Making the Case for Good Immediacy
A necessary habit for schools and leaders
The Brief Case 📚→ 💼 → 📊 →📈
“Chef conferences, MAD in particular, dramatically accelerated the tendency of the cutting-edge culinary community to use social media not just to broadcast their work but also to communicate with each other. . . . Through these social networks, information about culinary innovation spread more quickly and widely in the professional community than ever before. Because of [this] immediacy, high end chefs became acutely aware of how frequently their peers were creating new dishes or new cooking techniques, how often influencers they followed commented favorably on new dishes, and therefore how culinary innovation through R&D could enhance a high-end restaurant’s ability to draw critical attention and bookings.” (23)
This quotation comes from The Uncertainty Mindset: Innovation Insights from the Frontiers of Food, wherein Vaughn Tan argues convincingly that recent innovation in cutting-edge restaurants has been enabled, supported, and fueled by the rise of the internet. When chefs send or receive information at the right — i.e., most actionable or highest leverage — time, they enhance their personal practice, build customer engagement and retention, and provide proof of concept, in general, for the field of experimental cooking.
We call this “good immediacy” or what happens when the right information available at the right time leads to human or organizational flourishing. In schools, a good immediacy habit could be as simple as attaching meeting pre-reading to calendar invites. When attendees click on information-dense invites, they find everything they need to prepare for the meeting, with no need to search their inboxes or waste precious time retracing their steps. What’s more, they feel a greater sense of trust for leaders who are willing to demonstrate such care on a consistent basis.
At the time of writing, we seem to be at an inflection point in a ‘hockey stick’ growth model when it comes to technology and immediacy given the rapid advances in an alphabet soup of emerging technology: artificial intelligence (AI), large language
models (LLM), and generative pre-trained transformers (GPT). We can and should consider these technologies in the context of schools, and in this edition of Making the Case, communication in schools.
If you are responsible for the well-being of a school community, or at least an interested party within that community, it’s important to know how to generate good immediacy around communication. You want people, at a bare minimum, to pause for just a second before sending out a communication and to ask, “is this the best way and time for my intended recipient to receive this information?”
📚 The Learning Case for Good Immediacy
Learning, at its core, requires trust, and great schools build trust whenever possible. Learning also requires focus — an uncluttered, unimpeded flow of information, tasks, and feedback for the learner. When learners can easily retrieve information at the time when it is most needed, they trust the source — i.e., teacher — and they are able to bring more of their attention to the task at hand — i.e., the learning. The best way to train teachers to value the kind of immediacy that leads to productive learning is to model it first at the level of adult-to-adult communication.
In order to build a culture of good immediacy, you must first overcome the fact that most people haven’t thought clearly about the purposes of their communication channels and output. They communicate whenever it feels best for them or whenever they have a free moment to “get something off their desk.” For the sole reason that they haven’t really explored other options, their communication is often a spray or a blast, reactive or best-for-the sender.
If you can help administrators and faculty (or committee chairs and trustees) notice their slowly built habits and defense mechanisms around digital communication, they will become better senders and receivers of messaging in all contexts. They will realize that every message can and should arrive with an in-built timing dividend for the recipient.
Opportunities for reflection and action abound. Take, for example, email, texting, and organizational chat (e.g., Slack or Teams). These popular, engrained forms of text-based communication have blurry lines around their use. Are they for synchronous, real-time messaging? Are they for asynchronous collaboration? And what norms — whether intentionally crafted or accidentally established — exist for their use? Are you supposed to respond to emails within the day? Within two days? Is it accepted practice for people to ignore emails for weeks at a time?
Chances are, we don’t quite know. So we bless the blurriness every time we operate our communication devices. Such blurriness can create anxiety and uncertainty when, for example, a message is left Unread, or worse, On Read. The sender cannot assume that the recipient knows if the communication is meant to be “live” or “on tape.” The recipient also may feel compelled to respond at unsavory times, especially if the message is coming from a supervisor or is wrapped in some other power dynamic. In schools, adults and students alike learn in spite of such conditions.
Everyone benefits — and learns more effectively — when folks are more thoughtful and more intentional about their communication, especially when communication left unchecked can create uncertainty.
💼 The Business Case for Good Immediacy
Time wastes and frustration piles up when communication norms are left to assumptions or whims . . . or, worse, are ignored.
Specifically, what suffers, what degrades in schools in such cases, are our very foundations: relationships between division heads and faculties, productivity among grade level teams, high level / high trust discourse among boards, etc.
To remain healthy, each school’s communication plumbing needs to be in good shape. Scheduling delivery of messages and enabling micro-delays are two ways that schools can leverage the immediacy desired by the sender while considering the uncertainty on behalf of the recipient. Leaders, especially at the top of the school’s hierarchy, can be direct about what they expect (and, perhaps more importantly, what they do not expect).
Here’s an example compiled from the email signatures of several leader we admire: “My working hours may not match your working hours. Please do not feel the need to respond to my emails outside of your typical working pattern.” This kind of simple statement, written once in a repeating, automatic email signature, goes a long way toward breaking down power dynamics that can run free in schools, and other organizations, if unchecked. Small moves can signal huge intent and thoughtfulness.
📈 Measuring the ROL for Good Immediacy
Email Audit (quantitative): To measure the Return on Learning (ROL) of tending to immediacy in communications, designate a preferred time range for emails to be received (which days and which hours in those days). Then, select a month from the recent past and ask your team / faculty to tally up the number of messages that they received outside of the time range during that month. Next, categorize those received messages: (a) from someone in a higher ranking position, (b) from a peer, (c) from a subordinate, and (d) from an external party.
After this initial audit is complete, the faculty / team should commit to only sending messages that will be received during the preferred range for the next month. Run the same audit after 1 month to see the impact of this learned and implemented intervention.
Efficacy Survey (qualitative): Once the preferred range has been established, wait for a month and then survey faculty AND parents about what they noticed / how they felt about the frequency, timing, and quality of emails received during the month. You might use a scale, e.g., on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being ideal and 1 unsatisfactory, how would you describe the frequency, timing, and quality of emails received? Why did you give that rating?
📊 Measuring the ROI for Good Immediacy
As with many school initiatives, the return on investment (ROI) of an intervention is not going to be noticeable in the short term. The income and expenditures of a school are annually driven, so it’s not possible to measure ROI in quarterly or semi-annual intervals.
Retention Data (quantitative): While not directly correlated, and certainly not causal, the best approach is to attach a ‘good immediacy’ intervention to two longer-term metrics: employee retention and student / family retention. The communication change, once implemented, can serve as an attributable variable to increasing employee retention or to a neutral to positive impact on student / family (i.e., customer) satisfaction.
Of course the reasons that employees or families remain in the community cannot be attached to a single intervention. Regardless, such moves can be strategically aligned to other efforts to retain faculty members and families.
Help team members notice their slowly built habits and defense mechanisms around digital communication, and they will become better senders and receivers of messaging in all contexts. Simple communication moves go a long way toward breaking down power dynamics that can run free in schools and other organizations if unchecked.
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