Why you need clear roles and responsibilities to deliver effective content

A conductor leads a symphony orchestra
There are usually lots of people involved in delivering content within an organization. This results in different priorities, conflicting agendas, and struggles for ownership.

A guest article by Robert Mills

Robert Mills is Head of Content at GatherContent.

When there are too many opinions on the purpose, the content delivered is ineffective. With ambiguity on who’s responsible for each task, there’s a lack of accountability. This also means content operations aren’t efficient.

Having clear roles and responsibilities can help with optimizing processes. One outcome of this is the quality of content. As Blaine Kyllo said in his webinar, How to use RACI charts to improve your content operation:

Content that is effective and has an impact results from the efforts of many people, each with their own area of expertise.

Organizing those people can be challenging. In this article, I’ll share some risks of not having clear roles and responsibilities. I’ll also offer key considerations when assigning roles and responsibilities.

Risks of not having clear roles and responsibilities

When the people involved in delivering content aren’t clear on what they need to do, two main issues arise:

  • Gaps in responsibilities – some tasks aren’t completed and bottlenecks happen
  • Overlap in responsibilities – resulting in duplication of work and wasted effort

Deadlines aren’t met when bottlenecks happen and this can delay the content. A bottleneck can be a sign of other issues, such as unrealistic workloads or a gap in skills and resources.

A response to bottlenecks is rushing content or publishing the current version. Quality and compliance become compromised for time (and budgets).

If responsibilities overlap, there can be different versions of the content created. Which version to publish can become political. Plus it’s frustrating for the unnecessary time spent on the content for someone.

Overlap in roles is just as risky. If there are six people involved in content but three of those are tasked with ‘approval’, that’s a problem. Who of the three has the final say?

Good communication is a cornerstone for productivity

There need to be foundations in place for people to be comfortable speaking up when issues arise. Same goes for giving and receiving feedback, or if uncomfortable conversations are necessary. Even with clear roles and responsibilities, there still needs to be good communication.

Lack of clear roles breeds confusion and stress

Feeling confused is never nice. It can be frustrating and demotivating when you’re not clear on what you need to do, when, and why. This means starting off in the wrong direction or lacking enthusiasm. This makes for a stressful environment, which again, nobody likes.

Clear roles are a fundamental part of purposeful content operations

There are often lots of people involved in content, such as:

  • marketing teams
  • subject matter experts
  • legal and compliance
  • various stakeholders
  • design and UX

When this is the case, a lack of clarity means being efficient and effective is challenging. Adding to often already difficult situations and circumstances such as silos.

Whilst clear roles and responsibilities won’t solve everything, they can help in delivering effective content.

Benefits of having clear roles and responsibilities

I once gave a talk at HighEdWeb about connecting silos in your institution for efficient ContentOps and effective content. In that talk, I listed a few reasons why having clearly defined roles and responsibilities across your content team is important:

  • clear and understood roles are important when content isn’t someone’s actual job (think an academic who is a subject matter expert)
  • clarity of roles is essential when people are siloed
  • clear roles make it easier for people to do their allocated tasks

As a result of the above, benefits include:

  • fewer revisions of content and therefore,
  • faster approval of content
  • less wasted time
  • agreement on who needs to do what

Clear roles and responsibilities keep the focus on the content, goal, and task. It removes the distractions of trying to find out who is doing what and what status content is at.

Key considerations when assigning roles and responsibilities

When it comes to organizing your own content team around roles, responsibilities and tasks, here are some key points to keep in mind:

Effort will vary

The approach and effort to assign roles and responsibilities will depend on the number of people involved. The more people, the more effort required. This is important for allowing enough time to plan upfront and be able to communicate the roles and responsibilities before any work is started. You may need to allocate more or less time each occasion you organize your team.

Different ways of communicating

There are different ways that you’ll need to communicate. Some people will need to be involved more heavily in the decision-making around roles and responsibilities. Others will only need to know what they need to do and when. Workshops, emails, intranets, meetings — communicate in a way that will best engage each stakeholder. When designing the workflow that connects all of these roles and tasks, you may want to involve people in that tool.

Involve people with purpose

Every person involved in the workflow has to serve a purpose. It’s inefficient to include people because they asked, or because they’ve always been involved. They must have a clear role with related tasks and responsibilities. This could result in some difficult conversations.

Don’t focus on job titles

Job titles often don’t represent the role and tasks that people do. They can be subjective, misleading and downplay the scope of a person’s responsibilities. Rather than focusing on job titles, put the emphasis on the roles and responsibilities.

Be specific when assigning tasks

Not only do people need to be clear on their role in the team, but they also need clarity on what tasks they need to do in that role. Be as specific as possible, without seeming patronizing, to help them get the job done. For example, if you’re asking someone to review content, let them know what they are reviewing for. It could be accuracy, compliance, brand identity, voice and tone, or spelling and grammar.

Manage expectations with due dates

A key part of roles and workflow is setting realistic due dates for work. This helps to manage the ‘when’ aspect of expectations whereas the roles and responsibilities address the ‘what.’

By assigning roles and responsibilities you’ll also get a sense of people’s workloads, which also feeds into expectations about what is realistic.

Better for your content team, and better content as a result

Having clarity on who is involved in content, how they fit together, what needs to be done, when, and how, will make for an aligned team. It’s also motivating for the team which allows them to be focused and productive. The outcome of all this? Better content, for the audience and for the organization.

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