Even though they are simply administering programs as mandated by USDA, at times State Agencies can be cast as “big-government.” Regardless of political affiliation, the last thing that school nutrition professionals want is more “big-government” involvement in their daily operations. When State Agencies offer tools, such as statewide menu-planning software to help everyone be successful, not everyone will be immediately thrilled. Therefore careful attention should be afforded to gaining School Food Authority (SFA) buy-in even when your Agency has the authority to insist that your tool be used.
We are all familiar with the phrase, “Everyone wants to buy, but nobody wants to be sold.” While basic marketing concepts certainly apply, gaining buy-in is not about “selling” your new software in the traditional sense. The goal of SFA buy-in is about helping them understand the benefits and accepting the help you are offering. In today’s information society, we all want to assess the data ourselves and come to a conclusion. And let’s face it – nobody wants to be forced into doing anything (even if it is a good thing).
Spread the Word Early
Get the word out as early as possible when you are planning to implement a statewide software system. This allows SFAs time to process the information and to determine how it impacts them. Most people dislike surprises so changes that appear to be last-minute are less likely to be embraced despite the months (or possibly years) you have spent researching and planning.
Additionally, early communication provides more time to gain buy-in before implementing your new software by helping SFAs work through concerns in a lower-stress environment. If you are able to communicate on progress regularly you may find that some SFAs automatically feel more involved in the process and are more positive from the onset.
Craft Your Message
When it comes to communicating something as valuable and important as a new statewide software system, both what you say AND how you say it are important. Your messaging should always make it clear that the goal of the software is to help SFAs. If your initiative appears mainly aimed at facilitating monitoring efforts, SFAs will feel watched and that you are “out to get them.”
Whether you are speaking to a group or crafting an email campaign, always consider your audience and what is important to them. Messaging that is friendly and helpful will likely be better received than stiff, regulatory-style verbiage. When possible, involve at least two or three SFAs in the actual implementation process since they can offer you a different perspective and priceless feedback as you craft your message.
Educate, Educate, Educate!
It is not enough to just say that your new system will help SFAs; you have to explain how it will help. People want to know, “what’s in it for me?” While there are a great many benefits that your new statewide menu-planning system will provide SFAs, start by briefly explaining the top three (all of which we have discussed in earlier blog posts).
Data Sharing Saves Time
The very first blog in this series, The Power of Data Sharing, we detail how sharing data can save SFAs time from both a data entry and onboarding perspectives. Sharing realistic break-downs of time-savings can help get this point across.
Statewide Software Saves Money
We also know that limited local budgets can restrict SFAs from purchasing crucial software. Detailing how much the software and training that you will offer would cost out-of-pocket will help folks recognize the benefit of the resources you are providing.
Consistently using approved menu-planning software can help ensure that an SFA is audit-ready at all times. They will have confidence knowing that they are meeting complex meal pattern regulations throughout the school year. Since Administrative Reviews can be stressful for many, it is nice to know well in advance that this area is on-point.
Expand Your Audience
Reach out to School Business Officials and Superintendents to let them know what is available or coming soon. Food Service Directors likely need to gain support from these administrators, and communication directly from your State Agency can assist in that effort. You can use the opportunity to praise the work that is done at the local level across your state since Child Nutrition can often be a thankless service. Learning about the benefits (especially those related to financial savings) may spur administrators to take more interest in ensuring that their school district is taking full advantage of available resources.
Gaining buy-in for statewide menu-planning software is neither rocket-science nor a cake-walk. Although the principals are pretty easy to understand, it takes thoughtful effort to ensure success. Remember to communicate early and often keeping your audience in mind. Educate both Food Service Directors and School Administrators about the benefits they will reap from the statewide software and your goal to help them be successful.