Why do so many professional organizations treat writing as an afterthought?
These same organizations will devote endless time and resources to developing the processes, workflows, and standards needed to ensure their primary work output is the best it can be. And then writing is just something that happens however it happens.
Yet an organization’s written documents are key to persuading readers to new viewpoints, compelling desired action, educating and informing the audience, and/or making a sale and closing the deal. As we’ve written, the documents that your organization produces are its true deliverables. Yet organizations that spend years and countless dollars perfecting their other operating processes will utterly neglect their writing process.
The point here is not to bash groups for undervaluing writing. Instead, it’s to emphasize that writing processes are just as deserving of the attention and care lavished on other processes.
The Cost of Foregoing Formal, Standardized Writing Processes
First, let’s dive into why writing processes matter just as much as – if not more than! – other business processes. Without a clear and consistent writing process, every writing project turns into a haphazard, ad hoc exercise where anyone can handle the project any way they want. Organizational needs and goals end up subordinated to individual preferences.
In this situation, the organization loses its voice. Imagine a scenario where any employee within an organization can write in any style they desire, with no regard for organizational norms or best practices. One person may favor a formal tone while another opts for informality. Some writers may adhere to strict grammar rules, while others play fast and loose. The result? An organizational identity that resembles a patchwork quilt, with no cohesive narrative or branding.
Worse, actual business outcomes will suffer. Inconsistency yields unpredictability. Sometimes the writing will produce desired business results. However, other times it will fall flat, and every so often it will fail catastrophically – generating the kind of communication shipwrecks that a solid writing process could have protected against.
A Good Writing Process Drives Better Results
The evidence behind formalizing operational processes (including but not limited to writing) is staggering. Analysts at advisory firm Gartner have found that internal business process management projects yield tremendous gains, with more than 80% of enterprise organizations seeing an internal rate of return greater than 15%. Similarly, Forrester has found that process management projects can boost productivity by 30-50%.
It’s easy to imagine similar results when formalizing and managing writing processes. If nothing else, a clearly articulated writing process offers an opportunity for organizations to address and conquer specific challenges:
- Mitigate or eliminate internal resistance to writing projects.
- Prevent one person or a small number of people from dominating the kind or quality of content.
- Prevent misalignment between individual writers or teams and the organization as a whole.
- Ensure that processes are optimized to facilitate effective, gets-the-job-done documents.
- Speed up writing processes with credible, repeatable workflows.
Ultimately, a formal writing process will help center writing production around the organization and its needs, align the writing process with the organization's mission/vision/goals, and minimize situations where individual ego drives writing production.
Along the way, it will also help individual writers. “If managed properly, standardized work establishes a relationship between people and their work processes,” author Walter McIntyre writes in Lean and Mean Process Improvement. “This relationship can enhance ownership and pride in the quality of work performance. The result is high morale and productivity.”
How to Get Started with a Good Writing Process
- Find a company that can conduct a communication audit. A communication audit will help you understand where your team is now and where they need to be, in addition to determining a path forward to ensure your team continues to do what they’re doing well, while correcting bad writing habits.
- Seek external expertise. True writing consultants can provide valuable insights, fresh perspectives, and knowledge on writing best practices and can create training programs to address specific needs and measure outcomes.
- Invest in writing training. This training can be in the form of workshops, courses, or seminars, although workshops are typically the most beneficial, for any number of reasons, but specifically because they encourage more involvement by participants. Professional writing trainers can help instill best practices, refine skills, and ensure that everyone is working – and writing – on the same page.
- Document the step-by-step processes and Standard Operating Procedures for various types of writing tasks, such as reports, proposals, or marketing materials. This ensures that team members follow a standardized approach from research to final drafts.
- Develop templates or rubrics for common document types. Templates provide a structured framework that team members can use to organize their content, ensuring a consistent format.
- Establish clear review and approval processes. Rather than hoping that reviewers are all reviewing for the same thing, establish a process for reviewing that includes checklists.
- Establish an onboarding process for new hires. Determine how they’ll be taught to write according to the company standard and how you’ll determine when they’ve achieved proficiency. A company that does communication audits can help you with this.
In the end, standardized writing processes are the linchpin for generating long-term value. Inconsistency in writing, on the other hand, produces hit-or-miss outcomes. Standardized processes make desirable outcomes the rule, not the exception, ensuring that every piece of writing contributes to the organization's success. By standardizing and fine-tuning these processes, organizations can consistently produce content that is well-researched, error-free, and aligned with their brand and goals.
If you’re interested in a communication audit, Contact Hurley Write for a free consultation.