Attention readers: This is the third installment of my advice column, "Dear Kurtz." If you have a pressing question about a situation you or your camp face, please fill out my anonymous question gatherer here! I will try my best to respond to all honest and interesting inquiries. Until next time, please enjoy today's question and response:
I recently started as a full-time camp leader, but I've worked seasonally for years. I spent years preparing for this position, reading books, talking to professionals, and documenting my thoughts and ideas about camp. Now that I'm in a professional role I was excited for the opportunity to share what I know and participate in discussions about what we can do to make camp better! However, since starting I can't help but feel like my thoughts and ideas aren't taken seriously or even considered by the older, more experienced pro staff. What can I do to convince others that I should be part of the serious discussions about what happens at camp?
- Motivated in the Midwest.
Congratulations! Becoming a full-time camp professional is a great accomplishment. It sounds like you’ve been preparing a long time for this. Your eager enthusiasm about camp is an important first step. But, let’s face it. Camp is weird. There are politics, traditions and lots of moving pieces that make camp leadership sometimes resistant to change. Whether they take a suggestion too personally, are afraid of the extra work or simply don't trust you yet, there are a lot of reasons why it is easy for a camp leader to disregard the enthusiastic suggestions of a newbie such as yourself. If this was Twitter and I was restricted in my word count, I would offer you this simple advice: take it slow and don't take it personally. However, this blog is not Twitter. My response is up well over 7,000 characters (muhahaha). Here's some (much) more detailed advice:
There are several things you can do to break down the barriers that are between you and having a say at your camp. I actually just went to a seminar at the University of Michigan as part of their Center for Positive Organizations (yes, my business school has a whole center devoted to making businesses more positive—or, as I have found, to make businesses more like camp). It seems kind of fishy because your inquiry was basically the exact topic addressed at the seminar, which was entitled “Lead Positive Change without Authority” (you can watch a recording of the entire lecture here). Many any of the answers to your question fell into my lap from the talented professors Dr. Jerry Davis and Chris White at the UofM. They've actually written a book on the subject, entitled Changing Your Company from the Inside Out: A Guide for Social Intrapreneurs.
In their seminar, Davis and White described the challenge of “Intrapreneurship.” You, my fair reader, are indeed an intraprenuer. You are working within your organization to make it better. To answer your question, I am going to go through the four considerations that Davis and White outlined in their presentation of how to create changes when you don’t have authority, and then I will relate them to a camp context.
BUT, before you start, please note: you have to build relationships with these stakeholders/leaders in your organization. That means that you need to have as many face-to-face interactions as possible. So, check where you are eating lunch. If you can join some of these higher-ups at their table, and chat with them on neutral topics (say baseball or movies), that builds a general rapport. Invite them out to coffee, run an errand with them, carpool to the next conference. Work for them to get to know you as a passionate, dedicated individual. You also have to pay your dues. Pick up the dirty and undesirable jobs whenever you can. Put in the extra effort to show that you respect the camp, and the sweat that those before you have put in to create it. Then, be patient. When you’re ready to propose a change, follow these steps from Davis and White:
1. Determine the right time to make a change.
Davis and White say intrapreneurs need to look for signals that the timing is right for presenting new ideas, such as changes in the competitive context, a leadership change (like a new CEO) or a “burning platform,” when something new has been pushed upon us (like a new regulation).
At camp, timing is everything. For example, right now is not the best time of year to be talking with your CEO or key leadership about major changes. It’s go time: we are getting ready for the kids to come to camp in just a few short weeks! Instituting a major change at this point likely means that it’s truly not budgeted for or even possible in the short period between now and the summer. So, as a critical step, understand your camp and association’s calendar. In my experience, the early fall is the best time to propose major changes or ideas—once we are all a little more relaxed and, quite frankly, working on a few more hours of sleep!
On a micro level, start to understand the best timing for talking with people. This will happen as you get to know them. My old supervisor, Mike, was best to talk to in the afternoon while he was riding an exercise bike by himself in one of our YMCA studios. Try to catch him just before an annual campaign meeting? The answer to your question was most likely no. Learning when people best operate and when they are free from distractions can help you be heard.
2. Figure out the "why" and how to say it to people
Davis and White gave the example of something called “lean, finely textured beef.” Sounds OK, right? A reasonable person would eat that. But would a reasonable person eat “pink slime”?? Umm…I don’t think so! Surprise…they are the same thing. Essentially, as a change agent, you have to figure out what the narrative is behind your initiative and how to make the case for it. And, quite frankly, add a little spin. Choosing your words and reasoning carefully will make a big difference.
The professors outline three types of framing that occurs when an intrapreneur is making his or her case. Say, for example, your intrapreneurial goal is to eliminate transfats from all foods served at camp. I’m going to use key words that tie back to our mission, make the goal sound attainable and personalize my approach to the context. If I were you, I'd even go through the exercise of writing these down. Here we go:
Your master frame is the point that holds the whole initiative together.
“It best aligns with our core value of healthy living to serve only transfat-free products at camp, since transfats contribute to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.”
Your adapted frame is how you take it and pitch it to different constituents.
For the kitchen director: Serving transfat free foods would be a major step forward for the health of the campers, and would only change a couple of meals in the rotation.
For the CEO: Our end-of-summer survey shows that parents would like us to serve healthier foods. One easy and low-cost way to do this would be to eliminate transfats from our menu.
Your evolving frame is how it changes once you learn more and talk with different stakeholders.
So, this could change a little bit—say you serve sticky buns at the end of the session, and they are a beloved camp tradition. The kitchen director is mostly on board, but she is yet to find a suitable, transfat free frosting that is also allergen free for your campers. Maybe you adapt the transfat pitch to make this a gradual plan, eliminating all transfats except the sticky buns this summer, and working to find a sticky bun substitute for 2017.
3. Who: This is about networks!
Davis and White say that you need to find out who are the “influencers” in your organization. They admitted that they went a little Malcolm Gladwell here (see: The Tipping Point), but it’s really helpful. Your CEO is not the only one making decisions. In my organization, the CEO was a key decision-maker. But there were also a couple of board members, alumni and other administrators that wielded almost as much (if not just as much power) as the CEO because of how they operated in our complex social and organizational culture.
So, seek the key players you need to get on board: Maybe your ultimate goal is getting your CEO to agree to eliminate transfats, but you first have to work to get your CFO, kitchen director and a longtime board member to agree that your idea is a good one. As a caveat, you also have to watch out for what Davis and White call “resistors.” Anticipating any of these people and helping them choose to agree with your idea will go a long way. Remember that a singular focus on convincing the person at the top is not always the surefire way to accomplish your goal.
4. Plan the Journey
The professors encourage you to ask yourself: “What constitutes a sensible solution in your organization?” To do this, you need to gain some historical information/knowledge. For example, maybe there is a closing campfire song that you want to get rid of because it’s really sad (for us, this was Tears in Heaven—what the heck! Are we just trying to make kids bawl their eyes out here??). However, you need to figure out why it is in the songbook in the first place—was it included in the first place for a particular special reason? Was it for a frivolous reason? Taking the time to do the research into an idea big or little will help you figure out how to make the case.
In tandem with the importance of historical research, you also need to look for precedents. How has change occurred in the past? Having the ability to compare your new idea to a past precedent will bolster your case.
Davis and White also recommend the technique of using a pilot program—basically an experiment to your new idea. Say your intrapreneurial idea is to add more free time to the day at camp, as you have been reading up on the power of free play, but your leadership is resistant to completely taking the leap to change the schedule. You have a 4-day mini-session coming up with an alternative schedule anyway; it would be much more palatable to propose that you do a low-risk pilot during this session to try out the idea of more free play than to change the schedule for the entire summer.
So, give it a go. I was shocked when I became a camp leader and I realized how long some things would take--like construction or even changing a tradition. People at camp get really passionate about some things, so patience and thoughtful explanations are key. Overall, you'll make some changes that will be really important to your camp. You just have to be patient and remember that you will start to gain respect from your leadership once your small changes (prototypes) take place