Will Rogers famously said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” While this is technically true, the modern age of social media, instant communication, and multiple channels of engagement that precede a first in-person meeting have transformed Roger’s statement to “be sure to create good expectations to make an even better first impression.”
For new college or university presidents and deans, a “first” impression is now far more likely to come in a mix of tweets, snaps, posts, videos, press releases, emails, and more. These multi-mini-impressions foreshadow the traditional first interpersonal impression and, therefore, must be seen both as an opportunity to inform as well as to create expectations for the course of a presidency…ahead of whenever the real, first interpersonal impression takes place.
Most institutions establish some sort of transition team (either within one or across multiple units) to develop and implement a transition plan, including events, travel, meetings, an inauguration, and more. Here are seven key communication tips to keep in mind during the development of a transition plan.
- Message – Consistency and discipline for messaging is already a challenge in higher education. The transition period is the time to really double-down and execute a plan conveying a clear and coherent message about and from the new president.
- Voice – There are three types of personas for presidential communication (personal, surrogate, and institutional). While the voice and the perspective on the message may change, be sure the songbook is the same.
- Regularity – Presidential communication doesn’t have to be every day or even every week, but it needs to have rationale and it needs to be regular.
- Say It AND Do It – It is essential that a transition plan include proof-points and put tangible examples behind messages and or pronouncements. For example, saying engagement is a priority or that the president is eager to listen is one thing – you must be prepared to do it sooner, not later.
- Expectations – The first 12-18 months is the time to establish expectations for how the president will lead, delegate, listen, and involve alumni, faculty, students, and friends. Everyone will be better involved and more supportive of future strategic goals if they already understand how a president decides, delegates, and incorporates feedback.
- Learning Curve – Good presidential transition should take advantage of the full academic-year (there is no 100-day marker in higher education) as an opportunity to establish precedent about the president’s personality, style, expectations, and leadership.
- Authenticity – The sheer volume of messages and channels people process on a daily basis puts a significant premium on authenticity and transparency. Further differentiate and deepen the impact of your communication by adopting practices that prioritize dialogue over monologue and by using innovative* tools to scale interpersonal experiences to a broad audience.
A well-planned and executed transition plan that places a priority on strong communication will:
- Establish and deliver on early expectations about the new president
- Generate goodwill and esprit de’ corps among key audiences
- Position for a presidency that can be more effective, efficient, and productive
*A Phonecast is one of those innovative tools. A president can use a Phonecast to speak with and engage in live Q&A with thousands of alumni or donors at one time, with radio-quality production, and the convenience of reaching out to all of your alumni in a one hour event staged from your campus. To learn more and/or sign-up for a demo, click here.