School Climate & Safety Opinion

Talent Managers as Change Managers: 6 Lessons Learned

By Emily Douglas-McNab — March 08, 2012 4 min read
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This entry was written in collaboration with Battelle for Kids’ Strategic Communications team.

Effective change leadership is essential to implementing any educational-improvement initiative. However, many districts and states struggle with how to effectively communicate, build support for change, and engage various stakeholders or customers. Talent managers play an important role in the change process, from selecting and onboarding new employees to communicating new programs or services to staff to promoting cultural changes within an organization.

Image: KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following are six lessons learned related to effective communications, change leadership, and stakeholder engagement as critical components of educational improvement:

1. Develop a plan that connects the work to the overall vision.
Strategy is key...let me say it again...Strategy is KEY! You must have an idea of the path you wish to take prior to taking it and/or an idea about where you want to end up as education improvement is challenging work. It can be easy for those on the ground responsible for implementing change to get discouraged and lose sight of the ultimate goal. It is critical to connect these efforts to the state or district’s larger educational-improvement vision. Stakeholders need to understand that their hard work will have a long-term impact and is not temporary. As John Kotter outlines in his 8-Step Process for Leading Change, education leaders must “develop a vision and strategy” and then “communicate the change vision.”

2. To go fast, go alone, but to go far, go together.
Key stakeholders must be engaged early as partners. Successful change leaders seek out leadership and guidance from all constituencies, get their input, keep them informed, and let them lead. This also ensures that improvements remain institutionalized and are never about a single person. Powerful coalitions are built when leadership is shared and supported; it also makes it harder to give up when the going gets tough.

3. Consider engaging external partners.
Partnering with professionals who have experience implementing educational-improvement initiatives can be highly valuable. A trusted, knowledgeable third party can provide strategic counsel and tactical support to help districts and states develop a change leadership and communications plan aligned with their unique improvement goals.

This is what I do! I work with districts as a partner to support human capital development efforts. Sometimes having another set of eyes to review and provide feedback on an idea can be helpful. Many districts that I’ve worked with have said they enjoyed having a neutral third-party facilitate meetings. I believe that involving a cross-functional or diverse stakeholder team works best for collaborating and finding consensus around change.

4. Support (really) matters.
Change isn’t easy. Change isn’t always fun, because let’s face it...if it was, we’d do it all the time! Transformational change occurs when teachers and principals understand their students’ achievement and learning progress and are aware of the resources, data, training, and support available to ensure college and career readiness for every child. If teachers know how to interpret and make instructional adjustments based on data, their students will perform at higher achievement levels. It is also important for administrative and support staff to understand how and why they can influence student achievement and progress, and help achieve other district goals.

5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
When it comes to effective communication you must tell people once, tell them again, and then tell them what you told them. If you’ve connected stakeholders to the larger vision through meetings, communications, and input, they will believe it’s worth it. But remember to consider all stakeholders educators at all levels, students, parents, business and community leaders, media, unions, partners, and others. Personalize messaging to each group to ensure relevance and understanding. Make your communications about issues and successes very concrete. Abstract messages get lost in the shuffle--make your messages ring true by keeping them down-to-earth. And, carefully consider the timing and sequencing of your communications.

I can’t emphasize enough how important communication is to the successful implementation of a new program. Some districts have a trained staff to assist with leading change, while many others do not have the resources to support a large communications team. No matter the size, there are opportunities for every district to communicate with stakeholders. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as blogs, websites, and email can all be easy and effective ways to share information with large groups of people. Just remember to be strategic with your communications, keeping messages short and simple. Bombarding staff in-boxes with emails every day will wear people out.

6. Celebrate (and share) Success!

When states and districts create opportunities to recognize excellence, people develop an appetite for it. Make your messages about the students and not tests. Consider how you can communicate the sense of urgency necessary for change, while recognizing and building upon the genuine successes of the past. It’s important to celebrate progress made, while sharing efforts to continually raise expectations to ensure student success. Developing a culture of appreciation (whether through strategic compensation or innovative rewards) is key. If we are going to talk about ways we need to improve, we must celebrate when we meet our goals!

Do you have any other lessons learned around effective change management in schools? If so, please share them!

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