National Signing Day (NSD) is the first Wednesday of February every year. Now I’m sure productivity in the office doesn’t decrease nearly as much as it does during March Madness, but as a huge college football fan, NSD should be a national holiday.
All day, and in the weeks leading up to NSD, I am constantly evaluating prospects. Five star, four star, three star etc. I admit I’m a bit obsessed. Right now there are eleven bios of senior athletes bookmarked on my browser, all kids who are undecided but might choose to commit to my university. It’s funny these kids born in 1993 have a profound impact on how my day will go. Because like it or not these kids will become men and have a profound impact on the success of my university’s football program. Recruitment is the lifeblood of college football.
At the end of the day each team will be ranked by the quality of the class they recruit. Odds are that the best teams will have the best classes. Auburn, Alabama, and Oregon are all poised to have top 10 classes. These universities hope this new crop of young talent will help them return to the title game, back to that No. 1 ranking. It is no surprise that these schools are signing successful recruiting classes–these are the best programs, and competitors want to play on the best team.
However, these same highly ranked football programs use a questionable recruiting method called “grey-shirting.” Recently this practice has earned a fair amount of attention in the media. Universities will sign more players than they have scholarships to give. 33 athletes will commit to University X while the university has only 25 scholarships to give. Over the summer, after all the scholarships are filled, eight of these men will be informed that they no longer have a spot on University X’s squad. The athletes who are unexpectedly turned away are left with few options.
So what am I getting at? This is a fraternity blog, not ESPN. Why should you care? Here’s why: I think we, men aged 18-24, sometimes get our priorities mixed up. Do you evaluate prospects for your chapter the same way you evaluate prospects for your university’s football team? How often do you care more about a running back’s 40 time than a PNM’s involvement on campus? We have much to learn about fraternity recruitment from reflecting on NSD.
Rank your prospects. Websites such as Scouts, Rivals, and ESPN rank football players on a five star scale. Do you rank PNMs? How many five star recruits did your chapter bring in last fall? Do you constantly evaluate and gauge the interest of the five star recruit deciding between your chapter and others?
The best prospects want to join the best programs/chapters. Where does your chapter rank? If your university was to release signing day (bid day) rankings of all of the fraternities would you have the top class? What about top 5? If not, why? Football recruiters have found the best recruits typically come from Florida, California, and Texas. Where are the best recruits on your campus? How can you tap into that market?
Georgia is looking to have a top 10 recruiting class this year and that is mostly due to recruiting on their home turf. Most top prospects in Georgia are going to attend UGA. Are you recruiting on your home turf? How many guys are reaching out to kids from their high school? If half of your chapter is from the same city or high school do you use this as a recruitment tool?
Manage your Master Prospect List (MPL) with the same passion you would the football commitment list. (Just don’t make the same mistakes many football programs do in grey-shirting candidates.)
Only extend bids to prospective members who are right for your chapter. Don’t ask for his involvement and commitment and fail to honor that commitment. What was the retention of your last candidate class? Did you keep 90% or more of that class? If not, have you considered why? Are you signing too many guys and offering too few scholarships? Are you misrepresenting your chapter during recruitment?
I hope one day the NCAA will outlaw the practice of grey-shirting. The Big Ten conference did back in 1956 and Ohio State remains a powerhouse in college football. I hope one day we can have 90% retention or better in all of our chapters. At the end of the day strong chapters, just like football programs, are not made by the number of members you sign, but by the number who stay. Those are the individuals who will carry your chapter to excellence.
All too often, chapters are hungry to recruit new men but lack a clear brand for their chapter. Before you can sell yourself to others, you must first define who you are and what you offer. This article from careerbuilder.com discusses AOL hiring employees from other top companies, which can easily relate to Sigma Nu chapters.
Know Who You Aren’t: A Lesson In Employment Branding Done Right
Can you remember the last time you heard the phrase “You’ve got mail”? Feels like a while, huh?
Well, prepare for a blast from the past, because the company that used to be America Online is suddenly a hot commodity again…or at least it is among job seekers…
In the past year, AOL has successfully recruited employees from high-profile companies like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, The New York Times and Time Warner, prompting AdAge’s Michael Learmonth to ask, “Why does everyone want to work at AOL all of a sudden?” in a recent article for the online magazine.
You can’t blame the guy for asking: Nothing against AOL, but it’s been roughly a decade since the company’s heyday as the “goliath of Internet service providers.” So how is it suddenly an employer of choice among what is surely a highly sought-after talent demographic? Well, it’s simple, really: Basically, AOL is a lesson in employment branding done right.
By understanding the specific talent demographic its brand appeals to, AOL gets one of the most crucial elements of employment branding right: It knows what it stands for – as well as what it doesn’t stand for – as an employer.
“Employment branding is about knowing who you are as an employer, but just as importantly, it’s about knowing who you aren’t,” says employment branding expert Mary Delaney, President of CareerBuilder’s human capital consulting company, Personified.
In AOL’s case, the company knows it’s no Google…nor is it trying to be. Sure, Google enjoys a reputation as a top company to work for, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right fit for every single worker ever. Understanding this, AOL seems to be using its smaller position in the industry as its employee value proposition: By marketing itself as a place where employees will be challenged to expand their knowledge and help rebuild what was once an industry giant, AOL is appealing to a candidate base that is hungry for career, professional development and training opportunities, factors that a recent employment branding study found to be among the top reasons employees chose their employers.
Similarly, if you look at the list of the 50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work For in America, you’ll notice how these employers sell their brands as ones that can meet employees’ intangible needs – such as motivation, empowerment, trust and recognition.
The takeaway here? All too often, companies try to sell themselves as something they are not – effectively making promises they can’t fulfill – when, in fact, they should be embracing what differentiates them from other companies and focusing on what they do offer.
As AOL demonstrates, companies need to look at what is unique about their culture – and what demographic is attracted to that – rather than waste their time trying to appeal to a group of candidates that would fit better elsewhere.
The two bolded sections are what caught my eye the most and cover two different topics. The first is marketing and thinking about how you can effectively market your chapter. Each chapter is different and therefore must market themselves to specifically fit who they are. While you want to get your name out to as many people as possible, you want to make sure that you campaign mirrors who you are as a chapter.
The second bolded section discusses actually selling the right brand. If you host basketball and volleyball recruitment events, but never do them at any other point throughout the semester, then you aren’t selling who you are. You also have to be able to back up what you discuss when talking to potential new members. If you talk about how the LEAD Program is a full four-year ethical leadership development program, but don’t do anything past Phase I, then you have sold someone on something you can’t follow through with. As the article states, you have to focus on what the chapter can offer.
It is also important to look at the article as a whole. When you want to recruit the best men on campus, you can’t simply wait for them to come to you. Chances are the best men on campus, who aren’t already in a fraternity, haven’t even thought about going through recruitment. You have to actually go out there to find and recruit them.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the new KFC commercial (for those of you who haven’t check out this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmv4idNRYgc). To provide a quick summary, KFC is donating money to aid breast cancer research. For every bucket of fried chicken purchased they donate money to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. To me this seemed almost humorous. We are going to combat breast cancer by making America’s growing obesity problem worse. Hopefully many of you find this as perplexing and funny as I do.
It’s so funny that someone (KFC) is trying to fix one problem (breast cancer) while making another worse (obesity).
The funny thing is we may mock KFC or show one of our brothers this YouTube clip but we won’t learn from it. A few of you may say, “I don’t get it,” so let me put this into fraternal terms.
It’s so funny that someone (your chapter) is trying to fix one problem (low manpower) while making another worse (the guys we bring in are party animals and ignore the Risk Reduction policy).
The commercial is only funny when it is someone else and not our chapter. We need to learn from this. How many of us look for the quick fix to one problem but don’t realize that we are making another problem worse in the long term? Recruitment is only one example and rest assured there are many more. Countless times I meet outstanding chapter officers who do a ton of work and pick up slack for lazy officers. This certainly solves the problem of something not getting done, but over time we are hurting ourselves. We fail to create a culture of accountability and sooner or later our officers begin to slack more and more because they know Johnny the Lt. Commander, or our Exec board or whoever will pick up the slack and do the work for us. To go back to our example:
It’s funny that someone (our chapter’s outstanding officer) is trying to fix one problem (something not getting done) while making another worse (accountability).
I won’t bog you down with more examples but I strongly encourage you to determine if in any situation in your chapter you are the “someone” in that sentence. Perhaps not. But I bet whether we are the Alpha Chapter, a new colony, or somewhere in between we can think of one example where we fix one problem while making another worse. Let’s recognize that and address the issue.
Carol Tice at the BNET blog has a short post comparing and contrasting Panera and Cosi.
Two bakery-cafe chains have been in the news recently — Richmond, Mo.-based Panera Bread (PNRA) announced growing sales despite the downturn, while Cosi (COSI) of Deerfield, Ill., said its sinking sales have led to a delisting warning notice from the Nasdaq. Both chains began around the same time, and Cosi certainly got as much positive initial press and consumer raves. Some of the key differences that made Panera the winner:
The parallel with fraternity life should speak for itself:
Sticking with the concept. For years, Cosi toyed with being a bar by night and a bakery by day, or just selling liquor along with its food, possibly creating customer confusion and disappointment as they evolved. Panera just kept being a great bakery-cafe.
Chapters that “stick with the concept” of a brotherhood based on shared ideals and positive experiences will always outperform the chapters with a faux brotherhood based on unearned respect, personal servitude and partying.
I like this example because it also offers a lesson in not making excuses. Cosi probably tried to tell their investors, “We’re in a recession, you know, so our plunging stock is just a reflection of the bigger economic climate.” We often hear chapters rationalize poor performance with similar rhetoric. “Our recruitment effort may appear like an utter failure but numbers were down for everyone this year.”
So what. When their competitors’ stock was taking a nosedive, Panera embraced the environment and increased value despite the recession. Next time campus recruitment numbers are at an all-time low, you be the chapter to defy the trend.
Nice post from Matt Mattson at the Phired Up blog. Here’s an excerpt:
While wandering around USC’s campus the other day making friends (which was a blast), I happened upon a very creative student organization recruitment tactic.
There were a number of tables set up along the main drag of campus — there were some political groups, the Greenpeace folks were out there, a guy selling tickets to play paintball, a Relay-for-Life group, and a gospel choir selling delicious $1 cookies. All were doing good work tabling, but there was one other table that really stood out to me. They had a sign hanging on their table that read, “What’s Your Beef With Christianity?”
Now, religious content aside, I was first intrigued because their sign was a QUESTION, and not a statement. So, I walked up and asked them about it. I assumed they were an atheist/agnostic group that was looking for like-minded people with whom they could commiserate, but I was wrong. At first they wouldn’t really tell me who they were, they just said…
Merely sitting behind a table to “get your name out there” is not an effective recruitment strategy (especially if you’re just surfing fb statuses on your iPhone). It’s about as effective as littering the campus with recruitment calendars and expecting prospective members to flock to the chapter home. It just doesn’t happen.
Recruitment means actively finding people who will fulfill the vision of your organization. And, as this lesson shows, part of the recruitment process is the willingness to engage your critics in genuine conversation.
Here’s a recent conversation I overheard between a collegiate officer and one of my esteemed colleagues:
Collegian: We can’t just stop recruiting with alcohol. We wouldn’t be able to compete with the other elite chapters on our campus. Everyone does it and we have to keep up.
HQ Staff Member: What if I told you there were other chapters recruiting without alcohol that are not only getting by but are excelling more than any other chapter on campus?
Collegian: That may work some places but it could never work here. It’s different here at _______ University.
HQ Staff Member: What if I told you that we recruited the men to start this very chapter without alcohol? (And did quite well I might add.)
Collegian: Wait, hold on. Where are you from?
HQ Staff Member: I grew up and attended school in the ______ region of the country.
Collegian: See, that explains everything. Things are different here in the ________. There’s just no way you could understand how things work if you’re not from here.
So goes the conversation, so predictable in its nature, that every Greek Life professional has had many times over with their student leaders. Here is what the well-intentioned collegian really means:
TRANSLATION: I don’t care if recruiting with alcohol attracts members who are causing us to fail. I would rather continue to fail than accept information from an outsider. I’ve made up my mind and I’m so stubborn and arrogant that no amount of contrary evidence is going to change my decision.
Sometimes it’s natural to be skeptical of outsiders, but eventually we all learn the hard way that automatically dismissing outsider’s advice makes us one step closer to failure. A brief mention of two historical figures shows that outsiders can teach us more about ourselves than we ever imagined.
Take philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, author of bestselling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Rand, originally named Alisa Rosenbaum, grew up in communist Russia and eventually emigrated to the United States. Surely a woman raised in such an authoritarian, collectivist culture could never be qualified to write novels about capitalism and individualism. Who in their right mind would listen to her? To the contrary, many would argue that this outsider (putting aside her controversies for this particular example) has taught us more about our way of life than any homegrown American philosopher or economist.
Or what about Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French politico best known for his work Democracy in America. Born and educated in France, Tocqueville traveled the United States providing an outsider’s perspective on the American way of life. Widely regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of his time, Tocqueville is still quoted in speeches by American politicians to this day.
Consider this example that hits closer to home. Out of all of our excellent College of Chapters facilitators, the majority of whom are initiated Knights, the female facilitators are often the most effective. Mindy Sopher, Kristin Morgan, Lindsay Grifford, Krystal Clark, and Kayte Sexton Fry–to name a few–are revered by College of Chapters participants by week’s end. Hardly outsiders, these women understand our organization as well if not better than we do.
Our founding principle of Truth is often confused with honesty, an equally important virtue to be sure. However, in the context of Sigma Nu’s founding, Truth is more closely associated with seeking sound information to make the most informed decisions possible. It calls for the willingness to abandon a false paradigm even if it might be psychologically painful. Seeking the Truth encompasses the process by which we make good decisions, including the consideration of all viewpoints even if it means swallowing our pride and listening to a perceived outsider.
This video interview with Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank offers lessons for both large and small chapters alike.
For small, struggling chapters: Nothing is out of reach. Maybe things aren’t going so great right now but there’s nothing preventing you from being the chapter that seems to dominate everything on campus. Utilize all of your resources, set tangible goals, recruit the right people, make smart decisions and you’ll get there. If a start-up like Under Armour can take market share from a behemoth like Nike then anything is possible.
And for the large, successful chapters: Maybe you’re the “Nike” on your campus, so to speak. But just because your performance is untouchable today doesn’t mean it will continue automatically. Just look at all of the now dormant chapters that previously had manpower well above 100. Chapters that reject change and renewal (remember the White Rose?) have never fared well.
Last week was National Signing Day for college football programs around the country. I, being a huge college football fan, was not merely interested in “star ratings” or “class ranking,” but in what the coach thought of his incoming freshman class. For full disclosure I am a Michigan fan and these comments come from Rich Rodriguez’s press conference.
In his press conference it was hard not to draw parallels between his recruiting process and ours. He talked about negative recruiting and how other schools do it, but he doesn’t. Apparently high school players and their families are actually turned off by negative recruitment. At the end of the day, all the student has heard is “Michigan this…” and “Michigan that…” not why the recruiter’s school is a good fit. How do you view negative recruiting? Is it a practice that helps or hurts our chapters?
Rich talked about the importance of building relationships with the students during the recruitment process. Rich is not out there doing all of the recruiting himself; and neither should our recruitment chairmen. The entire staff is out there getting to know the players and their families and then talking to them about Michigan and why it is a good fit for them. Is your entire chapter involved in recruitment? Are you building relationships with PNMs?
As hard as it might seem there was also a discussion about encouraging players to explore their options. Rich wants student-athletes who are excited to be at Michigan and know it is the place for them. It is hard to do that if they haven’t looked anywhere else. The staff encourages guys to look at other schools. Do you encourage guys to look at other chapters to make sure they have made the right choice? Why or Why not?
The last thing Rich said was something I had never thought of, but was a great point to make: “We’re not really selling. Sometimes recruiting does look like salesmanship, but I heard one time you’re not selling anything you are just giving people what they want. Maybe I sound like a salesman telling you that, but really when you are putting your school and your program out there, you’re just giving people what they want and what you think they want is a chance to play in a great atmosphere for big time football and get a great education and be around good people.”
Are we trying to sell people? Or are we providing an opportunity for great guys to get exactly what they are looking for? In the fraternal world we are a “big time program”; through our scholarship programming we should help them succeed academically and our chapter home should have a great atmosphere filled with good people. However, we have more to offer than that. Football teams don’t have core values or the LEAD program and they aren’t partnered with Habitat for Humanity, St. Jude’s or Character Counts! Are we mentioning all of this during recruitment? Are we giving guys what they want? When we offer these things we get guys who are drawn to these ideals, those are the guys who might not be “starters” or “national champions” today. But a few years from now when we learn what the class is really made of, they will be our “starters” (officers) and might have laid the foundation for us to be “national champions” (Rock Chapters).