Scouting has seen a lot of change in the first hundred years, even though the mission and aims have remained the same. Within our units, changes in the program often affect us too. But while the methods and values of Scouting remain constant, we often find ourselves in need of changing things within our units to more closely align ourselves with those values.
We also find that we may need a better way to do some things in order to facilitate a better experience for the boys. For example, we might need a different approach to equipment, fund-raising, or procedures.
Change can be led by anyone with a valuable idea and the support from others, but for various reasons, the committee chair is usually in the best position to advocate change. Often, the committee chair has a broad view of troop operations, receives input from the Scoutmaster and various committee members, frequently participates in boards of review, and is a main point of contact with troop parents. From this position, the committee chair often has the clearest picture of what needs to be done.
The first steps
The way to begin any undertaking is to figure out where you currently stand. What is working, and what needs to be changed? What is your vision for the end product of that change? Ask yourself what you want to see end up different from the way it is now.
Say, for instance, you find out from boards of review that a lot of boys aren’t going on campouts, and in talking to parents, you find that they often don’t know about them. Your vision is to get more boys on campouts, and you’ll know you’ve succeeded when participation improves. You see that, while the boys’ planning process and committee support are working, the process of getting the word out to the parents could use improvement.
Your next step is to figure out a path from where you are now to where you need to be in order to accomplish that. It could be as simple as sending out more timely e-mails to parents, more frequent calendar revisions, or putting information in a weekly or monthly newsletter.
What you’ve done here is packetize the change: you divide the process up into small, manageable chunks, each of which is a SMART goal. (SMART goals, as you may recall, are those which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.)
If you want your changes to be persistent, dig deeper than a surface solution. Temporary fixes usually don’t result in permanent improvement. Don’t be afraid to rethink the basic fundamentals of the way you do things, while of course staying within the BSA’s vision, mission and methods. Objections like “we’ve always done it that way” should be considered, but don’t let that be an anchor to a nonworkable past.
Working your plan
Now that you have a vision for change, you can plan to execute it and see it through to completion. If you’re a Wood Badger, you’ve done this when you wrote and worked your ticket. (And if you aren’t, you’re missing out on a terrific experience in personal development.)
- Put yourself in the flow of information. As committee chair, you should know what’s going on with each of your committee members. If they are not forthcoming, ask. Be interested in what they are doing without being involved or interfering in their job.
- Find ways to bring your concepts together into a unified plan of action.
- Give form to your idea. Know what you want, and write everything down. Craft a well-written proposal. Read it over and over again and edit it when you notice something that needs changing.
- Anticipate objections and have answers. You will most likely encounter some pushback.
- Obtain buy-in from those whom you need to accomplish your goals by making sure that your idea meets the self-interest of others, especially those who can keep your idea from becoming an actuality. Have answers ready at hand for “what’s in it for me” type questions.
- Discuss your ideas with key people on the committee and unit leader. Tailor your pitch to emphasize benefit to them or to the program and the boys. They may see a reason to do something differently or not at all.
- Choose the right time. Often, others are more receptive to a change when a crisis or a situation that could benefit from the change comes up. But don’t cause a crisis just to open the door.
- Advocate simplicity. All other things being equal, change should make things easier for those affected, not more difficult. Realize though that, sometimes, change will be difficult while the goalposts are being moved.
- Enlist allies on your committee who would also benefit and would be willing to “co-sponsor” the change. They may even be in a position to own the process. If it only benefits and affects you, it’s probably something you can just do by yourself.
- Be prepared in advance to encounter opposition. Play devil’s advocate with yourself or a close ally. Defuse objections early by bringing it up yourself. Position it as valid criticism and then objectively disprove the uncertainty. Be sure your proposal moves your unit closer to Scouting’s ideals.
- If the change affects the general membership, it should be agreed to by the committee, the Scoutmaster, and possibly even the chartered organization. Consider introducing it, tabling it and acting at a later meeting to give opportunity for input from everyone.
- Don’t try to sneak something through. Others will resent the “smoke filled room” approach. Be open with your intentions.
- Once the proposal is approved, commit to seeing it get implemented. Make sure everyone knows about it. Revise your unit parents’ handbook if necessary, or notify everyone through your normal channels – e-mail, newsletter, or announcement at unit meetings and functions.
- Be open to a trial period if there are strong objections. Suggest implementing the change for a defined period of time, and commit to review it at the end of that time.
- If your idea fails, find out why. Often, you can amend the original proposal to remove the objections without hurting the original intent.
We can all use an ear to bend or a shoulder to cry on when we need support. A sympathetic fellow Scouter in a similar position is always a valuable resource.
- Build a network of colleagues in other units whom you can trust for an honest opinion. Your district’s monthly Roundtable is a great place for meeting others who you can bounce ideas off of.
- Research how other units are doing what you’re proposing. Use the web or discussion groups to gather input, or ask friends in nearby troops for advice.
- Get involved at the district level. Volunteer to serve on the district committee or work on a particular aspect of district operations such as training, advancement or program. Ask fellow district volunteers for advice.
- Your unit commissioner is also a valuable resource. Chances are, he or she can help you find a way to solve your problem or advocate your idea.
Change in the way we do things is frequently necessary in order to continually apply the methods and aims of Scouting as they should be practiced. Don’t be afraid to move your unit in the right direction when it’s necessary.
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