Note: this is the fourth in a 10-part series on topics related to communication and successful school operating or bond referendum efforts that originally appeared on the Minnesota Association of School Administrators website. These posts are not meant to be an all-inclusive guide for school district leadership, but rather offer suggestions and guidance on school district referendum communication-related issues. All opinions expressed are my own.)
Perhaps more than any other industry or business, public education depends on its employees to be the stewards of its brand. Think about it: day after day, front office staff, bus drivers, custodians, food service personnel and teachers, interact with parents, students and other community members on your district’s behalf.
So why then are employees often viewed as the red-headed stepchild of the communications family?
When it comes to referendum communications, it’s important to not only include internal audiences in your communications plan, but to give them a top-tier status. The following tips will help you do just that:
Ensure that staff gets their information from the district first. Outside of your school board and cabinet members, your staff should be the first to hear district news. Keeping them in the loop and having them hear information from your (as opposed to the local news) builds trust and goodwill that cannot be built elsewhere.
Provide regular updates through a variety of channels. Plan to update your employees no less than once a week. Even if the message is “everything is moving along as planned,” it is important to maintain regular communication. Also, don’t assume that your district intranet will reach all employees. Consider using a mix of electronic and print communications, telephone messages, and face-to-face communication to update staff. If you are comfortable with technology, consider recording and sharing a video blog (vlog).
Be present and reach your employees where they live. One of my favorite management techniques is “Management By Walking Around.” Adapting this technique for referendum communications is really nothing more than making sure you are physically present in the places where your employees work or gather. That means regularly visiting the staff break room, bus garage, kitchen/cafeteria, preschool/afterschool facilities and custodian area.
Remember, nothing builds relationships more effectively than face-to-face interaction.
Ask and answer questions. Employees can be a good bellwether as to how your community is feeling. They can also help you determine if your messages are getting through. Talk with them. Ask them what they are hearing and if they have any questions about the referendum. Chances are good that if your employees have questions or concerns, others in your community have the same questions.
Treat staff as though they are your best customers. Close your eyes and visualize how you’d like to be treated the next time you visit your favorite store or restaurant. Perhaps you’re greeted by name, shown to the best table. Maybe the chef would prepare a unique dish made especially for you. Perhaps the clerk would bring out some special items from the back room selected for you. Maybe you’d receive special offers or advance notices only available to the best customers. Imagine how special you’d feel and how you might sing that establishment’s praises to your family and friends.
While certainly not an apples-to-apples comparison, imagine if your employees felt the same way about your district’s communications efforts. Remember, if they live in the district (and even if they don’t), your staff is out talking with your neighbors, parents and other community members about your efforts. Even if they don’t support the referendum itself, providing employees with accurate, timely, and relevant information can help them be supporters of the district as a whole.
Next week: How PR2.0 and social media can help your efforts be successful