Writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum

If you’re embarking on a writing culture change, you’re bound to discover business processes along the way that need tweaking or overhauling. You may find template letters that include unplain text, a peer review system that ignores writing style, or reporting requirements that need Board permission to change. Whatever you discover, you must be prepared to tackle these process changes.

An organisation overwhelmed by words
New Zealand’s national arts development agency, Creative New Zealand, is responsible for receiving and processing funding requests from a huge number of artists and groups. Creative New Zealand has to present these requests as a report to three separate boards for ratification. And they have to do this four times a year, so that’s a lot of writing.

Creative New Zealand Chief Executive, Stephen Wainwright, knew that writing was taking up too much of his staff’s time. Added to this, his Boards told him they were often overwhelmed by the volume they had to read, and they also questioned the quality of the reports. Stephen knew the organisation needed help.

‘Board members told me some papers were too dense. They had trouble knowing what they were being asked to agree to, and which information was really important,’ says Stephen in Rewrite: How to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit. ‘The ability to write clearly and simply was essential to our work. We had to take action.’

And so they did.

Uncovering hurdles on the road to change
Following negative feedback received from Board members, Creative New Zealand embarked on a plain language transformation. Foundation workshops on writing in plain English were delivered to all staff within 6 months from when the transformation began. The organisation also followed up workshops with targeted refreshers. And they developed 2-hour roundtable sessions as a reminder of what staff had learnt.

In the process of delivering training, Creative New Zealand staff identified several processes within the organisation that were flawed and needed improvement. Board paper templates needed refining. Staff were often cutting and pasting elements from other documents to avoid writing from scratch, which lessened the quality of content. And during its change project, Creative New Zealand also realised it had not taken into account the cultural background of several staff, people who came from an oral tradition but whose jobs required a lot of writing. Different, tailored training needed to be created for this group.

Taking action to ensure success
Creative New Zealand identified issues with its business processes during its plain language project. Accepting that each issue needed to be fixed, the organisation was quick to take action. And in doing so, they ensured the success of their change project.

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