Category Archives: group culture

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.

Golf and the honor system

We’ve been preparing a story for the fall issue of the magazine that will discuss the honor system as it exists at VMI and in Sigma Nu. The story will include examples of cultures and subcultures that operate with a system of trust and peer accountability, just as the honor system operates within VMI, Sigma Nu, and a select number of other schools with strong systems of self-governance.

One of the classical examples of a functioning honor system comes from the game of golf. Here are some excerpts from two recent stories on the subject, one from The New York Times and the other from ESPN.

On a golf course in Scotland that employs an “honor box”:

One tradition is unlikely to be altered. A small sign on the outside of the clubhouse reads “Pay Green Fees Here.” Below the sign is a metal slot, where golfers drop envelopes with their money. The course is run on the honor system, with no attendant in sight.

“The system works well because it reflects the traditions within golf of honesty and integrity,” said Hamish Grey, the chief executive of the Scottish Golf Union, which oversees the men’s amateur game here.

And ESPN on a famous case from the 1925 U.S. Open:

More than 80 years after Bobby Jones’ ball barely budged, the story is still told to show golf is a game of honor. The great amateur was competing in the 1925 U. S. Open when, unbeknownst to anyone but himself, Jones’ ball moved ever so slightly as he addressed it in the rough.

There were no referees to call a foul, no officials to slap him with a penalty. Jones’ playing companion, Walter Hagen, didn’t see the infraction, nor did his caddie or any spectators. The tournament title hung in the balance, but when the round was completed, it soon became known that Jones had assessed himself a 1-stroke penalty.

The ball moving did not help him any, nor was it any great violation. But it happened, and those are the rules. So Jones thought nothing of it. That stroke cost him outright victory, and he then went on to lose a 36-hole playoff to Willie Macfarlane.

Jones was asked about his decision by a reporter after the round. His response? “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”

Read the full story here.

If you know of any other groups or subcultures that live by a system of mutual trust and accountability, share them with us in the comments section below.


Leverage the power of feedback loops

Wired is currently running a story about how one California city got speeders to slow down in school zones, all without the consequence of earning a speeding ticket:

In five Garden Grove school zones, they put up what are known as dynamic speed displays, or driver feedback signs: a speed limit posting coupled with a radar sensor attached to a huge digital readout announcing “Your Speed.”

The results fascinated and delighted the city officials. In the vicinity of the schools where the dynamic displays were installed, drivers slowed an average of 14 percent. Not only that, at three schools the average speed dipped below the posted speed limit.

The signs leverage what’s called a feedback loop, a profoundly effective tool for changing behavior. The basic premise is simple. Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors.

They are in fact powerful tools that can help people change bad behavior patterns, even those that seem intractable. Just as important, they can be used to encourage good habits, turning progress itself into a reward. In other words, feedback loops change human behavior.

This story got us wondering – how can our chapters apply the idea behind feedback loops to improve their chapter’s performance? Here are a few possibilities we came up with:

1. Post the grade for every exam on the wall above your desk.

2. Track the number of hours you spend studying vs. playing video games (or whatever variation suits your work vs. leisure habits). Post the numbers in a place where you’ll see them throughout the day.

3. Tally the number of minutes your chapter spends discussing social events vs. philanthropy planning or LEAD programming and post in a central location in the chapter home. Ask the chapter – what do these numbers say about our chapter’s priorities?

4. For the wellness-inclined, track the progress of your workouts and post them in your kitchen.

Use the comments section below to share some other ways your chapter could employ the idea of a feedback loop.

As the article notes, the more effective feedback loops rely on automated data collection (such as Your Speed signs or other automated sensors). Still, feedback loops present an innovative opportunity to help chapters change negative behaviors and encourage good ones.

The full story is a must-read.

The Fraternity Stock Market

Pandora, Groupon, LinkedIn, and coming soon to a portfolio near you: Facebook. If you’re a business major or just generally someone who keeps up with business news then you’re well aware of the recent scramble of tech companies to the IPO cash cow. Just the other day, Facebook was given a valuation estimate of $100 billion. These companies are searching for capital, which will hopefully result in both a better product and higher profits.

However, these companies also have to prove their worth both literally and figuratively. That’s what the stock market is all about, isn’t it? Is Company A worth so-and-so amount or is it not? Product recalls, poor leadership, bad money management, and failing to achieve benchmarks will result in a dropping stock value. On the other hand, the opposite of these negatives will attract confident investors eager to throw some money your way in return for an anticipated increase of value.

All business talk aside, isn’t this a rather nifty metaphor for a fraternity? If I run chapter A and we have strong leadership, a strategic plan, defined goals, rock solid dues collection and budgeting, and of course providing the best fraternity product on our campus then why wouldn’t others want to “invest” and join us? For a nice cherry on top of this sundae we also mention that those who invest with us will see an increase of value. With each bid signed and an additional investor we can use that capital to fund brotherhood retreats, run an effective LEAD program, host safe social events, and the added bonus of developing as a scholar, leader, and gentleman.

Now let’s say I run chapter B and we don’t have a very organized group of leadership, we’re in debt because we don’t collect dues very or bother to follow a budget, we don’t have any goals (which means we’re either in neutral or sliding backwards), and our overall product is mediocre at best.

In fact, to hide our downfalls we like to throw up the smoke-screen of parties and the image that everything is A-Okay (Sounds like Enron might have pulled a page from this playbook, actually). But then we had an incident thanks to our risky social practices. Now we’re wondering why no one wants to sign a bid and invest in us (or why we’re only attracting people who want to party).

Millenials are smarter than your average bear. If anything, to follow the running stock market metaphor, they’re smart bulls looking to invest in something that is going to provide them value for the capital they invest. So as you enjoy your summer vacation and reach that point of excitement to return back to school to see brothers and rehash your summer exploits, think about your answer to two simple questions: If your chapter were to launch as an IPO what would it be worth, and would it ultimately boom or bust?

How Does a Group Change What You Think?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?

These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.

Have you observed how behavioral norms are established in your chapter? If your chapter needed to make a serious change (e.g. reforming a questionable practice during candidate education) what members would you need on board to shift what is considered acceptable by the others?

Here’s another excerpt on the power of leaders to shape the culture of an organization:

Group leaders, however, help perpetuate or shift the norm. Unlike innovators, leaders tend to be high-status “superconformists,” embodying the group’s most-typical characteristics or aspirations, says Deborah Prentice, a social psychologist at Princeton University. People inside and outside the group tend to infer the group’s norms by examining these leaders’ behaviors.

As the oft-repeated phrase goes, the fastest way to change the culture of a chapter is the behavior of the leadership. With such influence over the accepted norms of behavior, leaders must be the paragon of conduct at all times.

The story then offers a word of caution on observing the behavior of others:

The researchers found students often overestimated how much others drank. The amount students reported drinking was closely related to their beliefs about how much others drank: Students who thought others drank more tended to report drinking more.

What do you think? Are leaders merely products of their group or do they possess the potential to change a group for the better?

The full story is worth a read.

The Three-Year Itch

We’re all familiar with the seven-year itch – the relationship term referring to the time frame when individuals tend to re-evaluate their situation – but what about the three, or, gasp!, two year itch. It is not uncommon to hear of chapters struggling with an apathetic membership of seniors and occasionally even juniors.

It is easy to picture the trajectory of membership in these chapters. Individuals come into the chapter as eager candidates, typically in their first or second semester as students. As they progress through their candidacy they develop a great passion for the organization, reaching an almost fever pitch at their initiation. The next year or two sees these members at the height of their involvement in the chapter – serving on numerous committees, being elected and appointed to positions of leadership, attending every meeting, social, service, and sporting event.

Then, suddenly, it happens. Brothers enter their third or fourth year in the chapter and suddenly forget the time and location for chapter meetings. Their interest in living in the house wanes. They are conspicuously absent from all activities of the chapter save for the most exciting and traditional social events.

But why? In some chapters and for some members it could be that the Fraternity served as a vibrant social outlet where none had previously existed. As members come of age, though, the opportunities for social interaction expand exponentially. Suddenly, the experiences and opportunities offered by the chapter begin to pale in comparison to those found on campus, in other organizations, with other friends, at work, or downtown.

Sound familiar?

Now, what to do about it?

Consider the experience your chapter is offering – social, educational, service, athletic, brotherhood, etc. Now ask yourself, who are we catering to? Is our chapter designed to place the most emphasis on the earliest stages of membership? Sure, candidacy is important and some in the chapter may never be as involved as they were in the time between bid day and initiation. And maybe some leadership positions in the chapter are best suited for sophomores and juniors. But does that mean the chapter doesn’t have anything specific to offer to those about to graduate? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep all members engaged in the chapter through graduation and beyond?

Ideas for eliminating the three-year itch:

  1. Offer seniors-only events – brotherhoods, mixers with sororities, sporting teams.
  2. Use LEAD Phase IV: The End…The Beginning – provide opportunities for those about to graduate to learn about how to be successful in their first year on the job, participate in a networking seminar with alumni during homecoming, learn money management skills, practice negotiating salary offers, and defining what being an engaged alumnus looks like.
  3. Provide perks for continued upperclassmen involvement – preference in room picks or first choice in selecting house jobs.
  4. Have seniors serve as mentors for individual candidates – acting as a secondary big brother who is responsible for passing along his own experience and training the candidate on something specific (e.g. review of the candidate ceremony ritual or the history of the local chapter).
  5. Use the Affirmation of Knighthood ritual ceremony.
  6. Reward engaged and worthy seniors with nominations for campus and General Fraternity awards.
  7. Host a “senior send-off” dinner or chapter meeting where seniors address the chapter and are recognized for their contributions and achievements.
  8. Create a senior programming committee to focus on planning events and opportunities that provide specific value to upperclassmen.

These are just a few ways to ward off the three-year itch. Anything that bridges the gap between the value currently offered by the chapter and the desires of your most tenured members is worth a shot.

How to Avoid Email Wars

The best chapters create a group culture that expects nothing short of excellence.

Strong leaders understand that creating sustained excellence relies on challenging the status quo.

Challenging the status quo often ignites heated debate among chapter members.

Sometimes these heated debates devolve into angry, back and forth reply-all email shouting matches.

For a variety of reasons, these email wars seldom produce a winner and are best avoided altogether.

What’s the best thing a chapter leader can do when caught in the crossfire of a nasty email debate?  Pick up the phone, call the participants and ask to meet in person.

Lifehacker offers some additional guidance on the importance of responding to angry emails in person:

“Offer to meet the person and talk face-to-face. Constant emails back and forth can make a bad situation worse.”

Having dealt with my share of angry e-mails over the years (and allowed myself to get dragged into some very painful arguments), I’ll second that suggestion – but it doesn’t have to be a face-to-face meeting. If the message came from someone you know, just pick up the phone: “Hey, I wanted to talk about your e-mail and try to get this worked out.” Most of the time, that’s a quick and effective way to resolve bad feelings.

When we’re forced to turn that anger into a real, human interaction, we’re a lot less likely to go overboard with it, and can move to resolve the issue in a much more civilized manner.

A strong brotherhood knows how to challenge the norm through a spirited but respectful debate.