Practices of Transparent Communication, Part 1

October 18, 2021

by Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary; David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary; and Shanda Stricherz, Chief Creative Officer at Sioux Falls Seminary

Last week, we asked the question, “With the volume of information that is available to be shared, how does a movement like Kairos keep from overwhelming people with transparent communication?” To put that another way, how do we keep our commitment to transparency from resulting in bombarding people with a flood of content that is impossible to digest?

Our current solution to this tension between “sharing everything” and “being transparent” is to engage in five specific practices of transparent communication. They are: Predictable Rhythms, Clear Data, Equal Access, Open Meetings, and Asking Questions/Sharing Concerns. This week and next, we are going to take a closer look at each of these five practices of transparent communication. Let’s begin by talking about Predictable Rhythms, Clear Data, and Equal Access.

Predictable Rhythms
The first thing we do is funnel all communication into a predictable rhythm. For example, rather than sending several emails to students at various times whenever we feel like something needs to be shared, we limit our communication to one email each month. By sending one email each month, students are more likely to open (e.g., our open rate for that email is nearly twice the industry average) and read it. This approach also requires us to be more thoughtful about when and how we engage in various projects or activities. With increased thoughtfulness comes increased transparency because we are able to share information more explicitly (i.e., we are not being reactive but proactive in our communication).

We utilize predictable rhythms in everything we do. Every week, we share a new blog post. These posts are automatically shared with everyone in the Kairos community. Every two weeks, we share the Kairos Notes with all staff, faculty, therapists, and board members. The key is to funnel all communication into these rhythms. Using rhythms invites us to think more deeply about what we are doing and where we are going as an organization (i.e., it fosters alignment) while also ensuring that nothing is missed (i.e., it builds trust). In addition to the rhythms for our emails, we have predictable rhythms for team meetings, conversations with new students and mentors, and board meetings (which are open for any staff, faculty, therapists, and board members to attend).

Clear Data
Sharing information in a predictable rhythm is only helpful if the information can be understood. This is especially true when sharing quantitative data. In the context of Kairos, we are required to submit reports to various accreditors, the Canadian and U.S. governments, denominations, auditors, and others. We steward financial and physical resources and manage thousands of sessions in our counseling and therapy centers. All of this produces a significant amount of quantitative data. With our commitment to transparency, it is important that the board, faculty, staff, and therapists have access to this data by sharing it in an easily digestible format. A “share everything” approach could result in endless reports that are shared with everyone even though most people won’t read them and/or wouldn’t know where to start (i.e., reading an audit cover-to-cover has the tendency to be one of the most boring activities on planet earth – and that is assuming the reader knows what to look for!). Therein lies the challenge: How to be transparent with all of this data without overwhelming or confusing people in the process.

Our solution to this challenge is what we call a monthly dashboard report. Each month our goal is to share a single report that shares the data our community has identified as those most important to track (e.g., debt, cash, operating margin, counseling sessions, enrollment, student engagement, etc.). We gather this information from a plethora of sources within the organization and consolidate it into a one-page document that can be shared via email. The dashboard provides a snapshot of the important data within Kairos. It is meant to be clear, consistent, and transparent. We share the same information every time even if it doesn’t seem “good” or like something that should be “public” information. In fact, when other schools have seen this dashboard in one of the presentations we have been invited to give at various conferences, the reaction is usually something like, “You share all of that information? Even the financial data?” It seems our dashboard tends to be clearer and more transparent than the norm.

Equal Access
The practices of predictable rhythms and clear data are only helpful if they are supported by the practice of equal access. Through this practice, we ensure all staff, faculty, therapists, and board members have equal access to all information. For example, if someone wants to see a full audit report, they are welcome to do so. If a faculty member wants to attend a board meeting, she is welcome to do so. In addition to making all information available, the practice of equal access also means that we refrain from developing “special” reports for specific groups of people. For example, we do not create one report for the board and a different one for staff members. Everyone sees the same dashboard and gets the same emails. By providing equal access to information that is shared in a predictable rhythm, everyone can rest assured nothing is being hidden from view.

Join us next week to learn more about the remaining two practices of transparent communication: Open Meetings and Asking Questions/Sharing Concerns.

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