Making Content Governance Stick

Making content governance stick

To benefit from a governance program, you need to ensure that people adhere to your policies and procedures. How can you make sure everyone is following your policies and processes correctly?

Michael AndrewsPublished on Apr 8, 2021

Your governance might veer off course for many reasons, such as people losing focus, staff turnover, or the emergence of new initiatives that don’t get integrated into existing processes. Organizational changes, such as reorganizations or acquisitions, can also disrupt governance practices. 

Making governance stick involves knowing how your governance program can drift off course and how to get it back on. You can apply oversight in three main areas:

  1. Managing potential risks
  2. Preventing errors before they happen
  3. Troubleshooting problems

Identifying and managing the risks

What factors might derail your governance program? You need to know what might get in the way of your governance goals. If you don’t set up your governance correctly, it will be hard for staff to follow. 

Identify sources of risks such as:

  • Poor training relating to governance
  • Uneven oversight of governance
  • Unnecessary complexity in governance policies or procedures
  • Weak executive commitment to governance as a priority

Evaluate each risk and decide how best to remove it. For example, unnecessary complexity can arise when presenting authors with open-ended directions, such as “Provide a good description of your images”, or asking questions that rely on subjective judgment, for example, “Will the audience understand this?” Instead, change the instructions so they are easier for authors to follow. Ask simple, closed questions with a verifiable yes/no answer about the action to take.

Everyone who works with content should understand the consequences of not following standards. They should recognize the legal, reputational, and financial risks that can arise when governance isn’t followed. Those leading content operations have a responsibility to communicate these risks clearly. Provide specific examples, citing the costs, bad publicity, or the jeopardy posed to important initiatives. Stories about past mistakes made can be a powerful tool to make the consequences tangible. 

For example, a failure to follow content maintenance procedures could spark multiple risks. Out-of-date content could be mistakenly republished, which could cause confusion for customers and even trigger formal complaints from regulators that could result in a fine or other sanction. In a different scenario, the failure to archive previously published content could create a legal liability if there’s a need to retain previous content for a specified period.

To build support for governance, the content leadership team should routinely communicate the goals and benefits of the governance program, emphasizing the efficiency that’s possible when everyone follows consistent practices. 

Controls: preventing errors

An essential step to improve governance is making sure the right people with the right understanding and authority are working on the right tasks.

Carefully define which staff can access content or perform tasks. Organize the content into collections based on who needs to use it and set permissions appropriately.

Make access conditional on appropriate training relating to governance. Employees shouldn’t be given access or expected to do activities if they haven’t received training that provides a clear explanation of what their responsibilities are.

In addition to access controls, enterprises can institute policy and process checks in their operations. 

Policy checks will ensure that policies are followed correctly. Some of these checks can be automated. Tools can check if the copy complies with the style guide, accessibility markup is missing, or whether links are broken. Automated tools can flag many errors that might otherwise be overlooked.

When policy checks can’t be automated, checklists can support the consistent review of activities. Your content operations can learn from the work practices of pilots and surgeons, two occupations requiring extensive technical expertise. Both these professions rely on checklists to remove the risks of errors in their work. Pilots, for example, use a segmented “preflight checklist” to remind themselves of essential checks that must be performed. Checklists may seem pedestrian, but they’ve proven to increase operational reliability in many domains. 

Process checkpoints provide guardrails that can prevent errors from happening. Setting up the right review workflows will ensure that necessary checks happen. These checkpoints should specify:

  • Who to involve, based on their responsibilities and expertise
  • What they need to check
  • What criteria to apply when reviewing activities

For situations that require closer scrutiny, you can include more than one reviewer, inviting comments and suggestions from several perspectives.

Another good practice is to have people cross-check each other’s work. 

Finally, when using external contractors, you should have adequate oversight in place to ensure outsourced activities are done correctly.

Troubleshooting problems

Content leaders responsible for the governance program should know if their policies and procedures are being followed consistently. If you don’t monitor your governance, a big problem could build up. Check in to see how governance is being received in different parts of the organization. Ask how things are going on other teams.

Leaders in charge of governance should be prepared to remedy problems once they’re discovered. 

When people aren’t following governance policies or procedures, it’s important to diagnose the underlying causes. In many cases, lapses will be unintentional, such as a lack of awareness or readiness by certain teams. But in some cases, a lack of adherence may signify resistance to governance, such as not considering it a priority or disagreeing with a policy or procedure. 

Unintentional problems can be straightforward to fix once the source of the problem is understood. Focus on any resource gaps that may be blocking adherence. Some suggested tactics are:

  • Doing usability testing of your governance documentation to verify that staff understands it clearly and finds it easy to use.
  • Offering different forms of training to increase awareness and understanding, such as videos, lunch-and-learn sessions, or governance-focused roadshows.
  • Providing channels where staff can ask questions and get answers.

If you encounter pushback to your governance program, it may indicate that a crucial enterprise stakeholder has not signed on to the goals or obligations of governance. Those responsible for the governance program will need to understand why that is. For example, a group within the enterprise may not have felt adequately represented in the governance development process. 

Such problems highlight the value of getting everyone affected by governance to participate in the decision-making process. Various organizational stakeholders have constructive perspectives to contribute. And they should understand how they depend on the content leadership team to provide them with a sound foundation for publishing content. 

Written by

Michael Andrews

I’m Content Strategy Evangelist at I appreciate the value of great content. My mission is to help others produce the best content they can.

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