Enterprises need a decision-making process to develop their standards for working with content. Getting the right participation in developing these standards is crucial to their success.
Michael AndrewsPublished on May 4, 2021
Enterprise content governance plays two different but complementary roles:
- Maintaining consistency in enterprise content operations
- Managing change by introducing new practices and promoting their adoption
Aligning various stakeholders around common priorities is essential to achieve consistency and promote change. Everyone concerned must agree to the same goals and follow the same practices.
The formal approach to governance decision-making goes by different names: the governance model, the governance framework, or the governance structure.
How governance differs from operations
Stakeholders should understand how enterprise content governance differs from day-to-day operations management, especially as they sometimes get confused.
A content operations team will often have one person who is in charge of the team’s work. But enterprise content governance is a collective responsibility: no single person is in charge. It requires the collaboration of peers working together to develop and agree to common standards.
Governance provides high-level direction for the content operations of many teams.
Content operations can vary widely in how they are structured. The tasks performed in content operations could be allocated where:
- One central team does everything related to creating and publishing content (centralized operations)
- Multiple teams independently manage their content (decentralized operations)
- A central team handles specialized tasks only while other teams develop the bulk of the content (hybrid operations)
Centralized operations are appealing to smaller organizations because all tasks are done by a single team, which can be easier to coordinate. But for global enterprises, having a single team do everything isn’t a viable approach due to the volume and diversity of content they produce.
Large enterprises typically have a central team that will handle “shared services” relating to content administration support. Some large enterprises also have a central editorial team (or an “in-house agency”) that provides content creation services or a central team of UX writers who work with UX and development teams to support enterprise-wide apps. But these content teams will normally be just one of several groups producing content within the organization. While the central team(s) play an outsized role, the bulk of the content production is done by teams within different divisions of the organization.
Big enterprises most often choose a hybrid content operations model, having both a central team and many “local” content teams that belong to different business units (lines of business, functions, or subsidiaries). Because accountability for business outcomes is distributed among different units, the production of content supporting those outcomes needs to be as well. Various business units and functions will have their own responsibilities and goals and are accountable for specific outcomes. For example, different marketing groups may produce similar content but work independently and are accountable only for their work.
Hybrid operations are common because it’s not effective to have those creating content to be separated from the business teams who depend on the content to realize their business objectives.
Hybrid content operations rely on hub-and-spoke coordination between a central team and local teams within business units. Local teams often do certain tasks differently. They will follow their own workflows, track their own KPIs, and decide their own content calendars.
The enterprise should allow local teams to make the choices that are particular to their situation while at the same time promote the adoption of common approaches where they make sense. They need to strike the right balance. Content governance should account for the diverse needs and circumstances of local teams when developing enterprise standards.
The operations documentation each local team uses will reflect their specific practices. The enterprise standards, in contrast, are used by all content teams. They provide the basic set of instructions relating to content, upon which each team can add its own operational documentation. The relationship between enterprise standards and local operation documentation is summarized in the table below.
|Enterprise governance standards||Local content operations documentation|
|A unified set of standards for the entire enterprise||Assorted set of practices for a specific team or business unit|
|Uniform everywhere in the enterprise||Can vary according to the requirements of different groups|
|Decided by a central governance committee||Decided by various team leads|
|Specifies formally-approved enterprise operational standards||Procedures and practices aren’t endorsed by the governance committee|
|Reflects market-leading practices that must be adopted by everyone or minimal thresholds that must be met||Reflects decisions by team or business unit on what works best for them|
|Only covers areas where the same standards will be followed by everyone||Can document a broader range of practices, advice, and tactics|
|Applicable for shared processes (handled centrally) and common processes (handled identically)||Applicable for unique processes|
Defining what should be common
The governance program will develop common principles, standard processes, and generic procedures that should be used uniformly across the enterprise.
The purpose of governance is not to make all operations uniform, however. Governance doesn’t define all aspects of content operations since individual teams will sometimes have different requirements and goals. Different groups within the enterprise can and should define their own procedures and practices for work that’s unique to them. As noted earlier, different business units may adopt their own KPIs to measure their content. At times, these local team practices may resemble governance. But they don’t have the wide scope of application or formal authority associated with enterprise-wide governance.
Enterprise governance focuses on the “non-negotiables”: standards that are required for internal or external reasons or the practices that are considered best-in-class and that should be followed by everyone. Content administration settings, such as enterprise content models and user groups, are also centrally defined and implemented.
Team operational practices, in contrast, can be tailored to specific situations and will affect a smaller number of people than governance standards. Content operations documentation may be revised continuously as specific teams experiment and learn, unlike governance standards, which are generally stable and revised only after extensive discussion. Yet sometimes the practices of individual teams can become more widely applicable. Governance development can learn from the choices that different teams make on how they do their work.
Governance discussions foster coordination among teams belonging to different business units. In hybrid content operations, these local teams interact with a central team for specific tasks already. A governance program offers a platform for these different local teams so they can collaborate directly with each other to define common standards all can benefit from. Different business units can discuss common needs in how they manage content. They can offload the burden of deciding on their own how to optimally do certain tasks. Having common standards helps streamline their work and makes each team more autonomous by removing the need to coordinate routine decisions with central teams.
Enterprise governance provides high-level oversight of content operations across the enterprise. It shouldn’t address overly complex details that aren’t widely relevant. If the solution can’t be generalized easily, then it’s probably not yet a good candidate for becoming a governance standard.
Your governance model
Everyone who works with content is affected by content standards. But governance doesn’t specify everything in your content operations, and not everyone in your content operations needs to be involved with defining governance standards—only a select group of representatives should participate in establishing these standards.
Governance standards are decided by an executive committee, which is supported by specialized working groups.
Executive steering committee
The group that’s responsible for deciding governance standards is called the governance committee or board. It determines the standards the enterprise needs and ensures they are being followed.
The committee meets regularly (perhaps quarterly) to decide priorities and endorse standards. It’s commonly composed of around ten representatives from different roles and business units in the enterprise, who will review and vote on all official governance decisions. These participants should represent the range of concerns that different areas of the enterprise will have relating to content.
The governance committee is supported by working groups, each of which will focus on a specific policy and process. The working groups will meet according to what needs to be done. When drafting a new policy or substantially revising one, a group might meet biweekly. Otherwise, it might have a semiannual check-in.
Unlike the governance committee with its comprehensive focus, each working group will be composed of a handful of specialists (perhaps three to six), some of whom may not need to participate in every meeting. Most working group contributors will be involved because of their expertise in a particular area. They may work within the content team of a specific business unit or work in a non-content role such as IT or UX that collaborates with content teams. In some cases, a member of the governance committee will participate in a working group, and some knowledgeable people might serve on more than one working group.
One of the working groups should focus on governance implementation issues. This implementation working group will do some of the staff-level legwork that’s necessary to support the governance committee. It can:
- Follow up on how policies and procedures are being understood and used within the organization, perhaps by conducting surveys.
- Provide publicity to governance activities and oversee the development of educational resources.
- Look at gaps and opportunities in governance to propose to the committee, possibly by doing feasibility and comparative research.
Another working group should be dedicated to content administration, which influences content operations in wide-ranging ways. Some content administration settings can support the person-to-person coordination associated with governance-defined processes and procedures.
Who to include on the governance committee and working groups
As the authority for setting enterprise standards relating to content, the governance committee needs to reflect a range of stakeholder perspectives to develop the most robust standards possible and gain buy-in from the whole organization.
Representatives participating in the governance process should be chosen based on:
- Their affiliation: the business unit they belong to
- Their job role: the expertise and responsibilities they have
First, consider the affiliation of representatives. If the enterprise’s content product is distributed across different locations, the members of the governance committee should not all work at corporate headquarters. The membership shouldn’t duplicate the representation of the central content team who won’t have direct knowledge of frontline operational demands or business concerns.
Aim for a blended representation that taps into expertise from outside of the central team. Valuable expertise is often distributed throughout the organization. Subject matter experts who normally support specific business unit initiatives may be able to contribute some of their time to enterprise-wide work. Get a mix of representatives from your central content team and content teams from business units for both your governance committee and working groups.
Next, think about the mix of roles participating in governance. Your committee will need representation from three broad categories of stakeholders:
- Functional executives who are accountable for business objectives that depend on content
- Operational managers who have oversight of content tasks that will be affected by governance
- Invited advisors such as legal or compliance officer who have specialized expertise or responsibilities but aren’t concerned with all governance topics but should be consulted for certain issues
The executive sponsor should work in a senior role that extensively depends on content to realize their business objectives. While they are not a content specialist, they have a strong interest in the success of content operations. They interact with other executives in the enterprise to evangelize on behalf of content governance initiatives. They, or their designee, will be chair of the committee.
The participants in both the committee and working groups should include functional roles that are responsible for products and services using content. Such representatives will come from business units such as customer service, marketing, or product management. Depending on the enterprise’s scope of content, participants might include representatives from partnerships, human resources, or retail operations.
Representatives working in functional roles will be informed about larger issues facing the enterprise that are useful to consider when setting governance priorities:
- Corporate responsibilities as they relate to governance
- Business challenges and corporate priorities
- Forthcoming industry changes
For working groups especially, include participants from operational roles that are directly working with content (content managers, editors, content strategists, content designers) as well as non-content roles involved with content such as IT, social media, SEO, UX, or brand.
Another useful role is a designated legal representative that will review compliance-related standards. Having and following precise governance standards will reduce legal review time.
Governance committee responsibilities
The governance committee is accountable for how well enterprise content is governed and for ensuring that all published content supports the reputation and business priorities of the enterprise as a whole. It acts as an arbiter in any disagreements about what content standards the enterprise should follow.
The committee provides oversight of the working groups that will handle much of the specific work. It also reports to executive stakeholders on their progress and will advocate for the governance program to secure required resources and cooperation.
The committee is responsible for:
- Deciding on thematic focus areas to develop standards
- Approving governance proposals
- Monitoring governance progress
- Reporting on governance outcomes
The committee will ratify decisions either by voting or by consensus. But for some decisions, certain members may have the final say about the policies or processes directly related to their area of responsibility. Different committee members may have specific accountabilities, for example, acting as liaisons with other enterprise functions or units to get input or concurrence. How decisions and responsibilities are decided will depend on the enterprise’s existing organizational culture and process.
Governance isn’t a once-and-done project. It needs to be a permanent program that’s ongoing and that will evolve. Some organizations draft a charter for the governance committee that formalizes its purpose, authority, and functions. This way, the existence of the governance committee is independent of the person currently serving as executive sponsor. The committee should continue functioning without interruption regardless of organizational or personal changes.
The committee should designate an individual responsible for organizational support for meetings, including minutes, announcements, schedule coordination, and invitations.
Governance requires an organizational structure to happen. We’ve outlined a generic model that draws on common practices in large enterprises. Adapt it to meet your enterprise’s specific situation.