Culture Includes Everyone
Hopefully by now, you’ve read each of the service team’s articles on the culture of unit service. If you haven’t, I encourage you to stop reading this one and go read those first. Across many of those articles you’ll read quite a few definitions on what culture is, you’ll learn why the culture of unit service is important and how it aligns nearly 13,000 volunteers in achieving our mission. After you’ve read each one, then read this one – as it’s designed to build on the rest.
The idea of ‘Be the heart. Build relationships. Change lives.’ reminds me of a story from the 2019 World Scout Jamboree. I served on staff for WSJ ’19 with the Puma Patrol, a brigade of young adult volunteers whose primary job was to hype up the participants and encourage interaction. Every night of the jamboree, we’d visit different basecamps to interact with all the participants. Upon entering Basecamp B one night, I found that one of the subcamp commissioners had organized a dinner party nearly 16 tables long. Scouts from 12 different countries were sitting together, sharing in each other’s food, swapping stories, and making friends. All of the usual barriers seen in international meetings simply vanished as Scouts who didn’t even speak the same language joined together in fellowship.
That’s what ‘Be the heart. Build relationships. Change lives.’ means
The culture of unit service is not new. Commissioners, like the subcamp commissioner above, have always strived to be the heart of Scouting, to build relationships, and change the lives of the youth and unit leaders we serve. What is new is that we’re now recognizing it and simplifying our message so that everyone understands our shared values. And that’s just it – the culture of unit service includes everyone. It includes both unit and administrative commissioners, it includes unit leaders, Scouting professionals, parents, chartered organization representatives, Scouts, and any other person that has contact with Scouting. As commissioners, it’s our job to set up the table and offer everyone a seat.
As Linda mentioned in her article, it’s harder to be an example rather than just give advice. But if we intentionally emulate our culture, imagine how many people we can bring in! The best part? Getting started is simple:
- Commissioners’ goals already align with our culture; follow our cultural statement and everything else will fall in line.
- Share all your Scouting adventures to social media! This is not only an important part of building relationships and being the heart, but also demonstrably impacts the growth of our movement.
- Use your resources. Commissioners can get overwhelmed with everything – I certainly do sometimes as a unit commissioner, but there are so many places to find help. The commissioner website, newsletter and forum are chock-full of information and the Facebook groups have tons of people willing to lend a helping hand.
All of these things are meant to get us started on the journey. Building a culture of purpose is going to take some time, and it needs to involve everyone – not just commissioners. You are the resource for building this culture and I can’t thank you enough for your service in doing so.
As always, if you have any suggestions on improving our website, please send them to me. I also encourage you to share these articles with all your fellow volunteers so that we can begin building this culture today.
Culture Starts with You
There are many ways to define culture, but there is overlap among the definitions on these key points: Culture includes a set of underlying beliefs, values, principles and ways of interacting within an organization.
Our beliefs, values and principles are summarized in the Mission of the BSA, which is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” Your way of interacting within an organization starts with you. If you want to help units fulfill the mission of the BSA, the best first step is to ask yourself “Why do YOU serve as a commissioner?” The WHY, according to author Simon Sinek, is the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us. Understanding why you do what you do will help you decide how you will interact with others.
Be the Heart: When you know why you are serving units and you know the mission of the BSA, you will interact with others differently. Your actions will be based on the Scout Oath and Law. The shorthand we often us is 4, 5 and 6. Friendly, Courteous and Kind should be modeled in your words and actions. Your actions are not about you; rather, they are focused on the needs of others. These principles make a huge impact in how others receive you. Also, keep in mind that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, which keeps us humble. When you do what you can to help units deliver Scouting, you are the heart of Scouting.
Build Relationships: Scouting has a rich social tradition. Whatever Scouting event you attend, it will offer many opportunities to get together with friends and meet new ones. But Scouting is so much more than a social club. If you want to make an impact, you will need to work with others. That starts with having a relationship with the team you are working with. Think about how well you know them. Can you tell others about their families, their occupations, their hobbies, what motivates them? The better the relationship you have, the more likely you will be successful.
Change Lives: When you serve others as a commissioner, the impact you make changes lives. Helping units deliver the promise and mission of Scouting will not only change the lives of our Scouts, but also the lives of our unit leaders and other Scouting volunteers.
By the way, as you serve units, be sure to communicate what you’ve observed, what has changed and what the outcomes have been. If a tree falls in the middle of a forest, and no one is there to hear it . . .
It’s About the Impact: Commissioner Culture and Unit Assessments
Every administrative commissioner, especially district and council commissioners, struggles with the low rates of unit contact reporting—for both simple and detailed contacts. Talking about the low rates of reporting, setting goals for unit contact reporting, providing instructions, or even begging unit commissioners to make contacts and complete an assessment doesn’t seem to move the needle much, if at all. For the unit and administrative commissioners who have experience completing assessments on their own, the process seems simple enough and is something we agree every commissioner should do. So, why the low rates? Can the contact reporting rate ever be moved up?
Let’s explore this question from a different perspective, from the unit commissioner’s point of view. Why aren’t they motivated to record unit visits in the Commissioner Tools system? Maybe the bulk of our unit commissioners don’t see the true value; maybe they just hear their district commissioners talk about numbers on a chart.
As an administrative commissioner, what have you done to show the unit commissioners on your team that you value and make use of their impressions? Instead of talking about numbers, percentages, rates, comparisons to other districts or councils, or comparisons to your goals, have you proven to your commissioners that their contacts contribute to unit health in your district or council?
A new culture of sharing information and valuing input is required, and that new culture starts at the top. How often has your council commissioner reported back to their commissioner’s cabinet what they learned from reading every one of the entered contact reports—simple assessments, detailed assessments and unit service plans—even if there were just a handful recorded? As a district commissioner, would that motivate you to do the same: to read every contact report in your district and report to your monthly district commissioner team meeting what you learned about the strength of your district’s units?
Changing a culture may take time, but it will be the only lasting way to motivate your unit commissioners. Motivate them; thank them; explore their impressions about their units’ strengths, weaknesses, progress, needs and plans. Make them know without doubt that you value their knowledge—knowledge gained from reading, digesting and recognizing good work. We don’t need a new patch or certificate as a reward for good work; simple recognition from our administrative commissioners that we are doing a good job should be sufficient for those who have come to serve.
Culture change may start from the bottom, but it’s more likely that lasting impact will result from the council commissioner’s attention to changing the culture at the top and communicating that through the system to the real experts in this process—the unit commissioners. This commitment can potentially lead to greater reporting of unit health, which can build unit strength, Scout satisfaction, volunteer satisfaction and overall retention. It’s not about the numbers; it’s about the impact!
Exploring and Commissioner Culture
As a reminder, Exploring is a co-ed program for youth and young adults, ages 10 to 20, which provides opportunities for real-world, hands-on career experiences to help them “Discover Their Future.” The program links young people with mentors and experts affiliated with partner businesses and agencies in their communities. Participating in an Exploring club (ages 10-14) or post (ages 14-20) helps young people make informed decisions about careers they may want to pursue, while allowing businesses and organizations the opportunity to meet and cultivate future employees and/or members
Now let’s see how Exploring ties into our new unit service culture statements: Be the Heart. Build Relationships. Change Lives.
- Be the Heart. As commissioners, providing unit service should come from a servant’s heart—putting others’ needs ahead of our own and serving with the right motivation, where rewards, recognition or even gratitude cannot be the incentive for what we do. My purpose for volunteering as a BSA commissioner since 1985 and specifically in Exploring since 2013, is likely the same as it is for you in your role: we love the Scouting and Exploring programs. We want to help the units we serve succeed in their mission to provide the following to our country’s youth and young adults:
- BSA Mission: To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
- Exploring Mission: Deliver character-building experiences and mentorship that allow youth to achieve their full potential in both life and work.
- Build Relationships. As I advocate, our council and district commissioners need to be sure to include Exploring units in the unit service plan. An important part of that unit service is building relationships with units’ adult volunteers as well as with the leaders of the BSA charter organizations and Exploring participating organizations that support the unit. The only way to grow those relationships is through frequent (I recommend at least monthly) contact. Visit unit meetings; participate in unit events and activities; and communicate with adult unit volunteers and organization leaders through face-to-face discussions, phone calls, texts, and e-mails to ensure you understand their needs and they are benefiting from your support.
In addition to building relationships with our Exploring units, our council and district commissioners must embrace Exploring commissioners as full-fledged members of their commissioner corps. Welcome them to council and district commissioner staff meetings, conferences and events, and Colleges of Commissioner Science (CCS); encourage them to seek CCS degrees; and confer upon them commissioner recognition awards. The only practical difference between an Exploring commissioner and a BSA commissioner is the adult application that they submit. The BSA application retains the Declaration of Religious Principle requirement, whereas the Exploring application does not require this declaration. Other than that, both go through the same background investigation requirement; take the same Youth Protection Training; and use the same commissioner tools, reporting and techniques to provide the same quality of service to their units.
- Change Lives. How does Exploring change lives? First, the Exploring Mission statement promises character development and mentorship. Second, Exploring affords older youth and young adults the opportunity to “drive before they buy” various future careers, which may influence their choice of college degree to earn or professional, skilled or technical occupation to pursue.
As a commissioner, you can recommend the Exploring program to Scouting volunteers and their older youth and young adults currently in other Scouting programs. Not only is that potentially life-changing for youth, it’s a model partnership with others who share your heart for Scouting.
Commissioner Culture – Program Support
Following Commissioner Week at the Philmont Training Center this summer, you may have noticed a new slogan from the National Commissioner Service Team: Be the Heart, Build Relationships, Change Lives. As members of the team considered new challenges and opportunities to support unit service this year, it was evident that many of our endeavors centered on this statement. Whether it was technology, marketing, development or program support, each of us had a role to play in building this new unit service culture.
Starting with Be the Heart, our Program Support team is planning greater collaboration with the BSA special needs committee. We can provide greater enrichment for our commissioners to support unit leaders in their work with children with special needs. Even though material and web resources are already available on the BSA websites, our team would like to get the word out there on growth and upcoming changes to these resources. At the same time, we are looking to expand support for STEM in Scouting in order to help units with recruitment and retention of youth through enhanced program ideas.
In the area of Building Relationships, there has been a revival in roundtable throughout the country. During the COVID pandemic, councils quickly switched over to Zoom meetings, resulting in increased attendance by Scouters. Removing commute time and providing options to meet remotely made it convenient for everyone to participate. In order to support this renewed interest, new material needed to be created regularly for each of the program areas, from Cub Scouts to Sea Scouts. As a result, members of our program support team are working with the national roundtable team to help develop a pipeline of new material from each of the national program committees. This will provide fresh and relevant information to help our councils attract Scouters to roundtable and build relationships in the process.
The last area of Change Lives involves better support for our new National Service Territory (NST) structure, especially the program leadership for all 16 territories. This entails working with the national program development committee on communication, commissioner support and resource development that will facilitate the NST mission of supporting local councils. With constant changes in all our different youth programs, it’s important that we help the NSTs stay on top of things and share this information with our local councils.
Making changes to commissioner culture is an important part of making a positive impact to the unit leaders and youth we serve. We are facing challenges in the BSA like no other time before, so going with the status quo will have limited effect in our unit service. A change in culture will help us adapt to the changes already taking place in our Scouting environment. How can you Be the Heart, Build Relationships, and Change Lives? Make sure that you explore these new assets, resources, and approaches and incorporate them into your unit service to ensure that today’s volunteers have the resources to deliver today’s BSA programs. Let’s go out there and make an impact on the youth we serve!
Commissioner Culture: A Development Perspective
Be the Heart. Build Relationships. Change Lives
These seven words have the capacity to help transform unit service in the Boy Scouts of America. A key element of any successful organization is having a clearly defined and easy to articulate culture. These seven words capture what we need the unit service culture to be.
Commissioners have the unique opportunity to embrace these culture statements and help shape the future of our movement.
- Think about what each of these phrases means to you and how you can incorporate each one into your regular commissioner activities.
- Make a personal commitment to take specific action related to these culture statements.
- Periodically evaluate how you are progressing in embracing and implementing the culture statements in your regular activities.
If you do this, you will find that you are growing and developing as a commissioner.
Your development team will be working on ways to incorporate training related to the desired unit service culture. It starts with the November, 2021 Virtual Impact Session, which will be an in-depth look at the culture statements. The team will look for ways to add unit service culture content to the basic training courses and the College of Commissioner Science curriculum in 2022. The team is also creating a body of work called “short training topics,” which are designed to be used by district commissioners as they continually train their teams. Short training topics content will start to be available toward the end of Q1 2022, as will material that can be used to implement unit service culture.
Embrace this new culture, incorporate the culture into your daily routine and become a stronger commissioner! If each of us will do this as individuals, we will have a stronger commissioner corps and, in turn, a stronger Boy Scouts of America.
Building Relationships and Unit Health Through Detailed Assessments
Have you ever thought about the number of relationships you have; be it in your personal, professional, or even Scouting life? How about the breadth of people in those relationships? Have there been differences you’ve noted between those you have good relationships with and those relationships that have not lasted over time?
I’m sure each of you have many different types of relationships with fellow Scouters. I know I do. In fact, many of my good friends I’ve met are through relationships I have built through Scouting.
As commissioners, we rely on positive and continual relationships to do our job effectively. Administrative commissioners need positive relationships within their teams to be effective leaders; and those serving as unit commissioners need to establish and maintain positive relationships at the unit level to ensure they can help that unit be successful in serving our youth. Ultimately, it’s these unit relationships we build that enable commissioners to better serve the youth who look forward to what Scouting has to offer.
What’s involved with building and maintaining good relationships? What are the benefits to both parties and how does that help everyone succeed?
Relationships begin with getting to know one another, and, as relationships grow, trust is built. With trust, information exchange can begin and eventually lead to successful results. Talking with and working to understand each other help to build that trust. As trust grows, so does our success in helping each other grow, in solving problems, in identifying new ways of serving our youth, and even in developing long-term relationships.
As commissioners, we need to remain focused on unit and youth retention by working together with unit leaders and building healthy units. If a good foundation is established and maintained, we can increase that opportunity to serve more youth in the community.
A key method available in the suite of Technology Tools is the Detailed Assessment. It’s a tool that has been around for several years, and is a tool that each unit commissioner needs to assure is used at least once a year collaboratively with the unit leadership. The benefits of doing this Detailed Assessment are many, including: getting to know the unit leaders better, planning a balanced yearly program that is supported financially, leading youth to have fun, and ultimately growing retention.
This single activity, a valuable tool within the suite of technology applications, can be the single most important task we do with our unit. And, they only increase in value by having an established relationship with the unit leaders you serve.
An important outcome of the Detailed Assessment is the Unit Service Plan. I am fortunate to be the Chartered Organization Representative for a very successful Scouts BSA troop. I look forward to meeting with the unit leaders and our commissioner to discuss the past year and how to make the next year better. Each year we develop at least two unique plans to help the troop improve. It’s been a healthy process and I can see the results in the youth engagement and advancement each year.
As we incorporate doing a Detailed Assessment and a Unit Service plan into our regular routine, this reinforces a culture of using readily available technology to best serve our units. When we think of how to ‘Be the Heart, Build Relationships, and Change Lives into our overall commissioner culture, I hope you will agree with me that building relationships with our unit leaders is key.
The Culture of Roundtable is Built on Trust, Collaboration, and Empowerment
A group’s culture indicates its customs and its achievements. In unit service, we certainly have customs and, in the end, we aim to achieve the mission of the Boy Scouts of America as well as our vision to ensure that each person has an excellent experience in Scouting. If we drill down a bit further, we can understand how the roundtable program seeks to achieve this mission and vision.
Your national program committees work hard each month to bring you timely, relevant information aimed at continuous improvement and growth for the units you serve. For the Cub Scouts program, the focus this fall will be helping den leaders get started on the right footing to keep our Cub Scouts engaged. As for Scouts BSA, topics will home in on how Scouters can help young leaders succeed through the program by serving in a respectful, supportive manner both to the youth and to other volunteers. Both Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA breakouts will also feature video segments dedicated to helping unit volunteers find the resources they need to be successful.
Be the Heart.
Much of unit service is encapsulated in compassionate, active listening, so it is important to the culture of unit service that “heart” comes first. Being the heart is about connecting with others, and commissioners strive to create lasting bonds with those they serve. Through the roundtable program, commissioners lend an ear and listen actively and empathetically—without judgment—to unit leaders’ questions and concerns. In fact, this is one of the objectives of roundtable: to receive information. What roundtable commissioners do with this information will then, in turn, determine the future of the district’s or council’s program. When we know what unit leaders need, we are better able to serve them most effectively. Commissioners are the heart of Scouting when we are helpful, friendly, kind, and cheerful.
Once unit leaders and commissioners create heart connections, they will begin to solidify the bonds necessary for fruitful relationships built on trust and collaboration. In the case of roundtable, these relationships are born of a consistent, quality program that seeks to provide valuable, accurate information; relevant informal training; and networking opportunities tailored to meet unit leaders’ needs. Though roundtable commissioners have a role in giving trusted information to unit leaders, commissioners must not feel obligated to lead every component of the program. Rather, to emphasize collaborative relationships, why not invite unit leaders to deliver that informal training to their peers? Additionally, to accentuate the building of interpersonal relationships, why not dedicate a portion of the roundtable program to networking and social time when unit leaders can reach across the aisle and learn from one another? Commissioners build relationships when we are trustworthy, loyal, and courteous.
Heartfelt relationships forged between commissioners and unit leaders cannot help but spread to the young people we all serve in Scouting. In fact, the result of a quality roundtable program is inspiration and empowerment of unit leaders to grow Scouting in their units. An enabled Scouter will leave roundtable with the “will to do” and the “skill to do”; they will be bold in their actions and will hear the call to action given by the unit service team to grow the Scouting movement. Ultimately, roundtable should urge unit leaders to return to their units with the desire to instill in their Scouts the values of the Oath and Law. Together, commissioners and unit leaders change lives when they are thrifty, brave, obedient, clean, and reverent.
Through listening to the needs of unit leaders and building trusting, collaborative relationships, commissioners change the lives of young people and adults alike. Together we can do great things; and it all starts with the heart.
Making a Difference Through Change
Changing the underlying culture of any large organization requires that core values be reassessed and long-term goals redefined. It takes time. Or does it? The standard belief is that culture change takes 2–3 years. That’s one reason people are reluctant to engage in change. But we have all witnessed a recent event that caused rapid change—the COVID-19 pandemic. Although societal changes caused by COVID were the result of a catastrophic event, the pandemic demonstrated that rapid change is possible.
Before we can begin to change commissioner culture, we must first understand what our current culture really looks like and be specific about what changes we want to make. While the answers will be different for each council and district, each of us should consider following an approach that will help us clearly define the current culture, identify what needs to change and decide how to move forward.
Take a candid look at existing culture.
- Are commissioners in your council uniform inspectors, or do they support unit leaders?
- Do they focus on unit operations or youth engagement?
- Do they reflect core values of helpfulness, responsiveness and friendliness?
A frank assessment and collaborative discussion will provide a clearer picture of your current commissioner culture.
Clearly define ONE or TWO things that need to change.
Perhaps the way commissioners are perceived in your council needs to change. Be the Heart is an especially apt phrase to consider when recruiting someone who will be a good fit with commissioner culture. Commissioners who can role model this ideal will fast-track the change you want. Or perhaps commissioners need to Build Relationships with their assigned units. Collaborative culture is founded on open communication and trust. When commissioners unintentionally intimidate unit leaders by attending a unit meeting while decked out like a five-star general, perhaps it’s time to lose the uniform shirt and visit the unit at a campout.
Take real action: Change Lives.
- Recruit commissioners who demonstrate values of the desired culture.
- Create an environment in which the contributions of commissioners are valued.
- Do the difficult work of letting go of an unproductive commissioner.
- Lead by example. Be a champion, a role model and an influencer.
- Be consistent and be persistent. Allowing unwanted behavior to continue indicates you aren’t serious about core values or changing culture that is not working.
Positive changes in culture can have unexpected results: the role of the commissioner becomes more attractive to other volunteers—commissioners become a friendly group of volunteers who “get stuff done.”
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.” I think all commissioners would agree that positive change is worth the effort.
The Word We Forget
It means working together to do or create something.
We talk about it a lot, but for most of us it doesn’t describe the way we’re most comfortable getting things done.
- It takes time.
- It challenges our thinking.
- It creates change.
But it produces better results.
Building Relationships is a part of Unit Service culture because our role as commissioners is to help unit leaders better serve more youth through Scouting. Volunteer leaders are ultimately responsible for serving the young people who join a unit; we can’t do that.
Working collaboratively, unit leaders and commissioners can:
- identify a unit’s strengths and its needs (and every unit has some of each
- identify the needs that, if addressed, would have the best, quickest impact on the youths’ experience
- develop plans to address the highest priority needs
Unit commissioners can’t be successful without collaboration. They should be their unit leaders’ single, best source of information; they should be able to connect their unit leaders with the resources they need to deliver a program that attracts and retains youth and other adults. Collaboration ensures the information they provide and the resources they identify will be productive because unit leaders will see them as meeting their needs.
The need to collaborate isn’t limited to the work unit commissioners do with unit leaders. It’s equally important to administrative and roundtable commissioners throughout our movement. It knocks down silos, and identifies new resources and solutions. It creates opportunities to ensure the safety of the youth we serve, to grow Scouting, and to build a firm financial foundation for our councils.
Collaboration is the key to our culture. It enables us to be the heart, to build relationships, and to change lives.
Let’s get more things done better.