Good news for web professionals: we’ve hit the big time. There’s nobody worth listening to who still thinks that the rise of the internet is a passing fad, that the web is just another channel, or that its influence on our companies, governments, and social lives isn’t revolutionary.
But our organizations are still set up like none of that has happened. Pre-web processes, job descriptions, culture, attitudes—corporate denial. It’s 1994 all over again.
The impending crisis
Here’s the problem. The disconnection between the way organizations operate and the web’s revolutionary changes is getting so big that it’s causing a crisis. Most organizations still don’t have the basics of web strategy, governance, execution, and measurement covered. Ten years ago that was a competitive disadvantage. Today it’s a set of chronic risks: strategic, financial, regulatory, and legal.
Which is where you come in.
Web governance is nobody’s job, so make it yours
Today, web professionals face a stark choice.
We can keep our heads down while watching this slow-motion train crash from the comfort of our official job descriptions, perhaps taking some perverse pleasure in the fact that we told people this would happen, and they ignored us. This is the way to make ourselves replaceable, outsource-able, fireable—not to mention depressed. The best possible outcome is that someone else decides to take the lead, but a long, painful decline is more likely. This route doesn’t require any courage, but it’s reckless all the same. As Christine Pierpoint puts it, “be careful of what you wish for”.
The alternative is to acknowledge that establishing web governance is nobody’s job, and instead of whining about it, make it our own. That means stepping outside of our comfort zones and job descriptions, speaking up against the status quo, and leading. Scary stuff.
What Seth Godin taught me about web governance
If that makes you think it might be time to leave the web profession and transition to something safer, stay with me for a moment. This problem isn’t exclusive to our profession.
We have gone from two teams (management and labour) to a third team, the linchpins.
Godin’s linchpin is an indispensable person: an artist, someone who exerts emotional labour to overcome the resistance, who challenges the status quo, who pursues human connection, who makes change by leading and shipping.
We’re living through a period of massive cultural change, and the rise of the web is at the center of it. Organizations need linchpins in order to survive, because they need to change how they operate to fit the realities of the changing world. And when it comes to the web, most organizations have been trying to ignore change for so long that they’re suffering from a serious case of denial.
So if you’re convinced by Godin–and you should be, he makes a strong case–it’s not just web people who face a stark choice. Every professional in the Western world is in a similar situation: if you don’t lead your organization by becoming an agent of change, you’ll become a replaceable cog.
How to talk so management will listen
So what does being a linchpin have to do with web governance, and how can we apply it in practice? Stop whining and start leading.
We’ve all done it: whining about how difficult it is to do our jobs, how nobody appreciates us, how colleagues don’t understand what we do, how our jobs are made impossible by organizational culture. It’s almost standard practice for web professionals. The problem is, whining is the perfect way to get management to write off our concerns as the obsessive-compulsive ranting of geeks with poor interpersonal skills and no understanding of business objectives. We can do better.
When we whine and complain, we’re effectively asking others to give us permission to make the changes we need to do our jobs properly. That permission will never come.
The only way out is to stop waiting for permission, and to start leading. This isn’t technically complex, but it takes courage: the willingness to leave our comfort zones, face our own fear of confronting the status quo, and overcome our resistance to shipping. It also takes a lot of messy interpersonal work: advocacy, facilitation, diplomacy, pragmatism, and patience. This is what Godin calls “emotional labour”. Like it or not, these are the key skills of the modern web professional.
If we want to talk so management will listen, we need to sell to their pain. What risks is the organization taking by ignoring web governance problems? What opportunities is it missing? How could overcoming the challenges we’re facing as web professionals improve the organization’s future prospects, or its competitiveness?
Get out of your comfort zone: ship web governance
This is a time of huge opportunity for web professionals. But if you want to embrace it, you need to leave your comfort zone and start shipping. Become a linchpin, an agent of change, and a web governance advocate. Your organization needs you.
Note: For a longer take on web governance, check out my recent article in A List Apart.