We’ve been reading a lot about how COVID-19 – and not key decision-makers – has been the most powerful force for change in the Education industry this year. Here at the Brand Education, we’ve been having an interesting conversation about whether this is a good or a bad thing.
Aside from your responsibilities to your students, a university’s primary objective is innovation. Whether that innovation is isolated to your research teams or it drives your broader approach to education is a matter of policy and, eventually, brand. Not every university needs to be at the centre of the revolution in how we learn. And not every exciting-sounding buzzword – innovation included – necessarily has to be the driving force behind your brand decisions. Values like prestige, legacy and resilience are just as valid in a crisis as at any other time.
It’s all a question of positioning. What matters is whatever is driving student behaviour; how they see you and how they see your competitors.
Perhaps we’re also sidestepping the fact that its leadership teams that have, ultimately, shaped the sector’s response to the crisis. That response and everything that is going to come afterwards is a matter of change management. That’s why, this week, we’re talking about four crucial concepts that can help your comms team to establish your ‘new normal’.
Look up ‘four steps to good change management’ and you’ll find one hundred articles mentioning how important an ‘authentic voice’ is to your brand. It’s especially true in times of change when your audience’s relationship to decision-makers affects behavioural outcomes.
But it’s a more tricky concept than most of those writers give it credit for. It’s hard to speak authentically when you’re writing on behalf of an entire institution. Whose authenticity should you try to capture?
Here at The Brand Education, we much prefer to use the term ‘alignment’. The implication is that you’re speaking in alignment with your thoughts and feelings. But it also suggests you have your house in order before you put pen to paper. Alignment is measurable and manageable in a way that authenticity might not be.
There may be many reasons to laud the Chinese authority’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their biggest criticism to date, though, has been about the speed at which they released information.
Speed is a much-underrated part of the change-management equation. Moving too slow can result in serious consequences for those affected by the change. Move too fast and you run the risk of poor alignment. Our team advocates creating a strict calendar of predictable change updates during any transitional period. Finding the right balance of speed, though, requires an experienced hand. Make finding one a priority.
Mission statements and vision exercises can sometimes feel like a bit of a waste of time if you fail to embed them in your everyday communications. We strongly encourage clients to rethink that position. After all, it’s tough to lead if you don’t know where you’re going.
We’re believers in utopian thinking. When you can create a vision of the perfect world of education and you can start to build an idea of what it might look like in practice. It’s then easier to know whether you’re making the right decisions. That might feel silly, but you only have to look as far as companies like Tesla and Apple to see utopian thinking rendered real.
Once you have a vision you can align with, make it a daily feature of your comms strategy. You’ll be surprised how differently people respond.
Whenever we launch a research project into student recruitment drivers, we see the same feelings cropping up time and again. Students want independence and new experiences. But they also want to feel supported. You’d be amazed at how many students chose their university just because they feel happy and comfortable there.
An institution that takes ownership is an institution that is truly invested in supporting its students. The level of ownership you take for what happens to your community is a tangible component of your tone of voice. But ownership also requires a huge amount of courage. You’ll need to take risks with your reputation. If you do, though, you’re likely alignment within and around your organisation a lot easier.
So don’t hit that send button until you’ve double-checked your comms for these four fundamental principles of change management. With a drop of skill and a bit of practice, they can become the foundation of your messaging. After all, the only constant in life is change.