The 1-to-1 Relationship

Karlyn Morissette once again posts about a great topic for universities: how to solve the problems we all know exist as web people who work in the higher ed space. I agree with her views that we need to brainstorm, promote and implement solutions since we all know very well what the issues are. So, here’s my take on how to affect change through culture.

To start, I find that any higher ed site’s success, to varying degrees, is predicated upon the success of the underlying organization’s culture. Karlyn hits upon this idea, but let’s explore the idea further. A good study of contrasts is Bush versus Obama. Bush’s administration was secretive. They weren’t transparent to traditional media and certainly weren’t blogging about their grand plans or otherwise harnessing the power of the internet. Conversely, Obama, through his campaign and now in the White House, has embraced the web. It’s too early to tell how his efforts will turn out, but initial signs point toward Obama being highly transparent. Whitehouse.gov proves the fact with blogging, video, RSS, etc.- all the tools we champion. If we worked under the Bush administration, our efforts would likely have been wasted. Under Obama, however, we would likely flourish. Culture matters.

There’s an inherent connection between an organization’s website and its culture. There’s a 1-to-1 relationship in many regards. For example, if the culture is one of decentralized control (something I talk at length about at this site), it’ll most certainly be reflected in the site through a blizzard of different looking, different navigating and different functioning department level sites. The org chart dictates the website’s structure- the 1-to-1 relationship in action. If you wish to do structure your site differently than this, then you need to change the organization’s underlying “departmental think.” Therein lies the rub. How can you change the website if the culture doesn’t change with it? You might be able to achieve change at the website level, but without the commensurate change in culture, it’s likely your changes will fizzle.

So how can you make substantive change and make it stick? Begin to the 1-to-1 relationship idea with those above you. The people in upper management are smart- regardless of the stereotypes which portray them as otherwise. However, their problems and issues are, for them, larger than the web. I think the key is to show them that the web is simply a microcosm of their larger issues because of the 1-to-1 relationship. If you can convince them of that slight change in perspective, then you might get a crack at something big.

Upper management may regard the web as a cost saving tool for communications, for instance, but its insight ends there. What this scenario lacks is the ability to get management to go the necessary distance to realize that the website is a reflection of  the organization itself. If you want to utilize the web as a cost saving tool, then it needs to come with a commensurate change in culture in order to bake in those savings. You have to ask tough questions and demand answers. If we move some amount of our printed materials online to save printing and delivery costs, will print designers lose their jobs? Will the newsroom writers write fewer stories, but do so in both print and online version? Does news even have to be written by “official” writers as opposed to having an editor who reviews news written by people at large across campus? The onion layers, once peeled back, expose the true trade-offs and choices that need to be made. None of that deep thinking is expressed in “let’s save money by using the web.” Planting the seeds of this idea will begin to open people to the substantive issues at hand which in turn will lead to better understanding and willingness to lend attention and action.

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