We go further – and we move more smoothly – when we’re in alignment
Ask any quarterback about throwing the ball. See that spiral? It’s the most efficient and effective way to throw far. Why? Because the ball is aligned on its axis. It’s in alignment with its own trajectory.
We may not be football players, but we are interested in spirals. (Go Redblacks! Go Packers!)
Alignment makes it possible for organizations to be efficient and creative at the same time. In fact, alignment is a necessity in the days of limited resources on the one hand, and almost limitless competition for people’s digital attention on the other.
When we bring our people together, all the departments (or teams, or committees, or working groups) know what they’re doing and what their role or function is.
Easier said than done?
Actually, fostering collaboration is pretty simple: Start by recognizing that your organization’s various teams or departments are interconnected – even moreso now in the “digital age.” Aligning your strategies is a lot more straightforward in an organization where the culture has stayed human and where there is community.
At a basic level, aligning your digital strategies is about working together and complementing each other’s work. I don’t mean telling folks how awesome their work is (of course, that is a good thing too, and contributes to building a positive and supportive workplace).
Digital strategies are like a car engine. They work best when they’re in sync. You know, like pistons and cylinders all firing together. An essential goal of alignment is to cross-publish your content in a fluid, informed way. To do that, departments need to connect, share purpose and establish a culture of mutual collaboration and planning.
All the teams – education, research, organizing, communications – connected. All the teams, integrated and collaborating at the strategy level – not just the operational level, but the strategy level. This means the organizational priorities, timelines and goals are mutually set and shared – and that each team sees the value of all the others.
How do you make this happen? It will differ for every organization, for every different organizational culture. This is where content strategy can really help – help clarify the work, and how teams can work together, and how best results can be achieved.
Any organizational content strategy will include some key items:
- A content life-cycle – the cradle-to-cradle arc which describes how digital content is created, gets published, gets promoted, gets housed, gets retired, and, one fine day, gets repurposed to live again.
- A content calendar – the product of an ongoing discussion about organizational publishing dates and timelines. This is a living process where different teams and departments come together to map out their respective content horizons.
- The art of content repurposing – where content can be tweaked, reshaped, reimagined and decontextualized to fit a new kind of program or initiative. Where our digital wheels are not reinvented but set in motion, in sync and in synergy.
Bottom line: Different departments or teams have different parts to play but they’re singing from the same song sheet, as it were. Folks might play different instruments, but they’re all in the same band – so they’d best harmonize.
People can hear the difference.
Sharing digital is where the rubber hits the road. Start your engines!
THE CHALLENGE: GETTING EVERYONE TO SHARE DIGITAL
It’s easy to stall here. Sharing digital is one of the stickiest places to navigate the brave new world of digital change. Departments that once ruled the communications airwaves (literally) are now being asked to share the stage.
Think of the fine folks in communications, marketing, public relations, fundraising – chances are they are the digital leaders in your organization. Now along comes a bunch of upstarts, like education, research, member services, even “back office” teams like administration and finance – all of them using digital tools in new ways to teach, inform, connect and support. All of them jostling for digital respect, sometimes with sharpened elbows…sometimes with ideas of their own…
This sharing of digital is perhaps the biggest challenge many groups will face when trying to come into alignment. Some departments see it as their sole terrain without properly acknowledging that digital has changed the rules of the game.
The challenging reality today is that everyone is a communicator – or at least in a position to communicate. This is new. And everyone is an educator, in the sense that they are all one click away from engaging and connecting with your members or the public. The challenge now is to make those clicks count.
4 KEYS FOR ALIGNING YOUR DIGITAL STRATEGIES
Key #1 – Silos are counter-conversational
Start by connecting your organization’s internal silos – or at least introducing them to each other. Silos hinder collaboration, efficiency and productivity. They divide your people, and keep them competing within distinct departments isolated from each other by turf, influence and history. Silos are weird, and counter-conversational. Silos suck.
When it comes to digital production, bridging your silos starts with your people. If they publish to the web, or produce digital content like email newsletters or videos, then they need to be in touch with each other – even if what they do at your organization is, seemingly, completely different.
Remember, digital has blurred the lines between what different “departments” do. That’s why it’s vital to clarify and maintain roles and responsibilities. When we do this, people know what they’re respsonsible for and can undertake their work with confidence. Silos frustrate innovation, thwart cooperation and block holistic solutions at an organizational level – precisely the kinds of solutions that the world needs.
Our groups don’t have the wiggle room to let communications, organizing, education, research and others do their own thing. We don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise. And we certainly don’t have the time.
Internal organizational communication and collaboration is the key. If in doubt, ask the workers. They’ll tell you what’s going on.
KEY #2 – YOU ARE A PUBLISHER
Recognize this amazing digital truth: You are not just an organization anymore. You are a publisher.
This one blows everything up. You don’t just have a website. You are a publisher. You don’t just have social media profiles. You are a publisher. You aren’t just a union local. You are a digital publisher of your own story. Tell it well.
If you’re a publisher, be a good one. The world needs your story.
If this is the “information age” – and let’s roll with that notion, for now – then successful organizations will figure out how to create, manage and publish useful information for their members or constituents on an ongoing basis. Of course, social-mission organizations don’t just create “information” for the sake of it – they create and communicate information that leads to deeper learning and action.
Meaning: useful organizations today embody information turned into action. Otherwise, what are we doing?
KEY #3 – USE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Assess your technology – do the tools and platform “get you there?”
These are exciting – and often confusing – times for organizations moving into digital. The vast array of tech options, tools, platforms, channels can be dizzying and intimidating. But part of “carpe digital” is the “carpe” part – seize – so it’s up to us to grab the terms of our engagement with digital.
That can mean taking a hard look at the constellation of digital platforms and tools you are already using and deciding if they serve your purpose and your goals. Chances are, if your organization is anything like many, you have one platform for your website, one for your email list, one for a learning management system, one for your internal database or customer relationship management software, one for general productivity – plus you likely have multiple social media channels, and so on.
New platforms, offering a range of new tools and options that you never knew you needed, seem to come onto the market with every passing day. And they can be tempting, very tempting.
This platform promises a one-stop-shop for building community and organizing. This platform offers a robust learning management system for effective online teaching and learning. This platform makes it easy to publish and promote digital content to the web. And so on.
How do we choose?
We choose by aligning our people, our purpose and our goals – and going from there. We choose by using a tool like The Content Spiral, which invites us to align our purpose, goals and strategies before deciding on tools and platforms.
Today’s technological choices have implications for every department, role and responsibility. The outcome we want is the one that serves our collective ability to tell our story and build our community – tasks that are everyone’s purview in the new digital age.
KEY #4 – ALIGNING STRATEGIES IS ABOUT ORGANIZATIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
I’m not suggesting that every department gives up its own identity and get everyone together in a helpless blob to produce everything by committee. Oh no. In fact, there’s a little known 8th layer of hell where everyone is stuck in a meeting forever, writing copy in a group. Trust me. (With apologies to Dante.)
Aligning strategies is about aligning our different departments’ purposes and coming together to form a whole. We can’t do that unless each department is clear about its role and mandate – and takes responsibility for delivering on that mandate – in community and partnership.
This makes the most of our resources – and of digital.
At the operational level, we share digital by creating content that can be adapted to suit various purposes, exploiting one of the best aspects of digital.
For example, the material your communications or research team has created for raising awareness on an issue can be tweaked and incorporated as a resource in your online or digital learning program. The content can be refined into social media posts and repurposed into your email newsletter. It can be revised into shorter versions and form the basis of a series of blog posts.
In fact, any department can create different kinds of content to connect with its members, using web content, videos, slideshows, podcasts, blog posts – all based on the awesome research report.
But none of that can happen if your people aren’t collaborating in good spirit.
Joining the paradigm of conversation means telling your story in different ways, to different audiences, for different reasons. First of all, it’s got to be a good story – well done, research team! – that people want or need to hear.
ARE WE ALIGNED? QUESTIONS FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION
Here are some questions to ask of your group:
- Are we aligned across departments (committees, teams, working groups)?
- Are our teams aligned internally?
- Are we aligned temporally? It’s one thing to have cylinders, but it’s another if they’re firing in unison.
- Are we aligned at the level of content creation and production?
- And finally, is our content aligned with our purpose, goals and strategies?
BENEFITS OF ALIGNING
All this is meant to get a conversation started. How do you get aligned? It will differ for every organization, but one thing is for sure: Your different departments need to be in collaboration more than they need to be in isolation.
Aligning your strategies is vital to publishing digital content across your organization. It helps your teams work together, maximizes your resources and builds an overall more coherent digital presence. Aligning is where creativity meets efficiency – and gets along.