The Web Manager Scapegoat

To the lone Web manager pining away for the day when senior management will finally 'get' the Web, some advice: be careful of what you wish for.

The day is coming when executives in your industry will recognize that the Web is a strategic function. They may never be savvy about technology or social media, but they know business. It doesn't take an MBA to pick up on the industry-altering impact the Web is having on traditional business models like newspapers, broadcasting and advertising. If institutions like the Tribune Company go bankrupt because they can't compete in the Web world, then every CEO is asking him (or her) self about how they will keep your organization relevant in the digital age. 

When that happens, will you be ready? Really? 

It's not atypical to meet a present-day Web manager who cut their teeth in the late '90s by being the one person who stepped up when someone said, "hey, does anyone know HTML?" Ten years later, you're probably not coding pages any more. You've likely survived 4-5 major site re-designs, a painful CMS implementation and too many battles over homepage real estate to even count. You've evangelized about graphic standards; accessibility  and user experience until you're blue in the face and stayed up late many a night in order to publish critical content. In short, you're the go to person to get things done on the Web site, and that is something to be proud of.

But now is the time to ask yourself, what do you want to be when you grow up. The day is soon coming when senior management will turn to you and say, "what are we doing with the Web?" When that happens, they aren't asking about the latest app. They're asking you to demonstrate how the Web is meeting strategic objectives. They're going to come at you with things like key performance indicators and balance scorecards and ask you for an honest-to-goodness business plan. If you're not able to respond in kind, be prepared for the consequences. Suddenly the title, "Web Manager" will be tied to bottom-line objectives. Fail to meet those objectives, and you'll be out of a job. I've seen it happen. More often then you'd like to think.

I raise this issue, not to be a harbinger of doom, but to give you time to think seriously about your career. As the Web becomes business critical, traditional Web managers will have a decision to make. There will always be a need for hands-on practitioners to oversee the day-to-day implementation of tactics. But a new role is forming. One that is a senior-level administrator of the Web program. This person will be accountable for meeting business objectives and reporting directly to the CEO. Someday, they may even BE the CEO. 

As you mull this over, you may want to learn more by connecting with your peers through communities of practice facilitated by organizations like JBoye or joining professional organizations like the Internet Strategy Forum. They're having their annual summit July 23-24 in Portland, Ore. and Lisa Welchman will be there to talk about this very issue. If you're in Portland, I hope you get the chance to hear her talk about the gossamer ceiling for Internet executives -- good career advice in these uncertain times. 

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Great article that makes a very important point. At my organization, [REDACTED], the mediocre has long been the norm with broader strategic web business ideas stymied by internal politics and lack of executive buy-in.

People are waking up quickly and there's a bit of a land-grab. At once scary and exhilarating.

I'm giddy at the prospect of finally launching some more 'important' projects but nervous about the birth of this new model. (Despite my KPI and ROI packed business plan...)

Thanks Markle for the comment. The executive suite is starting to see the potential for the Web as a strategic function, which means opportunity. The land grab and turf wars will happen, but that's a sign that they're engaged and motivated. Your job is to help them figure out how to align the Web with organizational objectives.
Good luck with the new model. Your persistence and patience will pay off!

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