Leading with…Molly Whitehead-Jones

Blue header saying ‘Leading with Molly Whitehead-Jones featuring a headshot

We spoke to Molly about her path to leadership, and the challenges she’s faced along the way…

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your path to leadership?

I started out my career as a copywriter. I worked for the Manchester Evening News and then a PR firm, before joining digital agency Code Computerlove.

I spent five years there. At first, I wrote content all day long and spent lots of time stuffing keywords into blog posts. By the end, I was working more in content planning and strategy, and more and more of my work involved applying content design best practice — and I loved it. So I decided I wanted my next role to focus on content design exclusively.

Co-op were a client of ours at Code Computerlove, so I got first-hand insight into the great content design work they were doing.

I took a contract role with them in early 2019 and was offered a permanent role in May 2020.

I was promoted to Lead Content Designer in July 2020, and I’m currently working in the Customer Experience Strategy team.

What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?

The first team I worked with at Co-op had never had a content designer before. So I felt like I needed to be everywhere — every meeting, every Slack channel — to make sure I was getting involved where I should.

Getting people on side that could advocate for content design was super important. In my first few months, there was lots of ‘showing by doing’ and explaining my reasoning so I could build that understanding on what content design is and its value.

I also needed to be prepared to ask difficult questions, even if they meant my team would have to revisit assumptions or change our approach to a problem.

Who do you look up to or admire in content/design leadership?

I’m not just saying this because she’s my boss but: Hannah Horton, Co-op Digital’s acting Head of Design.

She’s grown Co-op’s Content Design team massively over the last few years and built a supportive community of practice that I’m really proud to be part of.

What advice do you have for new leaders?

Enacting any genuine, positive change in large organisations requires bucketloads of tenacity and patience. Be realistic. Don’t expect ‘big bangs’ and recognise that small, incremental improvements have value too.

Always approach collaborative work with respect for your colleagues and their specialism.

And document everything. It can sometimes feel like extra admin you can do without but it’s worth investing time in. It helps you, it helps the people you work with, and it’ll help the people who come after you too.

What made you join the Tempo community?

Content design still feels like a relatively new discipline. And content design leadership is even newer.

There are 5 lead content designers at Co-op and as you’d expect we rely heavily on each other for advice and support. I feel like there’s a lot we can learn from the wider community, and perhaps we’ll have some valuable knowledge to share too. I’m hoping Tempo will make this more possible.

What excites you most about the future of content design?

There’s a growing service design community at Co-op now. I’m excited to see how the way that our content designers work with our service designers evolves and what that’ll mean for the way we create and implement services at Co-op.

In terms of the wider content design industry, it’s just exciting to see there are so many of us now! It feels like organisations are really starting to see the value of content design and investing in it accordingly. It’s brilliant to see more and more content design teams and communities emerging.

Who would you like to see speak at a conference that you’ve never seen before?

Candi Williams. I’ve technically already heard her speak as I recently watched the Confab fireside chat she did, but I’d love to be able to watch her talk more about the work she’s doing around accessibility and inclusivity.

Tickets to our next leadership panel (where we’ll be talking about finding organisational alignment) are available now.

Content Ops at BT. Previously Clearleft and Deliveroo. Author of Why you need a content team http://amzn.eu/d/2j4OrHx