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Digital Governance: The Secret to Your Success

Here is the real stuff of digital communications nightmares: projects stalling out, decisions going in circles, efforts wasted, being responsible for everything. The answer to this very real anxiety is digital governance planning.

In our 22 years of experience working with mission-driven organizations, one of the biggest indicators of project and organizational success comes down to how the team makes decisions. At first glance, it may seem impossible to shift processes and paradigms  so deeply ingrained in your organization, but if you are looking to snuff out these very real project nightmares, this will be one of the single most impactful things your organization can do.

What is Digital Governance?

Digital governance planning is the process by which your organization intentionally defines how it manages its digital presence. This includes articulating the rules, norms, and actions the work will follow, along with how each of them are sustained, regulated, and held accountable. 

Signs your digital governance needs work 

If you are seeing a lot of churn — a lot of wasted time, money, and effort as well as increased internal frustrations — then it is likely time to take a hard look at your digital governance.  Specific symptoms include:

  • Decisions are frequently overturned, forgotten, or left unenforced
  • You are unsure who is responsible for what
  • You are responsible for everything
  • There are too many cooks in the kitchen or designs are done by committee
  • Timelines are constantly slipping
  • Projects are picked up and put back down repeatedly (or stalled out)
  • Your policies are not documented
  • You have high staff turnover 
  • Workflows and approvals vary a great deal
  • Outcomes are low quality or you experience frequent incidents

To learn more about  the signs and symptoms of governance issues, check out Josh Tong’s blog post, “Key components of digital governance in organizations.” It’s an excellent introduction to what digital governance is, why it matters, and the key elements to any such plan.

How to improve your digital governance

If you are experiencing these symptoms, the good news is that you can do something about it. In some cases, small, iterative adjustments can make a difference over time.  However, taking a bigger step back and (re)defining this as an organization is the only definitive way to execute deeper and stronger changes to really make a difference. Here are some first steps that you can take towards this deeper realignment

1. Define roles and responsibilities: Be clear about who will be involved in defining and optimizing the governance plan over time.  A RACI matrix is a great way to do this. Recruiting a senior sponsor for the initiative can also be extremely valuable.

In putting together your team, consider the different roles and perspectives needed to actually do your digital work. Cross-functional collaboration is key to a successful digital strategy, and the best way to build buy-in is for people to be involved from the get-go.  That said, you will also want to keep the core team small — six people at most even if you are a large organization — in order for the initiative to be successful.

2. Audit your current state-of-play: Gather your existing policies, procedures, team structure(s), roles and responsibilities, and other structures.  For each, look at pain points, gaps, strengths, constraints, conflicting pressures, and information flows. Also consider the culture of each relevant part of your organization, how you will know what is working or not (feedback cycles), etc.  

In addition to the procedures and structures that officially exists, be sure to compare to how things are actually working. Differences will always exist between official and actual practices, and that’s okay; however, it is necessary to know what differences exist to determine which are healthy and which are symptoms of deeper issues.  

3. Develop your new digital governance plan: Taking into consideration what you have learned, your organization’s digital goals and strategy, as well as current industry standards, write out what your policies, procedures, team structures, and other aspects of your digital governance will be. Make sure to consider the range of web properties (e.g., websites and social media accounts) and types of work (e.g., design, tech, security, and others) involved.

4. Roll out the plan and define Change Management: A plan does not implement itself, nor does it remain unchanged upon contact with reality.  In order for the governance plan to be adopted, you will want to roll it out in a very intentional way. You should also expect the plan to change over time as your organization does.  

In planning the roll out for your new digital governance plan, answer the following questions:

  • Who needs to be made aware of coming changes and when? What is the best channel for these announcements? Who should it come from in order to be best received?
  • How can you best create buy-in? Is it through trainings, mentorship, and/or other strategies?
  • How will you ensure your full organization and stakeholders are heard? And that they feel heard? What feedback channels should be available during the rollout and after the rollout to (a) get useful feedback, (b) build confidence/understanding, and (c) help create buy-in?
  • When will the plan first be reviewed and revised? How often will this happen?

Set your new governance wheels in motion

It will take some time and discipline to take root, but with a clear, shared understanding of how decisions will be made and how work is done, your organization can move more efficiently and effectively towards your goals.  Having a defined digital governance plan to refer back to and live by means less potential for frustration or conflict, less churn and waste, and more ability to focus on making a real contribution to your organization’s mission. 

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