For the past few years I have felt fortunate that my daughter’s school is a vibrant community. An especially hard task as we live in an urban setting where kids don’t typically go to schools in their neighborhood so the feeling of community that comes naturally from going to school near where you live doesn’t happen here. And while I’ve taken some of the great ways the school engages and manages its community and suggested them as ways to foster non-business oriented engagement within TheCR Network I did not realize just how many lessons I could learn from them.
After all a school is not business. This one is perhaps more so as it is a private school, but it still doesn’t operate like a business. However, I am seeing change management and community management’s role in that first hand and while change can be hard here are some examples of how managing the community through that change is good for the community:
Encourage more engagement with active members and re-engage with those less active
By all accounts the head of school had a great 13 year tenure and was beloved. But there were also strengths, weaknesses, gaps in what some constituents felt were important and personality conflicts that occurred as well. When the head stepped down those tasked with finding a new leader surveyed the community to find out what parents, teachers, administrators, alumni, donors, neighbors and local business leaders thought were important qualities for the next leader. They let the community know that they would be a part of this process and their voices and concerns would be heard. Some of those polled hadn’t been actively involved in the community for some time and this outreach led many to start brainstorming on what could be done differently, better, fresher with a new leader. And members of the community started talking amongst themselves on this topic and in the process making new connections and forging new relationships.
Effective communication = comfort and trust
Now that the new school year has started not only do we have an interim leader we have multiple candidates to become our new leader. The school has sent out many an email to keep the community in the loop on what to expect, who the candidates are, when different constituencies can meet them and ask questions of them, who will make the final decision and when that decision will be made. All along the way, the community knows what to expect and is comforted by that information. It has helped keep the day-to-day of the school humming along without the changes becoming too much of a distraction.
In the end community members want a voice and to really be heard
After each candidate’s visit the community is surveyed regarding that candidate. The surveys are carefully constructed so that you identify which constituency your perspective comes from. And while none of these constituencies are the final decision-maker these surveys give everyone a chance to be heard and voice their priorities and their concerns. And it is clear from the communication from the school that they are listening and taking these surveys into account throughout the process, not just surveying to make us feel better.
As a community member I have been very impressed by the school. It does not have formal community management in place but it has acted in ways that we, at TheCR would advise our clients to treat their communities. While this process is nearing an end, it is not yet done and once a decision has been made we still need to go through a transition period. I look forward to learning more from them and passing any lessons along to you. In the meantime, I’m so happy our school community did not fall prey to the typical perils of not having good community management that could have easily occurred during this process.
Do you have lessons learned for community managers from your personal life? We’d love to hear them.
TheCR Network is a membership network that provides strategic, tactical and professional development programming for community and social business leaders. The network enables members to connect and form lasting relationships with experts and peers as well as get access to vetted content.