By Wendy Richardson
Successful leadership in any organization requires a great deal of time and energy focused on setting strategy, motivating people, and driving initiatives that optimize the experience for our customers.
I didn’t “grow up” in technical communication. I held several positions across the organization—from Technical Account Management to IT Transformation Manager. So, I relied on a time-tested success strategy: I surrounded myself with the best technical writers, information architects, and technical leaders around. If you’re lucky enough to have a strong team, listen, learn, and empower them to take risks and implement innovative solutions. Develop and track meaningful metrics that demonstrate the value your team delivers, and help articulate the value of your content as an organizational asset.
As leaders, it is also our responsibility to ignite (and reignite) the team’s passion for what we do and why we do it. By providing a clear picture of the future and how your team’s future aligns to the company vision, you help your team understand the evolution of content as it progresses up your value chain, which might look something like Figure 1.
Paint a picture of the three- to five-year journey, and partner with your team on the strategy and tactics to achieve your goals.
Along your leadership journey, you’ll get advice from various sources; some tips you’ll take to heart, and others you’ll send to the round file. My five best pieces of advice are:
Lead with Passion
Your team and business partners can sense your enthusiasm for what you do. Each day, re-frame the often-asked question, “What keeps you up at night?” to “What gets you up in the morning?” I hope your answers include “to enhance the experience of my customers” and “to help my team and my organization be successful and productive.”
If not, go back to bed, and start over.
Your attitude, energy, and optimism for the future sets the tone for your team. Take the time to regularly recharge your batteries. Carve out time to stop, be silent, and reflect. Dedicate time for vigorous activity. For me, it’s a high-impact Zumba class, where I can leave all the frustration of the tough days on the dance floor. Find your outlet—and be ever-conscious of the tone you’re setting for those around you.
Empower Your Team and Get Out of the Way
Hire smart, motivated people, and let them do their thing. Micromanagement isn’t a deadly sin, but it’s pretty close. Servant leaders share power, partner with their teams to set and align the overall strategy, and paint a vision of the future.
Leaders often think we have to have all the answers—but no one does. The next time someone approaches you with a challenge, instead of prescribing a brilliant solution, first listen, then probe to see if you can lead them and partner on potential solutions. Building team expertise and collaborating on solutions ensures greater buy-in. Instead of “having all of the answers,” be approachable and willing to share advice, and foster an environment of continuous learning and exploration to keep skills sharp in the face of rapid technological change and growing customer demands.
Put on Your Marketing and Sales Hat
This applies to leaders and all technical communication employees. In every interaction, you serve as an ambassador and consultant on the most effective methods and processes of technical communication. To be clear, that doesn’t mean to start shouting from the rooftops about the criticality and “cool-factor” of your team. Successful marketing and salespeople start by listening. Gain an understanding of the top-of-mind issues and challenges of the key stakeholders in your business, like your execs and C-suite folks. Check out their blogs, read articles they’ve published, and really tune in to town hall and all-hands meetings.
If your executive team has a focus on improving the customer experience, share updates on ways you’re improving the quality and findability of content. Share your content strategy, and highlight how the content experience will be interactive and personalized to meet customer needs—and ultimately drive business value. If another exec or business partner is focused on efficiencies and reducing costs, talk about the benefits of content reuse, automated workflows, and publishing. Know your audience and tailor your message for maximum impact.
Build Your “Value Story” with Clear Data Points
If you’re authoring content in XML, share data points on content reusability, increased consistency, flexibility of output, and lower localization costs. Craft messages in the language that is meaningful to your audience—from execs to business partners to customers. Unless you understand what will “tug on their heartstrings,” how will you truly connect?
Reverse Your View
We tend to examine situations from our own perspective. Why is this important to me and my team? What do I/we need to do to succeed? What’s the benefit to my team/company?
Turn those situations around: focus on your audience. Why is this important to the customer? What does my customer need to achieve their goals? What is the benefit/value to my customer’s company?
If you examine situations from this perspective, and then come up with solutions that help make your customer successful, your success will follow.
Tech comm leaders and teams: we have the power to evolve technical communications from a silo within the organization to a critical asset by:
- Connecting customers with important products and services.
- Driving reductions in customer support calls by developing content to address commonly asked questions.
- Enabling customer engagement with online surveys, gamification, and personalized experiences.
- Driving business by providing actionable insights on usage patterns and user feedback to optimize products and services.
And those are just a few examples! As you further define on your internal (execs, other teams, etc.) and external (customers) audiences, you’ll find even more—and more specific—ways to connect your organization and value to the business!
Fellow tech comm leaders: we have an awesome responsibility. The culture of your organization is shaped by you. So take the time to align your team’s passion with your purpose, embrace challenges and discomfort as learning and growth opportunities, take time to truly reflect and listen, and show gratitude—never underestimate the power of “please” and “thank you.”
Andy Stanley said, “Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” So rally your noisy, opinionated team, and start listening!
WENDY RICHARDSON (firstname.lastname@example.org) leads the Global Technical Communications team as Senior Vice President of Customer Technical Communications for Mastercard Worldwide. Her team develops and delivers the technical information customers need to do business with Mastercard. The team is focused on improving the customer experience by delivering personalized, findable, and engaging solutions, including technical manuals, release documents, knowledge articles, and online help.