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The Laws of the Grapevine: Sequence

Posted by Grace Lee on Aug 8, 2013 10:30:00 AM

Sequence, Part 1: Up and Out

What’s better for building relationships: you doing lots of talking or you engaged in meaningful conversation? If you can learn to master the Laws of the GrapevineTM you will increase your success at work, at home, at church, and in other spheres of influence.

As a school leader you recognize the grapevine around your school. Whether or not you like it, it’s there. It can be a great way to engage families and different groups within the school if your cultivate it wisely. You want to make sure you can leverage that connection to communicate the right message and engage your community in a way that accomplishes your objectives and enhances your relationships. In general, the best source of new enrollment for your school is word of mouth marketing from the families that already attend. The goal of this 4-part series is to help you strengthen that grapevine in order to build trust and confidence through the organization.


Internal and External Grapevines

There are connections both internal to the school and external as well. The organizational chart illustrates the connections of board, chief administrator, faculty, staff, etc, which make up the internal grapevine. You also have connections outside of the school: Family, personal friends,  community leaders, and social media connections.. They are all people with whom you want to build connections, but in this strategy we want to go deeper than that to form valuable, deep relationships that keep them engaged with your mission and your vision.



All of these people are part of your internal grapevine and you want to develop a very specific strategy to engage them in a deeper relationship. If you are a school administrator you recognize that you and the admission office may be effective at enrolling new students, but the primary reason families will re-enroll at your school is the quality of your teachers and coaches.  So the importance of faculty culture and your relationship together (built through effective communication) is vital to grow your program.



Who are the people you and the school need to cultivate relationships with outside the organization? For example, the target market of prospective parents and students who align with your ideal profile. You have the opportunity to build relationships with your community to attract new enrollment.

Your goal is to build relationships that have real meaning and depth with people both in the internal and external grapevines.


In our work with school, other non-profit organizations, and with businesses, we have repeatedly asked this question: Why do relationships fail? The two most common answers are: Poor communication habits, and Conflicting expectations.

So, why is it so important for you to be an effective communicator?  Because communication is THE key element in all of your relationships. The most effective leaders, especially in schools, are those who respect the Laws of the GrapevineTM to build great communication habits.

Our quest: How do we convert “friends” into friends? It’s important to recognize the difference between a Facebook “friend” and a person with whom you have a real relationship. Friends (without quotation marks!) are the ones that will show up at your funeral. They will celebrate your wins, and console you in your losses. Just because you have social media connection doesn’t mean they’re relating with you. Your communication habits will be a huge predictor in your ability to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships.

The Laws of the GrapevineTM

Law #1 : People derive the value of your relationship based on the sequence in which you consistently share information.

Sequence matters! Want proof? If you really want to get your faculty mad, go ahead and send out an email to your school families without letting your faculty know first. How can they answer questions when families know about it before them? Teachers, if you want a loss of relationship with your principal, make an announcement to your students about something you’re doing without letting your administration know first. The sequence in which you share information is absolutely critical in building relationships.

Law #2 : Mindshare is directly proportionate to the frequence of conversation.

By mindshare, we mean you have a common set of interests and you have their attention--they care about what you’re saying, and you’re having genuine dialogue with each other. You may be sending out tweets, updates and messages, but if they’re not engaging with you, you don’t have mindshare. If you don’t have mindshare, you’re irrelevant. How you engage in conversation (your sequence) as well as how frequently you communicate will directly affect how you’re able to gain commitment with your faculty, your peers, and throughout your entire grapevine.

Law # 3 : A steady flow helps the grapevine grow - A sudden flash gives the grapevine a rash

Effective communication is consistent. You can’t have a crisis and suddenly need deep relationships and start pumping out content to get the word out. You want a consistent and steady flow so that you have relationship and trust already built into your relationships so that when you bring information to them they know that it’s reliable, and they’re willing to share it with their network. It’s important to remember that this steady flow idea ties back to sequence and to frequence.

If you can learn to master these first three laws, you can not only build a stronger organization that is better able to build relationships with each other, but you’ll find you are far better able to market your program as well.


Let’s talk about the “when” of sequence and frequence. When developing your communications, the sequence in which a message should be shared is: Up, Out, Down, and Around.

Communicating Up

If you are the chief administrator of a school, your first priority   priority is to communicate up to your school board. If you are a principal or teacher, then up would be to your direct supervisor. What do they want from you regarding communications?

  • Alignment of expectations and results, No secrets--No surprises, Trust and Confidence

To fulfill those expectations, you want to share Up:

  • Results

    • Performance Data, Project Progress, Reports

  • Stories

    • News, Inspirations, Success, Changed Lives, Unplanned or Unexpected Events, Value Creation

  • Feedback

    • Lessons Learned, Observations, Goals & Plans, Adjustments to Improve

The other advantage of communicating up first is that your supervisor often will give you feedback in how to communicate the message to others. They can often help you shape the message or offer suggestions on how to improve it. Sometimes sharing Up is as far as the information goes for confidentiality reasons.

Communicating Out

When we talk about communicating Out we are referring to people who are in the same level of the organization as you, and may also include any advisors with whom you are working. What do they want to gain from you?

  • Personal Impact

  • Learning Opportunities

  • Relationships

  • Handoffs

  • Trust & Confidence

As with sharing Up, it is important when sharing Out to include results, stories, and feedback. As you’re sharing stories and results with peers, it’s important to not turn it into an opportunity for gossip that can undermine relationships throughout the organization. Sometimes school employee’s suffer from Princess and the Pea Syndrome, where one little thing can create a huge amount of trouble and pain. Make sure you’re responding rather than reacting to situations! The difference is the very definition of emotional intelligence.


What are the most effective means of communicating Up to a supervisor? Face to face conversation is really important; sometimes that’s a casual conversation and sometimes it’s a more formal meeting. You want to communicate Up at least every two weeks, sharing results, stories, and feedback. If you’re not able to connect face to face, a phone call may be a good way of connecting. When using email to communicate Up, keep is concise and to the point. Bullet points are preferred over paragraphs. Generally, the person on the receiving end will want to know just enoughinformation, and if they need more they can ask for it. In an email format you want to give them summary information that can be read ideally in less than 60 seconds.

In communicating Out, face to face conversations are valuable at least every couple of weeks. Utilizing peer review on any messages you’re communicating Down is a great way of making sure your communication is clear and effective, as well as free of error. Communicating Out may include more email communication as well as more details than when communicating up.

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