Part 2, Leadership: Content Strategy and your ISO 9001 system

In this article, you will learn how the leadership of the organisation in ISO 9001:2015 maps to your content strategy framework, and why it’s important.

Did you miss Part 1? You can read that here.

Leadership is a big deal in ISO 9001:2015. And rightly so. When leaders aren’t involved, engaged, and driving any kind of change — especially one where the outcome is customer experience-​oriented — then it’s all going to fall in a heap.

The ISO 9001:2015 Standard’s section on Leadership (Section 5) contains a number of parts. Each one of them is relevant to your organisation’s content strategy. What you and I will do is walk through them in order, so you can understand how your content strategy works alongside your ISO 9001 system.

If you don’t currently have an ISO 9001 system, then read this anyway. Think about whether or not your leadership is as engaged as it could be. It might be possible that an ISO 9001:2015 framework could bring you to the next level, even if you don’t go and get certified.

What’s in this article

Here’s the landscape. We are going to look at:

  • Leadership and commitment
  • Customer focus
  • Internal policy
  • Accountability.

These are all core concepts of content strategy work. Many content strategists (it’s not just us pixies, it’s the entire field) will bore you to tears about executive involvement, accountability, customer focus, and internal tools.

The context of leadership

Thinking about executive involvement is for a good reason. Every executive worth his or her salt knows that leadership is critical to the good functioning of an organisation. Every self-​reflective business owner knows that how they lead has a massive impact on their outcomes.

Business and strategic literature overflows with this stuff. There is a risk that you will to approach it thinking, yes yes leadership is important, without understanding why.

Leaders set the tone for the organisation. If your leaders aren’t engaged in the process, it won’t get supported. When leaders don’t support workplace activities, your teams will feel it. When they know they’re not supported, they stop caring. And when they stop caring, things go wrong. When things go wrong, you start bleeding money. Ultimately, people panic and then make even worse decisions. Yikes.

If you really give a shit about making your company awesome, the first place you have to look hard at is your leadership. It’s why many of the great companies — before they become great — spend time seeing if the right people are in the right roles. Very often, leaders stick around without really deserving to stay.

Leadership and commitment in ISO 9001:2015 and content strategy

In an ISO 9001:2015 system, the leaders have to be able to demonstrate their commitment and leadership with respect to the quality system. Demonstration requires evidence of some kind. In the same way, if you are serious about integrating content and communication into your 21st century company, your leaders need to demonstrate commitment and leadership with respect to the content strategy and its direction. All of the points in ISO 9001:2015 subsection 5.1.1 are relevant here. They encompass the fact that leaders must:

  • take accountability for the effectiveness of the strategy
  • make sure that there are clear policies, objectives, and measures
  • make sure it’s resourced effectively
  • promote the integration of the strategy into other business processes
  • promote improvement of the strategy
  • promote risk-​based thinking and experimentation
  • contribute to the content strategy in a meaningful way: Directing, supporting, and engaging people
  • support other management roles to demonstrate their leadership too.

You can’t just tack on content strategy and have it work

Content strategy isn’t something that you just tack onto your business as a marketing piece. It’s a critical part of how your company communicates in the course of its core business. When your leaders are engaged, supportive, and committed to improvement, then your teams will follow suit. If you want suggestions from those who deal with your customers day in and day out, then you need to build a culture that supports it.

[Tweet “You can’t just tack on strategic work.” via @brutalpixie]

This is why ISO 9001:2015 includes customer focus. You may remember this article where we wrote about how to calculate the customer focus of your website. This focus is critical in all content strategy work. People care more about themselves than they do about you, so if you talk about yourself they will switch off.

It’s the same effect you see at dinner parties when one person just talks about himself and finds a way to do so no matter the topic. Boring!

Where customer focus of content strategy maps to ISO 9001:2015 is in the notion that your most senior executive (called ‘top management’ in the Standard) ensure that everything is focused on making the customer experience paramount.

This means:

  • complying with requirements and legislation
  • identifying and addressing any risks or opportunities that affect your ability to enhance customer satisfaction
  • maintaining and improving customer satisfaction levels.

What isn’t addressed here is measurement. Improvement is itself a measure, for which you need a benchmark. The Standard does address measurement, but not under Leadership specifically. We will come to it in future articles.

As a real example, let’s imagine that you’re building a new website. If you are committed to customer focus in this way, it means that you will:

  • make sure it’s accessible, so you meet requirements under the Discrimination Act
  • that any changes are tested through rounds of user testing, and that you have measures indicating that changes enhance customer satisfaction and don’t decrease it
  • that you regularly test and measure customer satisfaction on the site, and always look for ways to improve it.

Enhancement requires measures

This idea of continuous testing, measuring and adjusting is an iterative process in content strategy. The top-​most management — which might be your board, for example — is responsible for making sure that all your content work drives enhancements. This is realistically the only thing that is consistently going to improve the customer experience. And if you already have ISO 9001 certification, then any content strategist you engage needs to understand what this means in relation to whatever they create for you.

Internal policy

The third element of leadership in ISO 9001:2015 is policy. People hate the idea of policy and documents and manuals. The truth is, policy provides a framework for setting objectives. It is your yardstick against which you can see that the work supports your strategic direction.

When you take the time to document these things, it gives some clarity to the activities that you pursue. It also gives your team — and even your customers — the ability to see whether you keep your promises. If you are not committed to continuous improvement, but your policy says you are, then we have a problem, Jack.

Make the policy available, communicate it, refer to it. Your leaders are the people who represent the direction of your organisation, so they need to make sure that all interested parties understand your content strategy’s place.

[Tweet “Your leaders are responsible for making sure people know your content strategy’s place.” via @brutalpixie]

Accountability (our favourite thing)

The final element of Leadership in ISO 9001:2015 is one with which content strategists can find themselves having trouble. It’s accountability. We love it, because when the lines of accountability are right, everything works so much more smoothly.

The Standard asks your management to make sure that responsibilities and authorities are established, communicated, and understood. Any content strategy likewise has moving parts that require the same thing.

What does this mean? It means that the leadership needs to:

  • make sure that the content strategy meets any standards that might apply, or that you have documented in-​house
  • make sure that the activities people engage in are creating what they are supposed to create
  • report on performance of the strategy, and on ways it can be improved
  • promote the customer focus of the strategy
  • make sure that the integrity of the system is maintained if any parts of it change.

Some of these are very deep issues, and some content strategists may argue that they are properly not their field. Realistically, if you define a content strategy that supports the business, and a year later you go through a restructure, then the lines of accountability and responsibility may change. The leaders in your organisation, especially if you have a centralised responsibility model for content management, are responsible (and accountable) for making sure that the system still functions as intended despite the change.

ISO 9001:2015 raises important issues for content strategists

There are a lot of elements to this kind of thinking. It’s all top-​heavy thinking, and top-​heavy work. But — and I write from experience here — if the leadership in an organisation doesn’t get it, then you either waste time, or money, or both. It’s very rare that functional content strategy is well developed or maintained when the leaders aren’t engaged.

By going back to an existing, tested and validated framework like ISO 9001:2015, you find yourself with a structure that you don’t have to imagine. It shows your content strategist how they can help businesses to create a culture where content and communication is considered important, and then know how to support it effectively.

[Tweet “In any content project, engagement with leadership is critical.” via @brutalpixie]

In any content project, engagement with leadership is critical. It’s the difference between bringing in an intranet because it seems like the right thing to do, and really understanding how an intranet will enhance customer satisfaction. Any content and communication work that you do is in service of both your strategic direction and your customers. The two are not mutually exclusive; and ISO 9001:2015 gives you a way to bring them together and create outstanding experiences for everyone involved.

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