How leaders should communicate to implement change
Without effective communication from leaders to create staff buy-in any strategy or change will ultimately be unsuccessful. Here are some tips for leadership communication that I recently shared while filming part an online course for The Chartered College of Teaching.
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing some experts in the field of education technology on behalf of the Chartered College of Teaching. Whilst we were preparing, I mentioned something off the cuff about how important good communication from leaders was when implanting any new change (related to technology) and before I knew it I’d been asked to give my views on camera in a separate solo video. Here are some of my key points:
Why communication is a vital component of managing any change
If the change we are trying to create involves anybody other than ourselves we need to communicate with other people make sure that it happens. Otherwise the change just remains a potentially great idea in our heads that never gets out into the world to affect others.
When proposing to implement any change you have to get across how it will help your staff and make it as specific and personal as possible. The aim is for them to picture that specific year group, class, student or parent or colleague or bit of the curriculum that it will help them with. Any times I’ve failed to implement a change as effectively as I would have liked have been when I’ve rushed this stage and and only communicated what the change was rather than why it was needed and what problem it would solve for staff.
What happens when there is ineffective communication of technology strategy?
The main barrier is that ineffective communication leads to staff not seeing the point of using particular technologies.
This could lead to one of two things
- People doing it but for compliance
- People not doing it
Leaders can all see that staff not doing something is a problem but some leaders may be fine with staff doing as told even if grudgingly. The problem is that doing something for compliance can easily lead to it not being done as soon as any obstacle is in the way or people feel that nobody is looking and people doing the bare minimum probably won’t result in the actual change you want. This is true for implementing any change not just one related to technology
Mistakes that leaders typically make around communication
At different points in my career, I have made the mistake of thinking that if I communicated something once or even twice that was enough. “I mentioned it in a staff or SLT meeting and I sent an email- why are some people still not doing it?” Mainly I wanted approaches that communicated at scale and used my time efficiently- especially for large changes that affected groups of people.I mentioned it in a staff or SLT meeting and I sent an email- why are some people still not doing it? Click To Tweet
Later I worked out that these approaches are quick up front but sometimes cost more time later if people hadn’t bought into what I had said.
Effective communication approaches
The more personal the communication the better. People respond better in one to one or small group situations especially for situations involving change. The bigger the change the more communication opportunities are needed.
I’ll outline when I implemented a whole school coaching strategy:
- I had discussions with my closest colleagues on SLT and around the school re my idea to bounce ideas off. In classrooms, corridors, staff room, in the playground
- Presented more formally to SLT at a meeting – verbally but also with key points in writing so people could take it away and look at it later
- After SLT agreement discussed it with a key group of teaching staff who would help roll it out. Via a meeting – then followed up with email.
- This was then mentioned in a whole staff meeting and we had an INSET day to introduce it and roll it out to all staff.
- Feedback was collected and taken on board
- The key staff (internal AST) had half termly meetings where they reinforced the approach with all staff in person.
Writing a group email is quick and efficient but tone can be missed. My personal experience is that for communicating change it should generally come after a more personal form of communication where possible.
Communication is not just broadcasting
Leaders need to remember that communication is a two way process. We often think of it us giving our information to others in a variety of ways but it’s also about listening otherwise we are just broadcasting. Effective communication in leadership must involve opportunities for staff to feedback to us and raise any fears and constructive suggestions in a way that makes them feel heard. Regarding school wide implementation of technology specifically these listening points could also raise issues that you may not know as somebody without a full timetable or who doesn’t teach in particular areas of your school and may save costly mistakes.
If you are trying to implement any change give careful thought to how you communicate the benefits to your staff. Also remember that change can be scary for many and that the communication needs to be an on gong process via a variety of channels* rather than one off event or a few instructive emails. Finally, if you want to implement change don’t be a broadcaster. Broadcasters transmit information only one way. Communication requires us to listen as well as transmitting out message.
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*If you still need convincing about the importance of communication when implementing an organisational change, I recently heard a good example during an interview with Film Director James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron who is an environmental advocate and outlined the challenges she faced when she wanted to change a school she had founded to solely vegetarian options for children to eat. The story can be found on Tribe of Mentors podcast: James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron-Favorite Failures, Bad Advice and Most Gifted Books from about 13:00 minutes.