Driving to a client meeting yesterday I was pondering, as I often do on the way to these sorts of things, what it means to be a website and the overarching attributes it might need to consider. This particular drive I started to think about the term 'brochure' site, which gets thrown around from time to time. Don't get me wrong, sometimes a website does need to be a brochure, but with peoples expectations of what a website should do for them and the level they expect to interact with your organisation ever growing, I realised we need to treat our websites less like a waiting room brochure, and more like an actual member of staff. When you start thinking about your expectations of a potential new member of staff, you realise this can and should be applied to a website...
You decide what attributes a member of staff needs to have before you start hiring
In previous roles I've been in charge of hiring new designers for the team, which is a lot of pressure. You have a matter of hours to get to know someone and what they can do before you commit to them coming into your habitat. Its hard to gauge whether they will be a good fit and improve what you're already doing. So, with that in mind, to reduce risk you first work out what skill sets you're missing in the team, and what the business objectives are, so you can see if they align to that. The same should definitely go for a website. Rather than just day one "lets start making a toggle menu", lets first sit down and work out what this new website needs to do for us as a business before we put pen to paper.
You can see where I'm going with this...
You don't hire based on looks
When hiring staff looks don't come in it (and if it does that is down right wrong), and with websites yes they can't look ugly, the take away point from this is it shouldn't be about looks. A website should be a functional part of the team (see point above) and therefore that needs to take priority. Let's get the function right first, then we can comb their hair and buy them a new suit (I'd like to point out I've never combed a member of staff's hair, but I have once told someone to wear a suit for a second interview).
You expect a member of staff to be a team player and work well independently
Two points here, which are harder to connect to the metaphor. Firstly, being a team player. Our website should be easy to content manage, be versatile enough to keep all departments happy, and be extendable so the technical people can build on it. If it isn't, nobody is going to want to work with it and it will fall behind. We also need our website to work independently too, especially when it's providing a service. If our ecommerce website just fires us an email that a new order has been made, and we have a heck lot of admin to do, making shipping labels, working out shipping costs, updating the inventory, then it's delegating too much. While there should always be some form of human input in the process, if it can be automated, and take away the administrative overhead, then that should be built in.
You set a member of staff objectives
We don't just hire, sit them at a desk and say "off you go". We've hired them for a reason, so we need to make sure that reason and objective are met. Set your website goals, with measurable outcomes. This could be something as specific as a % additional revenue or traffic, or just generally a visible increase in the number of enquiries.
You reward good work
While for staff this is a must (especially to retain them), for a website you don't need to reward it. It won't start going slower, or refusing transactions (although I know a few superstitious devs who would say otherwise), but why not give it a little treat? Investing more time/money into it will only make it perform better. How about for a Christmas treat, spend half an hour going through the site with your team, and identify all the little bug bears you and your customers have with it, then put a bit of cash/time into getting those fixed. They might not be a high priority, but it will help (and its Christmas, the time for giving).
You identify if a member of staff is thriving in a certain area and give them room to grow
Similar to the point above, but more to keep an eye on the site. Are there some unexpected ways in which the site is benefitting you? Maybe you're getting a lot of hits on image searches because your bespoke photography is really good? If so, maybe we could have a media library on the site where people can license our photos? Obviously this won't be right for everyone but you get the general idea.
You review a member of staff's performance
Analytics access shouldn't just be for the IT department. Get the details and start monitoring what the site is doing, where its performing well, and more importantly where its failing to meet its objectives. Make changes based on data and iterate based on data. Don't just leave your website in the corner of the office and just assume it's doing well. Schedule regular meetings where you can look and analyse what the site is doing, areas it's not great on and why. My wife works in Human Resources for a University and she recently did this, getting the details from surprised looking IT bods and suggesting changes to their pages of the main site and intranet. I was (as I am every day) a proud husband.
You expect a return on investment for a member of staff
The last point here is websites for business, like members of staff, cost money. They cost money at the start and they take more to maintain. Your website should always return more than it costs to do, otherwise whats the point of it? Use the points above to help guide your decision making for your next web project, and ensure that your website goes from the coffee table, to a functioning part of the business and newest member of staff.