Over the years as a writer and now a marketer, I’ve come across some downright silly corporate content creation problems. Many of the issues have people at the center of them.
Here are my 7 simple solutions for content problems:
1. Don’t micromanage!
There’s something about content creation that attracts a micromanager like a moth to a flame. People, micromanagement in particular, rank high in some of the content creation problems I’ve seen in the past.
Micromanagement is a reprehensible trait only topped by a manager who steals the ideas of their employees and passes them off as their own. It’s a trait that destroys productivity, project schedules, and damages content quality and the credibility of the content team.
Getting past micromanagement can be tricky. Content creators such as technical writers have to go with the flow because they don’t have the political juice to fight off the person. My opening bet is to just try to work around the person. If that doesn’t work, I save off my draft in a separate file and let them do their thing on another version. Looking back over my career, I’ve seen some content publishing opportunities get squandered because of micromanagers sabotaging the project.
It shouldn’t be on the content creator to manage their way through micromanagement. Organizations need to set their bars higher for middle management. It can no longer be about the prettiest PowerPoint slides or who talks the most. Don’t just speak about autonomy as part of your culture. Police your middle managers. Pay attention to their group’s processes beyond what the micromanager tells you. If your organization hires managers from the outside, then include the team members in the interview cycle.
2. Don’t tolerate participation trophies
The kissing cousin of micromanagement is the participation trophy. These are the people on projects that just sort of tag along, talk a good game, keep talking, make big promises, blow their deadlines, make noise, and criticize every small thing that’s wrong. However, these people portray themselves as “firefighters” and every other sort of corporate hero or heroine to the managers above them. Think of the people you’ve worked within the past who showed up for the project kickoff meeting, disappeared, and then showed up at the end of the project to stake their own credit for the work the team did.
Participation trophies are a distraction to the people doing the work. While sometimes a participation trophy might amuse you or even come up with an insightful idea or two, they are never worth the drag on a content project.
The chief way to manage participation trophies is to remember that there’s such a thing as a one-person job. Ask the writers on the project if they need help. Give them that help. They don’t need somebody tagging along. I know what I speak about because I’ve had to work with these people in the past and they always left me with the feeling that I had just done somebody else’s homework for them.
3. Know what you don’t know
It’s OK to not know everything. It is. Not knowing becomes an issue when the lack of knowledge and dare I say confidence impedes content creation. This can take many forms. An example is a manager who may not be knowledgeable on a topic hijacks a review cycle, leaving only more mistakes in the copy than were in the final draft. To add insult to injury, any additions they make to the content are things they parrot from an industry analyst who you feel is overestimated.
I used to work with a cloud team where the director had a refreshing attitude. He recognized that the cloud was moving too fast for any one person to know it all. Sounds great, right? The kicker was everybody on the team had to know their parts — and know them well — because collaboration was integral to the team culture.
Knowing what you don’t know has to come down from the highest levels of leadership. Establishing a know what you don’t know culture starts from the top down.
4. Remember that publishing content is a straight line
Content publishing is a straight line is something I’m fond of saying. Micromanagers and participation trophies work to sow drama with unnecessary revisions and rewrites for making themselves look better in the eyes of the management above them, not you.
When I’m laying out a publishing workflow, I try to keep things simple. There are no rewards for making things more complicated than they need to be. Publishing workflows — at their heart — need to be self-managing. Tools such as Asana and Trello can help teams create checklists and workflows that translate into processes that non-writers such as stakeholders can understand and follow without interrupting the content creators.
5. More writing, less talking
More than once over the past few years I’ve had the concern that some work cultures reward the person who talks the most, rather than the person who does the actual work gets ahead.
I once worked in an environment where the same meetings would happen. I suspected that was the case for a while. It wasn’t until I reached for a notebook while I was on a conference call to write some notes. Notes of a near similar meeting stared me right in the face. The meeting had happened three months prior.
Talking about work too much is a cultural failing. The remedy is to keep your project teams lean.
6. Define Done for your content
The concept of “done” has many meanings in software development and many more definitions in content development. There’s nothing more aggravating than a micromanager or somebody who wants a participation trophy to stir up the drama and rush in to rewrite a document that doesn’t require it because it’s almost done.
A rewrite of a document for the sake of a rewrite damages productivity and project delivery. Give your product marketing people, solution architects, and writers space to focus on content creation. Be professional. Treat their work with dignity. Strive to create an organizational culture where employees can focus on their work from ideation to final delivery.
7. Define collaboration
Collaboration is a joint work effort between project team members or so someone once taught me as a young technical writer. Over the years, I’ve worked in places where collaboration took on different meanings. There was a “work session” where I did work and the other attendees just watched. Then there was the definition where a manager hijacked the document, ran it in many directions, except for the direction that ended in a technically accurate and quality document.
If you detect a pattern here, you’re correct. People are all too common cause of publishing problems. You can only begin to resolve those challenges by creating a publishing culture and making sure that everybody from vice president down to the most junior content creator. Publishing content also needs to be seen as part of the business. The first step is to tie content to serving your current and prospective customers through outreach, education, and as sales enablement for your customer-facing teams.
Will Kelly is a technical marketing manager for a container security startup. His career includes time spent as a technical writer working on client projects for commercial and public sector clients. Will’s articles about DevOps and cloud have been published by TechTarget, InfoQ, InfoWorld, and Opensource.com. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.