“Why do I have to work differently?” (podcast, part 1)
In episode 146 of The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, Alan Pringle and Christine Cuellar talk about how teams adjust when content processes change, and how you can address the question, “Why do I have to work differently?”
This is part one of a two-part podcast.
“One of these kinds of business drivers can be a merger or an acquisition. When you end up combining two companies, you can have two separate workflows. Both of them are not going to win — they’re just not. […] But again, I mean, I have a lot of sympathy for these people. A lot of times they are asking this for legitimate reasons. ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘Why am I having to do this?’ That’s when you’ve got to help them step back and look at the bigger business situation.”
— Alan Pringle
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Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we talk about how teams adjust when content processes change, and how you can address the question, “Why do I have to work differently?” This is part one of a two-part podcast.
Hi, I’m Christine Cuellar.
Alan Pringle: And I’m Alan Pringle.
CC: Alan, thanks so much for being here today. So, I want to pick your brain about this because we always talk about how people are the “why” behind technology. So, I want to specifically focus on the people and how they adjust to a change when we come in and help a company completely restructure their content operations, because of course that’s a big transition. Maybe a company’s restructuring their content operations, transitioning to a different CMS or CCMS, or implementing one for the first time. How do teams react to the dilemma of a team member saying something along the lines of, “I don’t understand why I have to change. I don’t understand why I have to work differently. I’ve been producing good content for years. Why do we have to make a change?” Where is this coming from and what’s your experience dealing with this?
AP: In the defense of that person, they may have become experts in using a particular tool, a particular process, and really gotten their use of that tool down to a fine science. They are using it to its maximum potential. So their professional identity is somewhat focused on their competence and their ability in that tool. And if someone comes in and say, “Guess what, we got to change things up,” I can understand the disconnect. “Why? I’ve been doing this well. Why?”
Well, you touched on the whys a little bit. A lot of times it can be a situation, for example, where the current content and the way it’s put together is no longer supporting the business goals of the whole company. It’s a bigger picture thing. So, people get hung up in their world and their focus on this particular little track of content and the processes and the tools, but maybe that track isn’t fitting the big picture anymore.
So that can be one reason why things need to change. And one of these kinds of business drivers can be a merger or an acquisition. When you end up combining two companies, you can have two separate workflows. Both of them are not going to win. They’re just not. That’s redundant. That can be a reason for that. But again, I mean, I have a lot of sympathy for these people. A lot of times they are asking this for legitimate reasons. Why is this happening? Why am I having to do this? That’s when you’ve got to help them step back and look at the bigger business situation.
CC: Yeah, that makes sense. How much does their role change? I mean, I know every case is different, but what could a content creator expect in their role change? Are they minor changes? Is it top to bottom, a completely different process of doing things? What does that typically look like?
AP: It really depends on the situation and how the processes are running now. Some processes may be more efficient than others. Some may need a whole lot more help to help meet those business goals. So there is that situation. There’s this entire spectrum basically you have to look at and what you kind of need to do is figure out ways of mapping how people are doing things or that mindset to the newer, more efficient content operations. Help people understand this is going to become this, that’s going to become this, and so on. So it’s almost like a content modeling exercise. It’s more of a process model matching where you are saying, “This is how you were doing it, this is how you’re going to be doing it.”
And if you can start making those connections and explaining those things without diving immediately into the tech, because a lot of times that is a huge turnoff and runs people off. Don’t jump in talking tools first.
And there have even been some times where we have gone in as an organization, a consultancy, and maybe talked a little too high up the tech scale, and we realize and course corrected and brought things back down. You can talk about things without getting too techy, too much mired into the tools upfront, and I think that helps give more of a comfort level as you start talking about change, which is a scary thing.
CC: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Actually I feel like I’ve experienced that a little bit. I know that I’m starting to use some systems on our team, not very many, not nearly as much as our other technical experts on the team, but I’ve used Oxygen a little bit, but that was only after hearing what it does, everything we say about structured content, all the benefits and the vision behind that. So I feel like that has really helped because the technical aspect of it, I mean, when I was just trying to publish my changes essentially that I know it was such a simple thing to do, but it took me forever. I had to get help from the team. So it was a technical challenge for me. But because I knew the vision behind it and the purpose of why we were using this tool and why we write it this way versus just pulling that in a Google Doc, that kind of thing, which I’m used to, that really helped.
AP: Right. No, and what you’re describing is very much you were moving more from a model of doing collaborative authoring and reviewing in a Google Doc kind of simultaneous shared editing to an XML authoring tool, which is what Oxygen is, and you were writing things more in small XML modular chunks that then we put together, remix and put together to create different things. In the case that you’re talking about, it is a book that we have out, the Content Transformation book. Now, years ago when we were doing books, we would do it more in desktop publishing. Now we’re doing it in XML. What you’re describing, that shift, is very much what you have to do, but it was on a much smaller scale because it was really just you in this case.
AP: And some organizations, you may be talking dozens of people, and imagine what you went through times 12, 24, 36 people. That’s daunting. You have to be very careful how you approach that.
CC: That totally makes sense, and I like that you tied that earlier to you have to explain that change and explain what’s happening and the purpose behind it. Speak more at a higher level first so everyone can feel comfortable with that before you move into the technology. Because I really feel like that’s also what helped set me up for success. And I would say I use that very minimally. That’s not a big part of my role. But if this is going to change the core functions of your role, I could see how people are pretty intimidated or frustrated or feeling lots of things about a massive change like this.
AP: And again, everybody’s going to have a slightly different perspective. There are going to be some people who recognize the big picture immediately and say, “I get this. I understand why we need to make this change.” Some people may have been doing something similar in another job, so they have experience with this. If you can get these people who will act as basically proponents, evangelists, I kind of hate that word, but it’s actually a pretty good fit in this case, who can get people on board, help them see that big picture when you are making this kind of shift, that’s great because it’s not just a third party, a consultant, an outsider telling you what you have to do. You have someone that you’ve worked with and that you know, saying, “Yeah, this makes sense to me. This is what we’re going to do.” And they can kind of bring people on and turn the tide and get people to understand why this change needs to happen.
CC: That’s a great point. It builds a lot of confidence when someone you know has already done the process and then it ended up being a success, or they ended up finding their way to be comfortable in their role through it. So that’s a great point. I hadn’t thought of that. In other situations where that transition as a whole has been navigated really well for the team, what do you think the key points are that set the team up for success in either changing that mindset of why do I have to change or avoiding the mindset?
AP: I mean, basically it’s good communication. That sounds so elementary and just not helpful, maybe not a good answer, but it is absolutely. You have got to go in there with this very open communication, this very open mindset. Let me lay it all out on the table for you. Let me explain everything to you. Going in there with a more dictatorial style, “This is how it’s going to be, it is this way or the highway,” good luck with that, because you’re going to need it.
CC: Yeah. No one responds well to that and you don’t have your opinions and perspective validated. And like you said at the very beginning of the podcast, this perspective of feeling frustrated with the change or overwhelmed by the change is completely valid because change is hard, and I like that you brought it back to communication. I think communication is, it’s a very, I wouldn’t say simple, but it’s a straightforward answer that may seem like a simple solution, but so many areas would be improved with communication. It’s just hard, I think, for people to communicate. So how do you as a consultant help empower good communication?
AP: There’s a very sad truth behind consultancy, and that is you can go in as a third party and say the exact same things people in-house at that company have been saying for weeks, months, and no one’s been listening to them, but you come in there and say the same thing or rephrase it a little differently and all of a sudden light bulbs go off. I know it is maddening to the employees who were screaming, “I’ve been saying this the whole time,” but that’s just life. It’s how it is.
There’s one other angle here too where I think consultants are helpful and that is helping from the perspective in figuring out the reasons people may be resisting change. The whole competency in my tool set thing we talked about early in the podcast, that’s one of them, but there’s some other, shall we say, more negative, nefarious things that a consultant can spot from a mile away generally. There are going to be some people, and only some, this is not everybody, who may have created processes or made things more difficult to basically justify their existence to make themselves look more valuable than perhaps they are. I know this sounds terrible, but I have seen it multiple times. And they have created something sort of convoluted so they can kind of make themselves the hero.
CC: The ones, yeah.
AP: They are sometimes going to try to sandbag your project to keep things from happening because they are threatened by it. That, to me, is distinctly different from the very valid, “I’m really good at this tool. This has worked well. Why are we changing?” Those are two very distinct things and I don’t want them to be conflated because they’re different, but there can be some negative things going on when you’re changing processes and you need to be aware that that reality is there.
CC: That’s a good point because I’m sure most organizations don’t expect that. You certainly don’t hope for that. So that’s a good warning flag to know. And you mentioned that as a consultant you can see it a mile away. How are some of the ways that you can see those insights more than maybe an organization?
AP: It is because we have gone in and done it so many times. How many times are you going to change processes in your career? Maybe once, maybe twice. I guess it depends on how much you float around. A consultant, though, they will do it multiple times in a year with multiple different people, sometimes concurrently. There’s this whole, basically you build all this experience and as you build it, you can hone it and use it to help other people. That’s the difference. And even if you don’t hire a consultant to come in during a time of process change, if you can hire someone or bring someone on board, maybe even as an employee, who has been through this before and can kind of act as a mini consultant in the sense they’ve been through it before, that can also be a very valuable way to help with this kind of situation.
CC: That sounds like it. So looking at management’s perspective now, whether that’s high level management or direct supervisors that are hearing this feedback, what do you recommend they do? How do you recommend they respond when they hear this kind of feedback from the team?
AP: Again, it comes to communication. You have to explain, these are the drivers for why we’re doing what we’re doing. This is why the current things don’t work anymore. I need your help to get things more in sync with where we are headed as an organization. That’s one way you can do it. And notice, I didn’t mention tech in there at all. Don’t lead with tech if you can help it. It always comes up, like I said. People who are very good at a tool, the first thing they’re going to do is say, “What tool are we going to use?” A lot of times you may not know the answer to that question when you’re getting rolling because maybe you need to assess the situation, have the consultant figure out what’s the best fit for you. So again, don’t race to the tools and don’t let people in your organization race to tools as the primary part of that conversation. It won’t end well.
CC: That’s a good point to keep in mind that people will probably want to know that, which would make sense. I mean, if I was going through that big of a change, that would probably be my first question, too.
AP: And sometimes the answer to that is I don’t know yet. We’re working on it.
CC: That makes sense. But I like the emphasis on having that transparency, having that good communication to say even if we don’t know what the tool is yet, here’s some of the reasons this change is happening. It also sounded like there may be some proactive or preventative communication that managers can have to share the vision, or maybe giving a heads-up about the change even before the process starts, just letting them know.
AP: Absolutely, before. You don’t just announce this. You don’t. This needs to be a very deliberate, thought out process. And part of that deliberate process is the communication and getting the ball rolling. Basically, it’s like a pre-project kickoff. You have got to start talking to people before you even start doing anything with the consultant or with new tools or whatever new thing. Get those communications rolling early and make them as two-way as possible. You need as a manager, a director, you need to take in feedback and kind of synthesize it and figure out what you can do to mitigate the concerns that people are having. And there’s also the idea, you’ve got to kind of filter, are these legitimate concerns, legitimate worries people are having, or is this somebody just sandbagging things because they refuse to change? You’ve got to make that call. Again, nobody wants to believe there are people in the organization who will do that, but usually there’s always at least one, unfortunately.
CC: Yeah, that’s hard. And I’m sure that’s why it’s helpful to have a third party, like you said, whether that’s a consultant or whether that’s just another employee that’s been through the process or some kind of outside voice that can help with that, that can really take the pressure off of trying to identify that that’s going on while you’re also just trying to navigate the change. Because I’m sure there’s a ton on a manager’s task load just trying to navigate the change.
AP: Right. But even so, you can’t let communications stop. That can’t be what goes away because you’re in a jam.
AP: Again, it won’t end well. Keep those communications up and running as long and as hard as you can.
CC: Yeah, that’s a good point. And we do have a lot of other podcasts and articles that touch on this subject. So if you look at our website, there’s a lot of change management articles because that’s kind of what this process is called, right, Alan? Change management is how we refer to how team members navigate the transition, but also how the logistics of the transition happen.
AP: Right. And another component of this is not just communication, it’s also training. People need to know how to use the new processes, the new tools. You can’t just put something together and say, “Have at it.” It doesn’t work like that. There are going to be best practices that are very specific to your organization and your use of that tool set. And you need to communicate those thoroughly to your staff. And training is one way to do that.
CC: Yeah. All right, I think that’s a good place to wrap up for now, but we will be continuing this discussion in our next podcast episode. So Alan, thank you so much for being here.
CC: And thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com, or check the show notes for relevant links.
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