The demands of the external environment in 2020 have forced leaders to make quick decisions to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of their employees, students and communities. At the same time, we know many employees and students are facing tremendous pressure, and for some, fear and anxiety. To help calm these uncertainties and build trust and confidence, the best leaders are focused on designing effective, transparent messages to their employees and communities.
The importance of communication to build trust in the workplace is a thoroughly studied topic. For example, research has concluded, when employees perceive that they are getting information from their supervisors and coworkers that is timely, accurate and relevant, they are more likely to feel less vulnerable and more able to rely on their coworkers and supervisors. Conversely, when employees believe they are receiving information that is inaccurate, irrelevant or untimely, it is likely they will become more guarded and less trusting.
Superintendent of Northfield Public Schools, Dr. Matt Hillmann also emphasized that communication is essential for building trust with his school district and community during a recent podcast interview with Dr. Janet Pilcher.
“When I think about communication, I think that is the core of what we do. We have to have trust with our stakeholders. As leaders if we have trust with our stakeholders, we are able to work together in a way to solve problems. And so, I think that one of the keys has been our communication—communication that’s clear, it’s concise and it’s timely. Trying to anticipate the communication that people are going to want.” – Dr. Matt Hillmann
Throughout the interview, Matt described several examples of how his team benefits from weaving effective communication into their culture:
- Listening and using feedback from their families and employees to find creative solutions to problems
- Harvesting and sharing recognition from students, families and employees to make people feel valued
- Proactive messaging to employees, students and families to keep people informed
Matt also provided timeless advice for leaders to apply in their organizations:
- Communicate Clearly – Avoid creating confusion and increasing anxiety for individuals, share important information without jargon and unnecessary information. Don’t withhold information from stakeholders, this can destroy trust and relationships.
- Be Concise – People best understand messages that are clear and brief. Focus on what is most important to the audience when communicating.
- Be Timely – It’s okay to not have all the answers. Communicate the information you have when you receive it. Establish a regular cadence for communication or a dedicated place where people can receive the latest updates.
- Anticipate Stakeholder’s Needs – Plan ahead to start drafting messages that will need to be communicated to various audiences. What questions will employees, students or families have regarding the messages that have been delivered? How can we communicate to help settle our community’s uncertainty? What information will they need next?
- Be Honest and Optimistic – Communicate the brutal facts of the situation, but don’t lead toward despair; trend to optimism. Develop messages that convey the truth about the challenges ahead and then explain how to take the next steps.
- Offer a Variety of Modalities – People prefer different communication methods. As leaders who communicate to a variety of audiences, it’s useful to deliver communication through multiple mediums to ensure all intended parties receive and understand the message.
Dr. Matt Hillmann, Superintendent of Northfield Public Schools will be a presenter at our virtual conference, What’s Right in Education 2020 (WRIE), where he shares more about employing racial responsiveness to reopen schools in the middle of Minnesota.