Category Archives: group culture

Fixing a Toxic Culture

The resignation letter from a former Goldman Sachs executive, published today in the New York Times, has been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter this morning. As former executive Greg Smith walks readers through the reasons for his resignation, he touches on a number of lessons surrounding group culture and ethical leadership – two subjects that couldn’t be more relevant for fraternity life.

Smith wastes no time in identifying a lack of leadership as the culprit for Goldman Sachs’ increasingly negative work culture.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

It’s hard to say where profit fits into an analogy between a business and a student organization. As you read on, know that Smith’s letter is not an indictment of profit-seeking per se, but rather a lesson in what happens when an organization strays from its core purpose.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.

For better or worse, the fastest way to change the culture of a group is the behavior of the leadership. As Smith witnessed, younger employees would observe and later mimic the insidious behavior of the senior analysts. Sure enough, new members are likely to take cues from older members, particularly the leadership. When upperclassmen abuse alcohol, act irresponsibly, and otherwise neglect their duties, the new members will undoubtedly do the same.

Smith closes with some advice for the remaining Goldman Sachs executives – people with the ability to reshape the company’s culture.

Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons.

It’s not easy to tell a peer, one who might even be a good friend, that he can’t be in the fraternity anymore. But that’s what being in a fraternity founded on the Honor principle is all about – self-governance and peer-accountability. That aside, a chapter that lacks the fortitude to remove members who contribute to a toxic culture will not be around for very long.

//Nathaniel Clarkson (James Madison)

Advertisements

How Your Chapter Can Benefit from the Hacker Culture

Earlier this week, as his company was filing its historic IPO, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg published a buzz-worthy letter explaining the company’s “hacker” culture for potential investors.

Though often associated with unlawfully accessing computers, “hacking” has taken an entirely different meaning in recent years. “In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done,” Zuckerberg explained. “Hacker” culture has been in the tech/DIY lexicon for a number of years now thanks in large part to the popular DIY site Lifehacker.com.

“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration,” Zuckerberg continued. “Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”

The spirit of hacker culture, particularly the idea of continuous improvement, resonates closely with Sigma Nu’s vision statement Excelling with Honor. Additionally, embracing the concept that something can always be better fits right in with Regent Durham’s focus on chapter strength.

“We all have an obligation to make sure our chapters operate at the highest level of excellence, delivering our mission, pulling their own weight, and always striving to improve,” Regent Durham said in a recent interview. “[Sigma Nu’s Founders] were not interested in mediocrity or being average.”

So you might say Sigma Nu was practicing the hacker culture before it was cool (that is, rejecting the status quo in favor of continuous improvement).

Even companies outside the tech industry are starting to realize the importance of testing the boundaries of how something should be done as they strive for excellence. And, more to the point, so are many of our collegiate chapters.

//Nathaniel Clarkson

Give your chapter meetings (and chapter culture) a makeover

Here’s a small excerpt from a must-read piece by Martin Lindstrom:

The first thing I do during the course of my change-agent work for Fortune 100 companies is to establish the 4:30 rule. The maximum number of people in any meeting should be four, and meetings should never last any longer than 30 minutes. No phones allowed. You may think this a little radical but, if you want to act entrepreneurial, then these are the most important steps to take.

If you’re able to get the right people into one room over two days, the stage is set. Make sure the room is far from the office and prep everyone on the notion that it’s essential to not only come up with ideas for change, but actually lock them in by the end of the second day. If the incentive is great enough, and everyone’s prepared to roll up their sleeves, in my experience, it will happen.

Do yourself a favor and set aside 5 minutes to read the full story.

How could you apply Lindstrom’s other ideas to your chapter?

Senioritis: searching for the cure

By Nick Claghorn (Indiana)

As of now, most colleges and universities have started the 2011-12 school year, which means thousands of students are in their senior year. You may be one of those seniors and you look back on your college career and see that you’ve accomplished a great amount. Senioritis may kick in (or already has) and you’ll experience a lack of motivation. Don’t let this be the death of you as an active fraternity member – there’s still plenty for you to do!

Thanks to my graduate professor, I have been introduced to a theory called the ‘Equity Theory’ which states that ‘individuals think about what they put in to the organization and then think about what they receive in return’ – pretty simple. The more you give, the more you receive. However, common sense would tell us that this is not always the case.

In the fraternity, there is a democratic society of executive board members and committees. The group decides what is best for themselves by establishing order and fairness, and the votes go as the company/organization go. If it goes well, you create an environment conducive to ample opportunities for organizational (and personal!) growth. Here’s where I believe motivation can be the most successful. I’ll go over motivation by discussing three common myths about motivation:

Myth #1: “I can motivate people”

–Not really.  People have to motivate themselves.  An organization can set up an environment where motivation produces positive results for the fraternity member. Many seniors slack on their influence because they believe that they’ve put in all the effort they can during their time as a chapter member. One of the reasons they may think like that is because they don’t see the return value for them because they’ll be out of school in a few months anyways. Younger members look to the senior members, see their apathy, and reflect it in their treatment of the organization. If you, as a senior, find yourself in this situation, remind yourself that this is a lifetime commitment to Sigma Nu and that the rewards will continue past your student years.

Myth #2: “Fear is a damn good motivator”

–Fear can be a great motivator for a short period of time. ‘Can be’ and ‘short’ are two fragments in the last sentence that tell the tale. Putting fear into someone to complete a task or assignment will not produce results for worthy, established chapters in the long-run.

Myth #3: “I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my [chapter brothers].”

–Different people are motivated by different things. Not everyone moves at the same pace or creates the same opportunities for themselves, but, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, everyone is motivated by the same five categories of needs!

  1. Physiological: Need for water, food, and air
  2. Safety: Need to be safe from harm
  3. Social: Need for friendship and acceptance
  4. Esteem: Need for recognition and respect
  5. Self-actualization: Need to maximize one’s potential

Numbers 1 and 2 are almost 100% the same for every individual and it is believed that necessary fulfillment of these needs must come first in order to satisfy the remaining needs. It is numbers 3, 4, and 5 that compound the complexity of the human character.

You, as a senior, have seen the ups and downs of the chapter throughout your time as a collegiate member and may be the best person in your chapter to identify what needs are not being met.

We normally achieve high levels of positive social need through Sigma Nu but not everyone experiences it the same. Are there members who may be struggling in this area? Have you tried to help?

The fraternity provides opportunities for organizational achievement and recognition, which can positively influence respect. Is your chapter recognizing the outstanding performers?

And self-actualization deals internally within the individual. He must recognize that he can achieve better and, by doing so, will strive to make himself (and others around him) better.

Your chapter stands by the same values as all the others: Love, Honor, and Truth. Motivating your chapter to get the most out of your fellow members may be the most rewarding – and challenging – task you will attempt in your young life. By doing so, you may satisfy your own need for recognition and respect, as well and realizing that you are maximizing your own potential.

The honor system crumbles without peer accountability

In today’s Wall Street Journal writer William McGurn discusses the recent allegations at Miami through the lens of honor systems. Here are a few key paragraphs:

Our military academies are not filled with moral paragons. Like their peers, their student bodies are populated with young Americans in their late teens. They are every bit as human, and an honor code has never been a guarantee against scandal. From the huge 1951 cheating scandal at West Point that saw more than 80 cadets expelled (including nearly half the football team) to more recent scandals at Navy and Air Force, the academies have had their share.

The difference is they don’t delegate to the NCAA the idea of right and wrong, and they take community seriously. On these campuses, no man is an island. The message is: You are all in it together.

The parallel for fraternities is clear: any chapter is capable of making a mistake and getting in trouble. The difference between mediocre chapters and excellent chapters is how they respond.

Failing chapters circle the wagons, shift blame and look the other way when peers abandon their values. Excellent chapters acknowledge the misstep and hold their own members accountable rather than waiting for some higher authority to take action.

The ingredients of Miami’s vices—the nightclubs, the prostitutes, the yachts—make it far juicier than the typical pay-for-play. The scandal here is not that teenage football players behave badly when a wealthy benefactor indulges their every appetite. The scandal is what it says about the impoverished sense of community on our college and university campuses, and the fecklessness of those who know better.

The cover story for upcoming fall issue of The Delta takes an in-depth look at traditional honor systems, including one of the institutions mentioned in this article. As we’ll see, peer accountability combined with a culture of trust is the essence of the honor system. As the only fraternity founded on the honor principle, Sigma Nu chapters must show their communities that self-governance works.

The psychology of clinging to bad strategies

Here are some excerpts from Tim Hartford’s excellent piece in Fast Company:

While poker can be analyzed rationally, with big egos and big money at stake it can also be a very emotional game. Poker players explained to me that there’s a particular moment at which players are extremely vulnerable to an emotional surge

The economist Terrance Odean has found that we tend to hang on grimly, and wrongly, to shares that have plunged in the hope that things will turn around. We are far happier to sell shares that have been doing well. Unfortunately, selling winners and holding on to losers has in retrospect been poor investment strategy.

Most of the examples in this article deal with money, so what’s this to do with fraternity and student leadership? The closing paragraph offers a hint:

All four examples — poker, Paris, Deal or No Deal and share portfolios — show a dogged determination to avoid crystallizing a loss or drawing a line under a decision we regret. That dogged determination might occasionally be helpful, but it is counterproductive in all these cases and in many others. Faced with a mistake or a loss, the right response is to acknowledge the setback and change direction. Yet our instinctive reaction is denial. That is why “learn from your mistakes” is wise advice that is painfully hard to take.

Can you or your chapter relate to this instinctive emotional response to setbacks? Leave your stories in the comments section below.

Read the full story here.

 

Applying the honor system in Japan

As noted in a post from yesterday, we’ve been exploring some group cultures that self-govern with built-in honor systems. Yesterday’s post mentioned the important role honor plays in golf where players self-report rule violations and some courses collect green fees using an “honor box.”

The Japanese response to the recent earthquake and tsunami presents another example of applying the honor system in practice. During coverage of the aftermath, viewers around the world were surprised to discover a lack of looting in the devastated areas, and commentators were quick to identify the reason:

“There’s a general sense of social responsibility that’s very fundamental to Japan. Part of that is self-regulation on the part of individuals, part of it is a society in which people are very conscious of their reputations in the eyes of their neighbors and colleagues,” Swenson-Wright told AOL News today. “They’re reluctant to do anything that would invite criticism.”

Another factor is Japanese people’s deep-rooted sense of honor, embodied in the words today of their emperor, who rarely speaks publicly and stays out of politics.

Use the comments section below to share other examples of cultures/groups that operate under an honor system of sorts.