The web professional’s choice: linchpin or cog

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

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.

In his masterpiece Linchpin, Seth Godin describes the effect
of the end of the industrial era on our organizations:

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

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.