Until 20 or so years ago, natural barriers made us think twice about publishing information from or about an organization — processes, gatekeepers and other organizational speed bumps. 

These barriers slowed us down and provided some semblance of order. Something as simple as sending out a press release, printing a brochure or even creating ad copy often required lengthy planning cycles and multiple rounds of approval signatures.

The internet changed all of that. 

Today, just about anybody can slap something online with nary a speed bump in sight. From social media to user-generated content, we can blow right past those organizational barriers and controls.

Sounds a little risky, doesn’t it? 

On the other hand ....

A Good Problem to Have

The digital world also supplied businesses with unprecedented opportunity. From new markets to new channels for getting our messages across, stretching our wings and pushing our limits is easier than ever before.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us with something that falls under the category of “a good problem to have.” We need to reinstitute some of the former controls while still taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by the universal access of the digital age.

The answer is a system of policies and standards that delineates when, why and how your organization participates in the digital world. It includes both policies — a term that refers to identifying the golden rules of digital — as well as standards, a term that refers to the details of how things get done. 

In a nutshell, policies are digital guardrails, and standards are production rules.

Benefits and Challenges of Strong Digital Policies

A strong set of digital policies and standards provides a primary benefit: it allows you to capitalize on the opportunities presented by your company’s digital presence while minimizing the risks. But that’s something that few people other than C-suite executives and corporate attorneys care about. 

On a day-to-day basis, strong digital policies and standards prevent the creative process from getting glommed up with asking permission, getting authorization and tackling any other decision-making process that should have already been completed. After all, getting work done is a lot easier if you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel.

But despite the benefits, quite a few challenges arise, the primary one being that it’s just not human nature for people to get excited at the thought of additional rules they have to follow. In fact, human nature suggests you’re likely to be met with quite a bit of resistance.

Digital Policies and Standards, Meet Change Management

To reduce the likelihood and intensity of this resistance, we turn to some documented best practices for change management. Let’s take a look at those in the context of digital policies and standards.

1. Don’t Assume Authority to Develop Policies and Standards

While your skills and experience might make you the best person for the job, there’s one more critical thing you need: support from above. Policy and standard creation requires delegated authority from organizational leaders — and that authority has to be clearly and repeatedly communicated. 

Without executive backing, any attempt to regulate how people do their jobs will fail miserably. It’s OK to request the authority, but don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse.

2. Cultivate the Right Attitude

Nobody likes a playground monitor who’s constantly reminding everyone who’s in charge. 

Digital governance requires servant leadership, not authoritarianism. Make it clear your role is to protect the business and to make workers’ jobs easier, not harder.

Learning Opportunities

3. Do Your Homework

One of the biggest causes of resistance to change is when those creating the change clearly have no idea how the job is done. 

You can’t create digital policies and standards in a vacuum — you have to understand how the people who will be affected do their jobs as well as why they do them that way. You also have to include the subject matter experts who will be involved in implementing your policies and standards. That’s the only way to gain trust and credibility.

4. Keep it Practical

Never create a policy or standard just because you can or because you think you should. Every policy and standard should have a reason, and that reason should be easily grasped by the people affected. 

Practicality also means making sure you make compliance as easy as possible — through tools, checklists, wizards, etc. — as well as having a way to inspect, evaluate and measure compliance and a process for correcting any problems. 

5. Don’t Grant Exceptions

As soon as you start allowing policy or standards exceptions, the policy loses its teeth. If the policy or standard is right, focus on how to overcome any legitimate obstacles to compliance. 

When it comes to existing content, build compliance into your processes. You don’t necessarily have to go and evaluate every piece of content you’ve ever created, but when you revisit content for other reasons, check for compliance, too.

6. Communicate, Educate and Listen

Next to developing the right policies and standards, this factor will probably have the biggest influence on your success. From the C-suite to the mailroom, everyone involved with digital needs to know the changes you’re making, why they’re being made, how you will implement them, and how compliance will be measured and, when necessary, remediated. 

Finally, don’t immediately shut down someone who says, “But that won’t work ….” Listen and determine whether the objection is valid.

7. Remember: Digital Policies and Standards Are Living Things

Digital governance is an iterative process. You’ll get some things wrong and will need to adjust. Technology will change. Regulations will change. Company strategy may change. 

For the digital policies and standards you worked so hard on to remain relevant, establish a list of triggers for reviewing and updating them as well as a plan for making any needed changes.

Just Part of Doing Work

Digital policies and standards are important, but their effectiveness only goes as far as their acceptance and implementation. Use these tips to help ensure your digital policies and standards become part of your company’s day-to-day business processes. 

Editor's Note: Need additional help with the policies and standards at your organization? Join Kristina Podnar’s workshop, Choreographing Creativity: Deliver Great CX through Digital Standards, at DX Summit 2017 taking place Nov. 13 to 15 in Chicago.

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