Policies are the most overlooked part of the process, even when blogging

Processes tell people what to do, but it helps for them to know how to do it.

We’re figuring out how to write again.

Over the past year we evolved a certain formula at Process Street. We were writing much more sales-oriented content; picking use-case keywords for quick conversions and tailoring the content tightly to that specific need.

By some metrics this went pretty well. But not as well as it could have gone, and there was a sense that we were becoming less interesting as a blog. So a change has occurred.

“What is in a change? That which we call an article by any other process would convert as sweet”

We’ve written lots on change management, so what interested me about this twist while assessing our processes, best practices, audits, and such was that surprisingly little actually needs to change.

Which is pretty baffling when you see on the one hand the crazy amount of documentation we have, and on the other hand this huge difference (to us) in the way we are approaching our content.

It dawned on me that the key was in the policies, not the processes.

Yes, the two are intertwined - but the policies we have which guide someone through the workflow in a linear manner have a big (intentional) hole in the middle where a writer writes an article. The main body of work operates differently, in line with the specific writer’s approach. Undocumented.

So while we have to change the instructions in the prepublish process and in our content item audit (BAMM Review), those changes are minor.

The real changes occur when instructing the writer. Instead of clear, structured, linear information, it’s the wishy-washy, baggy, subjective info which needs to be right.

“You either got or you haven’t got style”

I noticed when our newest writer, Leks, who is working on his first project, asked us for a style guide. We had a master one in the works, to pull together our various iterations - but it was put on hold recently in favor of higher priority items.

I pinged him back the following in Slack (along with directions to existing materials), in case anyone is interested:

Basically you're thinking:

  • We're 1 step more informal than what you'd expect for the chosen topic. Use it to add character to your writing and to help avoid talking down to the reader.

  • Try to reference things well, but we don't need APA necessarily - just remain consistent.

  • Things should be scannable so they're easy to digest for the reader. This means liberal use of bolding, italics, and other formatting options.

  • It also means lists should probably be bulleted or numbered.

  • Also means years and percentages and such should probably be numbered (unless maybe under 10)

  • "Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick"

  • If you can, show rather than tell.

  • Keep paragraphs short - a few sentences is probably enough. Reject your inner Kant.

  • Write what you think is most appropriate to the keyword. Don't change completely but do let that encourage you to lean one way or the other.

This is our style guide, mas o menos.

… and, blunt as it is, I realised that this is where the body of the work is occurring.

“All I have for you is a policy, in combination with a process. Tenet.”

I spend so long with my head buried in processes that I skipped over the fact that the processes are a contributor and a guide to the writer - or any skilled worker - who does the work and creates the output from their own ingenuity.

And a writers brain does not work like a process. It’s a fluid, chaotic, amorphous thing which takes shape and reshapes itself based on what it thinks and what it produces. This means it sometimes operates in strange orders or takes weird approaches.

Handing a writer effective policies performs a different purpose than giving them a process. A process can serve as a guide, but a policy is a set of tools to pick up and use. Each policy is an instrument which can produce creativity itself in an unordered fashion - you can smash a few together and find yourself with an interesting paragraph.

So my task in this period of change is not just to rewrite some processes, but to establish and tweak policies.

And I can produce more policies.

I’m giving everyone the opportunity to practice email copy in an email tournament, and practice true sales copy on a host of landing pages: workflow software, bpm software, sop software, remote work software, onboarding software, even property management software, you get the gist.

All these things can have a nice policy document prepped for them.

Nothing too long, nowt too crazy.

Enough to communicate the core information and provide the writer with a different conceptual framework to work within, and a new set of tools to use in their work.

A policy does the hard work when a process isn’t looking. It’s important not to forget them.