Making Sense of School Climate and What to Do About It - Part 3: Gaining Stakeholder Buy-In

December 8 2014

Authors

  • Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters
    Rick Phillips
    Founder, Community Matters
  • William Grace Frost, Strategic Relations Director
    William Grace Frost
    Strategic Relations Director

In this 5-part series we are laying out a clear and compelling climate roadmap for schools to successfully implement school climate transformation. Part 2 focused on assessment and how schools can determine what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing in their current climate efforts. Here in Part 3, we’ll explore the importance of gaining stakeholder buy-in.

Like most changes in life, even policy changes that have the potential to positively affect school climate will likely be met with at least some level of resistance. It just seems to be human nature to fear and resist change, so effective leaders need to learn to work with the resistance. Time and time again, experience shows that if we make the sincere effort to secure the support and engagement of the people we need to have on board at the beginning of a project, the probability of success is significantly increased. People will work harder and more collaboratively when they’re on board with change initiatives, and it will also make the effort immensely more enjoyable.

Research indicates that 70% of change initiatives fail because of three primary reasons:

  1.  Leadership has not communicated the vision and its potential impact in a clear and compelling way that evokes enthusiasm and ownership;
  2.  Leadership creates the plan or process behind closed doors and announces it as a done deal without having elicited or taken seriously their staff’s input;
  3.  Leadership is not actively involved in the change process and/or their behaviors are contradictory to what is being requested of their staff.

With this knowledge, we can do the essential things that build and gain buy-in and support for success.  These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Identify the key influencers and speak with them early in the process; like dropping pebbles in a pond and watching the ripples spread out and intersect, seeding your ideas with group leaders will help the plan’s success.
  • Begin with an all-staff meeting so that everyone starts on the same page; clearly and enthusiastically articulate the need for improvement, the new vision, how it will impact them personally and what’s in it for them, as well as how it will improve the overall school climate and the lives of their students.
  • Acknowledge the good work that’s already being done; begin with the “positives” so that they won’t be lost, and use them as a foundation and springboard for the change process.
  • Start with inquiry, using guided questions that open and expand the opportunity. The use of phrases such as “How to…” and “In what ways might we…” are helpful when encouraging outside-the-box thinking. People need to be able to imagine desirable possibilities and future outcomes to help them overcome their resistance.
  • Reassure participants that the plan will be built collaboratively and implemented incrementally.
  • Keep tasks specific, assigned according to people’s strengths, and with clear deadlines and accountability.
  • Acknowledge people and let them know how vital their role is to the success of the initiative.
  • Invite concerns and then listen, listen and listen some more without reaction or defensiveness.

Ultimately, the strongest message you can send your staff and other stakeholders is that their opinions and concerns matter and that you value their input. Being a leader requires courage and the willingness to elicit feedback, act nimbly and make adjustments as needed throughout the implementation process. Changing direction is not a sign of failure; in fact, it might just be the ultimate indication that you want and value your people’s involvement.

In our next blog, Part 4 of the series, we’ll focus on the importance of effective implementation, and how to organize, coordinate and measure school climate improvement efforts.



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