
“Thought leadership” is a line item on every director’s or VP’s job description, and we’re told it is important. The suggested ways to demonstrate thought leadership are by the blog, giving conference talks, and by participating in standards committees (useful for our edtech products and clientele). A very few people are in position to participate in the standards committees, and the rest of us are not holding up our end.
You’ll probably see why, looking at our posts. Their length and production value is fairly high, with illustrations and pull quotes and tight editing to reflect the company voice and tone. They fit into a fairly narrow band of design and development process and technique, with some loftier edtech concepts and product announcements rounding out the list. And I’m told they take weeks to produce and go through a fairly strict approvals process.
At some point soon I’ll be on the hook for a revised “thought leadership strategy,” an assignment I made up and gave myself because I don’t find this situation satisfying, and because I think that our ethos of continuous improvement leads us to experiment with techniques, tools, and process all the time so we are always learning. And we’re not just learning about edtech standards or design and development technique; we’re operating on team processes, people management, equity and inclusion, social responsibility, accessibility and usability, research and discovery, client management, pattern-oriented design, staff development. We are chewing on every part of the business we are in. So chances are we have lots to say. And we’d like to put not just a human face, but real human faces on our work and the portrayal of our company.
The past manner of producing blog posts looks to me like a series of expensive hurdles between a person who is eager to share something they’ve learned or realized or succeeded at and a far-off blog post that’s going to be enough work to squelch the impulse. But perhaps we can overturn these hurdles. Maybe we can “what if” them away.
What would it be like if we didn’t have an extensive approvals process? What if instead we had guidelines, and helped people to comply with them when they were not? That would probably be easier for everyone, and we could update the guidelines as we learned from the process.
What would it be like if, instead of tightly editing each post to fit into the company voice and tone, we let the voice of the author shine through? We could edit for clarity and basic grammar and be done with it. The voice would be the person’s, the tone would be appropriate to the material (and we may have some weighty topics to discuss; no need to force everything to be technical or lighthearted), and the people will see their own expression, personality, and esteem in the posts they produce.
What would it be like if, instead of having to present news (we launched!) or a fully-fledged method or conclusion, we were to talk about things we were trying to do, or learning about, or experimenting with? We might not feel so called to present a federal case about a technique we had chosen and then feel stuck with it.
What would it be like if we opened up the allowable topics to cover essentially anything we were learning or experimenting with at work? Folks on my team are wresting with including a blind person into the design process, bringing content-first techniques to data-driven tools, packaging research as a product, bringing clients to rapid usability testing in the midst of short sprints, development of junior staff, and many more interesting topics. We may not always have something completely new to say about these things, but we can talk about what we are trying and, later, what happened and what we’ll try next.
What would it be like if, instead of insisting that posts be weighty, we were to allow short ones? A paragraph or two about things learned when discussing a meaty topic might be just as valuable as, and a ton easier to bang out than, a lengthier, lighthearted post about a nice result we have produced for a client.
Imagine a company where essentially any employee, not just a few in the management class, has the ability to post, and knows how to make a good post. We might have a process by which a person, inspired by a meeting or with a fresh thought about an experiment we should do, could bang out a quick post before the rush fades, and we can make up for a few high-production-value posts with a flood of smart thoughts from real people, trying hard every day, if we manage to release each of these brakes.