Kimberly Hedges

Most projects start with the need to address a deficit, and redesigning a website is no exception.

Your current website may not be serving your visitor’s needs, the content might read like a brochure or look dated, the layout of the site may make it hard to find the best content you have to offer, or maybe the design looks like it was built back when we still used DOS. (Well, maybe not that bad, but you know the feeling.) There is just no denying that your website could be doing more.

When addressing a known deficit, you would think that getting buy-in and support for your project to address that deficit would be a breeze. (Everyone agrees on the problem, so everyone should agree on the solution, right?)

However, big deficits come with big needs.

One part of my job as Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Technology for Americans for the Arts is to fulfill those needs by garnering support across all levels of the organization.

To completely overhaul your organization’s website, you’ll need quite a bit: a good understanding of what’s not working with your current website (and how you can fix those problems to best serve the needs of your audience), quality content delivered from across all departments in your organization, expertise to address technological needs, and a healthy budget to make it all happen.

All of a sudden, your desire to fix a deficit has just created the need for a lot of resources and collaboration to be focused in one direction, away from other things that are just as important to your organization.

So how do you get the buy-in you need to launch any large project–even though it will take valuable time and resources away from other projects?

And once you have that buy-in, how do you convert it into a dynamic collaboration among all the stakeholders that should be involved to bring about the best success?

Have a Clear Vision

It’s so temping to just jump in and get started on that smart new web design, but if you haven’t taken the time to clearly define what you want to accomplish and how you’ll measure your success, you’re not ready to begin.

The six members of our web redesign team spent the first 4-5 months of the project doing research – we discussed our goals, gathered statistics and user feedback, defined our audience and their diverse needs, reviewed technological needs, defined key stakeholders to engage to make the project a success, etc. (Read more about this in our blog post dedicated to first steps.)

With that information, we wrote a 60-page Vision Document – all before we hired a designer or developer, or presented anything formal to staff about the project. (We talk more about key documents, vendor selection, and the design process later in this blog salon.) By getting clear on the scope of our project and why we were embarking on this work, we were able to better articulate our vision – and that inspired people and made them want to join in the process. It allowed them to climb into our heads and see the future of the project through our eyes.

Get Your Executive Team’s Buy-in Early in the Project

Since most budget allocations and decisions about prioritized organizational projects come from your Executive Director, it’s key to have his or her support. Once we had a good bit of detail in our Vision Document, we instituted regular meetings with our Executive team early in the project to guarantee that we had their support and to have time to integrate their point-of-view into the overall vision.

Mara Walker, our Chief Operating Officer, commented that she “appreciated our style of sharing points along the way, giving the executive office the opportunity to voice opinions and creating an atmosphere of trust. Due to our transparency and our eagerness to share reasons behind choices, we got endorsement from the Executive team, even when there were points we didn’t agree on completely. It was our team’s willingness to engage in conversation and be open to alternatives that gave the Executive team the confidence to know that if any major concerns were raised, we were going to address them.”

Be Ready and Open to Hear and Process Criticisms to Ensure the Best Outcomes

Nothing kills buy-in quicker than taking a defensive stance.

Visions beg to be shared, and they only grow when you invite others into collaborate. As you begin to share your vision, remember that the website you manage isn’t you – so separate your ego from your work. You have to be open to hear critics of your most prized work if you want to improve and grow.

Mara Walker remembered that “the web team didn’t get defensive when criticisms were raised, but instead saw them as an opportunity to dig deeper for possible better solutions. They never said they had all the answers.”

After sharing our new website concepts with staff for the first time-which had already taken a lot of work to create–we knew the project would benefit from our willingness to take a step back and incorporate that feedback from staff. This lead to clarification and adaptation in vision that not only made the entire project stronger, but it also fostered the buy-in that we needed.

Be Respectful of the Time and Commitments You Require of Others

Part of the work to redesign and rebuild our website included looking at every piece of existing content and deciding what to create, revise, or delete. The success of this process mandated involvement from the content experts in every department of our organization, which often required that they shift their focus away from their own projects.

Some simple tenants the web team followed on a continual basis helped build healthy collaborations with content creators throughout our organization, including: listening and reassuring, acknowledging efforts, respecting time spent and expertise acquired, and articulating why their contributions were key to the success of the project. (We talk more about working with staff later in the blog salon.)

Keep People Informed

Silence creates empty space that gets filled in with assumptions-don’t let that happen to your project.

Once you’ve got everyone’s buy-in and they are invested in the project’s success, send regular e-mails letting everyone know how things are progressing. Hold regular meetings to allow for dialogue, and actually show the project’s progress. Take time to do informal check-ins and visit one-on-one with key staff to see if they have any concerns they’d like to share in confidence.

And, finally, never miss an opportunity to show your gratitude for their contributions and collaborative spirit.

One Response to “Getting Buy-In for Your Website Redesign”

  1. Ryan Atkins says:

    This all sounded so familiar. It was a longitudinal process and a labor of love, but a rewarding one for me and, I hope, for all of the content experts and staff involved. What a great end result is all I have to say!

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.