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All aboard – how to bring everyone with you when you redesign your charity’s website

9 June 2017

If you’re managing a website redevelopment, you need to get staff on board with the project right from the start. They have insights and expertise you need, and involving them throughout will reduce the risk of launch day grumbles.

However, engaging your staff team can be a challenge. Whether your colleagues are reluctant, indifferent, or wildly enthusiastic it’s worth investing time and energy to get everybody on the same page, and deal with any misgivings early on.

What’s the problem?

Every organisation is different, and every project. But there are common challenges which can throw a spanner in the works if you don’t address them. Here are some of the complaints I’ve heard while working on website projects over the years:

Do we need to update the whole website? Could we just stick a new homepage on the front?

These colleagues are sceptical about the need for a new website, and may look for ways to reduce the scope of the project or cut corners.

Great. Let me know when it launches.

Staff may be completely indifferent, seeing no connection between the website and their area of work and having no interest in contributing to it.

But I don’t like it!

Colleagues often have very strong opinions about what they want and don’t want to see on the new site, and will brook no argument from you, the digital professional running the project.

Why is [another area of work] above my department in the menu?

Staff with differing priorities can make the new homepage into a battleground.

I suppose you’ll want me to start ‘twittering’ next?

Some colleagues may be resistant to changing the charity’s ways of working or even refuse to accept that there is a need to.

My nephew whipped up a Weebly website in no time, I’ve given him your email address so he can pass on a few tips.

Colleagues misunderstand the aims, scope or complexity of the project and offer well-meaning but unhelpful suggestions.

“Oh, I don’t know anything about all these gizmos and wotsits, don’t ask me!”

Staff are probably feeling nervous about lacking digital skills and knowledge and worried they may get something wrong.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

What’s the real issue?

If you find that your colleagues are unclear about the purpose of the project or reluctant to get involved, the first step is to try and understand their concerns and motivations. Often there’s something more behind their reaction.

  • Lack of knowledge and understanding. About digital (this is a big issue for the sector), about communications in general, or about your skills and expertise.
  • Fear. Of change, of more work, of being shown up or criticised, fear of the organisation losing money, fear of redundancy… All valid concerns that need to be handled sensitively.
  • Opportunism. Website projects create new opportunities for people to advance towards their goals. You need to understand everyone’s agenda and see where you can work with them.
  • Frustration. Perhaps people have had a bad experience on a previous project, or they feel they’re not being listened to, or they just wish things were moving more quickly.

How to tackle these challenges and handle difficult customers

Once you understand where your colleagues are coming from, you’ll have a much better sense of how to bring them on board and which tactics to use.

  • Show how the website project aligns with the overall strategy and will help your charity achieve its goals. It should be part of the organisational plan and reflected in individual workplans too.
  • Get a senior staff member on side, preferably the CEO. You need someone who you can escalate any problems to, and who can act as an ambassador for the project at a senior level. Digital leadership isn’t only your responsibility.
  • Make it relevant. Show that you understand their objectives and work with them to identify how changes to the website can help to achieve them.
  • Involve people early in a structured way. Use individual interviews or team discussions, a cross department working group, a staff survey, and activities such as creating user personas, identifying user needs, or a card sorting exercise.
  • Listen, and make sure people feel heard. In a group session, ask staff to write down their fears or concerns about the project on post it notes. Then ask them to write down their hopes, and what makes them feel excited about the project. Stick them up on the wall and discuss them together.
  • Gather your evidence. You’re making decisions about the new website based on analytics data, user research, and existing standards of best practice (right?) so share this with your colleagues and be prepared to make your case.
  • Always take time to explain. This builds your colleagues’ understanding and their confidence in you, and makes them more likely to ask for and listen to your advice.
  • Show progress. Keep the momentum going by sharing regular updates at team meetings, on your intranet, or through a development blog. Be honest about the challenges, stay positive, and celebrate milestones.
  • Give people the opportunity to learn. Invest in training, deliver skills workshops, Q&A sessions, or lunchtime talks. For more ideas and resources look at NCVO’s digital workforce toolkit.
  • Manage expectations. Get people excited about the potential of digital but don’t promise them the moon on a stick. There will be tough decisions to be made.

And finally, when you go live have an internal celebration to share your success and thank everyone for their contributions: cake always brings people together.

Sarah Jackson

communications consultant and copywriter, freelance

Sarah Jackson (aka Kestrel Copy) is a freelance communications consultant and copywriter with 10 years’ experience managing digital projects for charities.