The Washington D.C. Schools announced a tentative agreement this week with the Washington Teachers Union that would provide bonuses to teachers for student growth on standardized tests.  It is the most recent in a series of school reforms tying teacher pay to student performance.

We helped the Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association communicate with teachers, administrators and the general public over a multi-year pay-for-performance pilot and implementation of a revolutionary teacher compensation plan, ProComp, that replaces the traditional salary schedule for those in the new system.

Communication is important when an organization undergoes a major change.  People fear the unknown and the rumor mill is a powerful force during change and uncertainty. In school districts and other large organizations, strategic  communication, implemented consistenty, can greatly enhance acceptance of change.  I shared these in a webinar Compensation Innovations sponsored recently.

Tips for Communicating During Major Organizational Change:

1. Listen first. We conducted focus groups of teachers in pilot and non-pilot schools as well as separate groups of pilot and non-pilot principals during the research phase. Insights from the research informed our communications strategy.

2. Clearly define objectives.  Ours were to identify barriers to communication, credible spokespersons, preferred channels of communication and what messages were most persuasive. 

3. Use multiple channels of communication. Information should be disseminated for all learning styles: printed and electronic newsletters, face-to-face meetings, web sites and brochures.  The printed and online channels provide a record that is available over time. The meetings and community presentations were important in influencing attitudes and addressing concerns.

4. Interpersonal communication is paramount. Significant change is usually complicated and can be confusing and threatening.  Presenting information in staff meetings gives people an opportunity to ask questions and process the information.  A meeting also eliminates distractions that compete with your message when employees review publications or web sites at their desk. 

5. Communicate consistently over time. Develop key messages that are used in all channels, including speeches and news releases.  Consistency builds credibility and repetition increases retention.

6. Seek feedback to improve the evolving system. Leaders designing  ProComp were committed to pilot-testing components, asking for feedback and using the information to improve the final product. This not only enhanced the quality of the new system, it built credibility and confidence among employees that the system would be fair and competently implemented.  It is important to let stakeholders know how their feedback will be used.