People are critical to business.

Good people, good business. Great people, great business.

You get the idea.

That’s why I never get tired of reading about team leadership, people management and leader’s motivation.

In this post we’ll talk about how to manage a specific type of team leader: the content manager.

At Contentools, I’ve lead dozens of content managers.

Having been a content manager myself for years, I thought that would have be an easy task.

Reality was different: deadlines weren’t met, bottom of the funnel content was practically non-existent and most of the times I ended up doing the writing myself, so our audience wouldn’t “starve” for content.

I was failing terribly and it was clear we needed to change something.

Not much time has passed and things have gotten better:

  • we developed our internal content management playbook, which we use to train and certify the content managers in our community,
  • we’ve doubled our content marketing impact with a unified (and lean) team that produces content both for the US and LATAM,
  • most importantly: we’ve more than doubled our monthly inbound leads, passing from 8 thousands to 18 thousands in just three months.

So here I am to share with you the 5 key lessons I’ve learned from this experience that brought us 10 thousand more leads per month.


1.  CULTURAL FIT ABOVE ALL

The main mistakes I made managing content managers were due to poor communication and, before that, bad recruiting.

The first two managers I hired had great experience.

What I came to notice on their first weeks though (which is already too late for our standards) was that they were not as metric-oriented as the rest of the team and didn’t manage to anchor their content marketing plan to measurable KPIs.

We spent a couple of weeks wondering why these top-notch professionals, who have worked for top media companies and agencies, weren’t managing to get used to our way to work.

After a while we realized this wan’t due their technical skills, experience or knowledge.

It was a matter of culture.  

Culture varies dramatically from one organization to another, and trust me, you can fix anything but the lack of cultural fit.

So we took our focus one step backwards, and fine-tuned our hiring process:

  1. We crafted a clearer job description (including mission, accountabilities and metrics to follow)
  2. Added new steps to our selection process, to help us evaluate not only candidates experience and technical skills, but their cultural fit too.

For instance, we now ask candidates to share real life stories about critical moments diving deep into the whats, whys and hows of their actions.

This gives so much more insight about the way candidates think and act allowing us to get a thorough understanding of their cultural profile.

Bottom line: great portfolios and technical certifications are not enough.

You can hire someone whose skills match the job description or someone whose talent will redefine how the job is done.

These are the people we look for at Contentools.


2. CLEAR VISION EQUALS RESULTS 

As Peter Drucker said:

“the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle”.

Most of times leaders are both the source of and the solution to all problems.

Where is the content strategy going?

What are the company’s goals for the year? 

How about the next five years?

What’s the company’s big, hairy, audacious dream?

As a CEO, answering these questions and communicating them clearly to the team is your job.

The content manager’s job, then, is passing this vision along to the content team (both internal and remote members) and aligning the team’s short term actions to the company’s goal for the moth, the quarter and the year.

Set the vision and results will follow.

Don’t expect your content strategy to bring results if your manager doesn’t know where the finishing line is.


3. SET THE GROUND RULES

“Core values are the rules and boundaries that define the company’s culture and personality, and provide a final ‘Should/Shouldn’t’ test for all the behaviours and decisions by everyone in the firm” -Verne Harnish, Scaling Up.

As your content manager absorbs the company’s vision and understands the general goals, they’ll become able to set specific and measurable outcomes to accomplish.

While this doesn’t mean you should mandate the steps to be taken, it implies you should stil be providing directions and clarity about to help your team figure out which steps may lead to the desired outcome, faster.

With respect to content marketing, for instance, while it’s not your job building the editorial calendar or choosing the distribution channels, it’s your duty to help your team brainstorm and figure that out.

I always start our quarterly meetings with this question:

what can we do, week after week, that will bring us here?“.

And let the conversation flow from there.

In this kind of process, your responsibility is making sure everyone understands general dos and don’ts.

At Contentools, our approach to all things are growth (content included) is based on the lean triad BUILD > MEASURE > LEARN.

Using this framework, the worst scenario you can be at is one where actions are not being taken.

If things are going bad, it’s ok — as long as you’re learning and it’s for a (we hope) short while.


4. HIRE A REAL MANAGER

As I mentioned in previous posts, the best content managers have project management skills.

They are responsible for the success of the content team, designing workflows and processes that make sure communication and creation run smoothly.

As a CEO, your goal is providing your content manager with resources and tools, and that no operational obstacle stands in their way.

Here’s one piece of wisdom we learn from experience: if the workflow is difficult, the workflow is wrong.


5. ALWAYS BE FOLLOWING UP

When it comes to follow ups, value trust over control.

What I mean is: you actually don’t need to follow every step your content manager takes and all the actions taken during the week.

What you need (as does the entire team) is to understand how’s the progress is moving towards the main goal for the month/quarter/year.

Here’s the check list we go through during our weekly follow up meetings:

  • KPIs update: comparing the main metrics weekly with the previous one and same week last month;
  • What have we learned this week: listing anything new that happened (any failure, achievement and general news);
  • WWW (who, where, when): steps of the action plan that are to be executed next week;
  • What’s stopping me from going further: bottlenecks or any difficulty content managers might have found;
  • Points for development: this should be done individually, since every person is different.

CONCLUSION: MANAGEMENT RHYTHM

I personally consider this last one the most important among the five points.

The best way to help your content manager grow and drive results, is being present, understanding their unique strengths, while finding ways to support their weaknesses.

The secret sauce: management rhythm

Rhythm is contagious!

That’s why we’ve built a process to keep it alive in any area and at any level of the company.

We use three rituals to align, recognize and develop people.

These rituals are intercalated: they happen quarterly and monthly, which creates a management rhythm.

We believe that performance is a matter to be constantly discussed between the team and we enable situations to discuss performance with different goals, which are:

  • Alignment ritual: as every quarter starts, areas and individuals set their goals. We use a lean goal-setting methodology called OKR (Objectives and Key-Results), created by Intel and popularized by Google. It’s similar to more traditional methods such as the BSC or GPD, with the same benefits and less paperwork. What makes OKRs unique and interesting to us is that goals are not top down, but co-created between leaders and team, 100% public and stretched (you should consider it challenging, yet doable).
  • Recognition ritual: the next step is for leaders to reassess the team based on the adherence of its members to the organization’s values. For each member, team leaders reply to the question: would I hire this person again if the selection process were today? If the answer is no, we should let them go. If it’s yes, that person might be recognized by their good performance (with a bonus, public recognition and a special gift).
  • Development ritual: it occurs by the end of each quarter. It consists in a performance evaluation (adherence to core values + performance). The evaluation is done by peers and the team leader, leaving time for one-on-one feedback sessions. We mostly use the feedback framework we learned from the founders of the InnerSpace community: when you do X, I feel Y.

This set of practices helped Contentools find and manage a high-performing team, with great content managers.

I hope it does the same for your company!

Over to you: what are the main challenge you faced with your content manager, and how did you overcome it?

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