While some experts have advocated for a three-pronged approach to school competitive strategy around Price, Product, and Process, even greater market advantage is gained through the development of Proximity.
Families are far more attracted by your school's ability to form deep, emotional relationships with them than any other factor.
As your board and administration are evaluating your strategic plan and enrollment growth options in the midst of so much uncertainty, increasing your ability to cultivate engaged relationships with your faculty and families will yield the greatest sustainable competitive advantage.
When they are emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually committed to your mission, goals, and leadership, you will find it extremely hard NOT to grow. Engaged faculty and families willingly serve as energized school ambassadors who will advocate for you among their neighbors and friends.
When someone nearby mentions a need or problem regarding their child's education, your engaged influencers will recommend your school as a potential solution. They are also more likely to constructively interact with your social media channels and mention you in their feeds and forums.
Below are five initial questions that you can include in your strategic value assessment as you determine ways to increase your competitive advantage.
Tell the Truth: Do you deliver on your stated values?
Building credibility with your community requires consistency between who you say you are and the experience you actually deliver on a day-to-day, person-to-person basis. When the priorities and behaviors of your people align with your stated mission and core values, you increase organizational health and trust.
A well-structured net promoter score (NPS) survey can provide vital data for your assessment. For independent schools, we use the Culture and Climate Survey offered through the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). Knowing how to interpret and utilize this data, along with the available benchmarks, to learn and improve is a critical part of the strategy process.
Part of the challenge for many schools is having a poorly worded mission statement that is more of a philosophical paragraph. Without a compelling mission combined with clearly articulated behavioral core values, your school is vulnerable to the disease of dysfunction that limits growth and steals the joy of your leadership.
Be Interested: What deep internal fears do you consistently seek to help parents and students overcome?
Each family may have slightly different motivations, but overall they are looking for a school where their child will be known, connected, and inspired--in that order. They are afraid of their child getting lost in a large generic system where they can be lost, lonely, and disconnected.
Some students are able to fight through to achieve success academically, socially, athletically, etc., but more parents are unwilling to gamble on that outcome.
Structuring your recruiting and enrollment strategy around an empathetic story that effectively conveys your understanding of and commitment to resolving those internal fears will differentiate your program in a noisy marketplace.
Live the Truth: Is your entire organization authentically committed to your value proposition?
Wide variations in attitudes and habits are common on the school campus--that's expected among your students, but it's a BIG problem when it's your employees. It's hard to grow when your marketing messages say one thing, and your teachers and staff are delivering something else.
We've seen some situations where the marketing tagline and key points were scoffed at by the teachers and staff. This is where your school culture is experienced and validated, and such a brand conflict has significant negative consequences.
Clarity about your value proposition and a culture of accountability that ensures effective delivery will contribute to your growth.
Be Relevant: Who will make the school choice decision?
It's easy to get confused here. Know and focus your messaging on the key decision maker. Sometimes that is a parent/guardian/grandparent, but as the student reaches upper elementary grades and beyond he/she is more often the primary driver.
Identify the process and criteria that families in your target market most commonly use to make this important decision. You may want to build a persona for your key decision maker, recognizing specific characteristics about their background, preferences, and concerns.
Deliver 5% More: Do you make their lives more complicated or much simpler?
Pete Seeger once said, "Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple."
As educators we tend to make things more complex, but genius is achieved when you can simplify the journey for your target market. They face enormous challenges on their path to success, but you have the ability to make it a little easier and more joyful.
One of our five Core Values at School Growth is Deliver 5% More. We want to delight you through a team that strives to go beyond the expectations with our services and deliverables. In our selection process for new people and in performance evaluations, we consider how effectively we follow up and follow through to sustain relationships and to simplify your leadership journey.
If building stronger relationships among your faculty and families is a strategic priority, then you probably already recognize the competitive advantage of Proximity. When you prioritize relationships, your plans for professional development, communication, enrollment, human resources, etc., all take on a different tone.
Remember: The Joy of life and leadership is rooted in relationships.