Convince Superintendents and Boards on Value of Communication

Convince Superintendents and Boards on the Value of Communication

First, a tip of our NSPRA hat goes to the International Association of Business Communicators IABC) for its latest edition of Communication World Magazine. The May/June issue is chock full of “must reading” for communication professionals seeking to influence their bosses to do more in communication. Most of the following can be found in those pages. Go to www.iabc.com/cw.

For example, the issue cites a 2011 Maritz Research survey that suggests that in the United States, employees’ trust in leaders is eroding. In fact, only 7% of those surveyed said that senior management’s actions are consistent with their words.

Additional research confirms that effective leaders can create a true competitive advantage. In the Towers Watson 2010 Global Workforce Study, high employee engagement translates to better financial performance. In fact, the study noted that companies with high employee engagement generate operating margins nearly 1.5 times higher than companies with low engagement.

So as I see it, a majority of staff are saying that their ultimate bosses are not “Walking their talk.” And at the same time, when staff members are engaged, the entire organization is more productive. The missing link or ingredient seems to be in the need for effective and authentic communication, engagement, and visibility of an organization’s top leader. In our case, this points to the communication leadership of the superintendent of schools.

In NSPRA circles, we often say superintendents “get it” when they understand the power of authentic engagement and communication and they make a strong leadership effort to develop a culture of communication throughout their schools. And just like the corporate world, as you will see in the following IABC examples, we too must convince our leaders about the power of effective communication leadership.

Use Relevancy to Enhance the Power of Evidence

In this same issue, Alison Davis offers an article entitled, Make Your Case. It urges all of us to share stories of how leading companies have addressed matters. She conducts studies that generate statistically significant data. And she uncovers qualitative evidence through interviews and focus groups. She notes that the good news is that you can use these same techniques to get buy-in for your leader communication recommendations.

The key is to choose evidence that fits your budget—and is the best choice to influence your senior leaders. Davis recommends that you start by understanding the types of evidence that are most effective in your corporate culture. In some organizations, hard data are essential—leaders are likely to say, “Just give me the facts.” Other organizations make decisions based on more qualitative factors. In these, leaders say, “Paint me a picture.” And in others, you need to combine quantitative and qualitative data. Here, the leaders say, “Give me context.”

Let me stop here to plug a new NSPRA benchmarking effort to help gather evidence on the best practices and results in all of school communication. Some of the best work in school communication comes from NSPRA members. Go to http://www.nspra.org after May 10th to learn more and to participate in the project.

On top of the research evidence you may want to add a layer of “emotional icing” to your bosses’ presentations. For many years I have said that, “When facts and emotions collide, emotions win just about every time.” Despite leaders’ well-deserved reputation for being data-driven, Davis found that they’re most actively engaged during the qualitative portion of a presentation. Verbatim quotes from employees and other audiences seem more vivid to leaders than the most sophisticated data chart you can create.

And let’s not forget to coach our superintendents about the emotional influence on making decisions concerning community members as well. For example, closing a school may the logical and right decision for all the financial and safety issues. But if the school has stood as a traditional pillar in your vocal and active community for many years, it may be best to find a way to keep the community’s culture intact and still provide a new environment for your students.

NSPRA resource files offer examples of turning older buildings into community centers or moving key elements of the almost sacred school into a new building. As an Orioles’ baseball fan, I can still remember the ceremony to move home plate from the old Memorial Stadium to the newly built Camden Yards many years ago. The memories still linger fondly.

To do more in communication, know what influences your leader’s decision-making. And then prove why, in a relevant fashion, your proposed strategy or tactic is a perfect for your organization. Leadership at the top is a critical component of every communication effort. You must find ways to convince your bosses about the added value—internally and externally—that communication will deliver for your entire school community.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

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