Have you heard? Managing the flow of information

Have you ever gotten an important piece of news in the worst possible way? Maybe you found out you got passed over for a promotion when you saw someone else being congratulated for the role. Or you learned your significant other was dating someone else after seeing a photo on social media.

If something like this has happened to you, how did it make you feel? Chances are, it damaged your opinion of the person who withheld that news from you.

When something important happens, we care a great deal about how we find out about it. School leaders have a responsibility to bear this in mind when breaking news to your school community.

But how do you decide whom to tell, and when and how to tell them? Here are a few things to consider:

Go internal before going external

Almost without exception, it’s vital that you inform your own employees before making any public statements about an issue. This includes your board, as well.

First, it’s just good common sense. If something is going on in your school, your front-line staff, teachers, and board members will get questions about it. The last thing you want is someone telling a parent or community member, “I don’t know, this is the first I’ve heard of it.” That’s uncomfortable for them, and reflects poorly on the school.

Keeping your people in the loop is a cornerstone of building trust, goodwill and effective operations. You owe it to them to keep them well informed about the operations of the place where they work.

When communicating internally, take time to consider how you will reach different groups. Email might be fine for office staff, but employees who work “in the field,” like bus drivers, grounds crews and lunch aides, might need to be contacted in a different way. And if one specific department, building or sector is particularly affected by the issue, consider crafting a message just for them. Their questions and concerns may be unique.

Be ready to go public

While it’s crucial to go internal first, it’s best to remember that news travels fast. Be prepared with a public statement that can be deployed as soon as your staff and board have been informed.

Let your employees know how and when you will be sharing the information publicly so that they do not feel that it is their responsibility (or opportunity) to “break the news.” If the issue is likely to attract media attention, remind your employees how they should respond to any media inquiries.

Who else needs to know?

When deciding who to notify about an issue, consider the following:

  • Who is directly involved in this matter?
  • Who will be impacted – directly or indirectly?
  • Who would expect to be informed, based on past communications patterns?

The closer your audience is to the issue, the more targeted your communications should be. If something impacts just one grade at one school, consider a message just to the parents and guardians of those students. The rest of your school community may be satisfied with a more general statement, either to the media or via the district website.

Be consistent

While the sequence, timing and platform of your communications may vary depending on your audience, your facts and your core message must remain consistent. Each group should come away with the same understanding of the issue, and the district’s position.

The bottom line

Clear, useful, timely communications are a foundation of trusting relationships — between employers and employees, between principals and parents, between schools and communities. With careful thought, school leaders can build that trust by keeping the right people informed at the right time.

To find out more about how Nichols Strategies can support your internal and external communications, contact us today.