It’s standard fare for a professional to reference “best practices” in professional conversations.
Best practices are those things that, within any given field of work, produce the best possible result. Best practices are often documented and shared across members of a field of work, emulated, and improved upon.
But what if the best practices of one field produce mixed or poor results?
There are many people making plenty of money by working with fraternities and sororities. You could call these people the 1% of Greek Life, and they are often the keepers and creators of “best practices” within this little field of work.
They teach people the best methods of recruitment, the best methods to address alcohol abuse or even the best ways for a parent to sue a fraternity or sorority out of spite. (People who work against our field can still specialize in Greek Life, after all).
The absolute best of practices transcend just one field of work. Those who create such best practices, such as Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why,” may have a shot at becoming a part of the actual 1%. People like Simon Sinek can command a speaking fee that would dwarf even the greatest of Greek Life speakers, and for good reason.
He created something that applies across a variety of fields, something that has data to support its apparent efficacy, and something that is easy to understand (even if many still don’t get it right).
That leads us back to our little field of work: Greek Life.
Why is it that none of the best practices utilized within Greek Life are utilized anywhere else? Can anyone name an award-winning or popular judicial process that eliminates due process for entire communities of people?
Is there even one alcohol or hazing program or seminar that has proven to be effective not only within fraternities and sororities, but across the spectrum of athletics, marching bands, student governments and military academies? Can anyone actually prove that their standards of excellence program has created a better overall student experience?
Why haven’t corporations adopted our New Member Education guidelines and sample curriculums?
There may be a few reasons. One could be that we are indeed suffering a brain drain. Another could be that we are not nearly as open-minded as we think we are, or simply don’t understand what “open-minded” means. Maybe we spend too much time antagonizing the very people we are trying to effect, and so any “best practice” we develop falls onto plugged ears.
My assumption is that it is a combination of each of those things.
That isn’t to say that there are not bright spots. I think Aaron Boe’s approach to sexual assault prevention approaches the conversation in a manner that is approachable to a typical, masculine male and forward thinking in its approach to real, cultural change. I think that Phired Up is truly on to something by coordinating marketing efforts, with technology that centers many time consuming processes into one, simply, smartphone-ready app (Chapterbuilder).
For full disclosure, my organization has worked with both Phired Up and Aaron Boe, but there’s a simple reason I am optimistic with regard to these attempts to improve our “best practices,” they follow an entrepreneur’s golden rule:
To sum all this up I’ll turn to the “Fraternity Man Book of 2016“. . . all the more relevant as Peter Thiel makes a complete arse of himself on the national stage.
In his book, Zero To One, Thiel describes the key to disrupting a market and creating a successful, innovative product. The rule is pretty simple, and likely known by any man or woman who has taken an entrepreneurship or business strategy course.
The Power of 10 rule suggests that for a new product (think electric car in a world of gasoline cars), to reach its tipping point, the point at which it becomes mainstream, it must be 10 times an improvement over its predecessors.
What does that mean?
For a new alcohol program to be a “best practice,” it should produce results 10 times better than whatever else is on the market. For a new recruitment strategy or technology to break it big, it will need to produce results 10 times better than its preceding “best practice.”
Keep in mind, we aren’t just talking raw data here, and “improvement” can happen in a variety of ways. Perhaps the new recruitment and marketing tools will reduce the time a recruitment officer and committee need to spend on building a names list and finding potential members by 10 times compared to what those officers are doing today.
Perhaps a new sexual assault workshop gets 10 times as many men to listen (with an open mind anyway) as its predecessors.
The really sad part? Our “best practices” as they stand today produce little results. In fact, I would argue that there are hundreds of practices just outside of our field of work that are infinitely better than what we utilize, and perhaps far more efficient and less costly.
We know many colleges and corporations have phenomenal orientation programs. We know that some have terrible ones. Becoming a volunteer for the Red Cross, and I love the Red Cross, required me to sit through a couple boring hours of glorified slideshows that were generously referred to as online “courses.”
Compare that with Stetson University’s (my alma mater) orientation program and I’m left wondering why more fraternities haven’t simply looked to Disney or a university orientation program when crafting a new member education strategy.
Alcoholics Anonymous works, why hasn’t a single sorority or fraternity, even with a Gallup study proving that our alumni are more likely to be alcoholics, tried to emulate the AA process or develop some form of partnership?
The simplest answer is that we are a competition-averse field of work. Egos are too big and too easily bruised.
It comes across as though we have eliminated the thought that competition is healthy. Greek Weeks are no longer a chance to prove who is best; that is “unhealthy.” Instead everyone gathers around a fire and sings songs about love and peace or something ridiculous like that and we are all supposed to walk away better friends and more cultured.
One area of Greek Life positively affected by this competition has been fraternity expansion. Perhaps due to the laissez faire approach of the NIC to expansion, many of the 70 NIC fraternities have gone about competing in their own way. It was in 2009; however, that the combination of recruitment coaching from a professional partner, mixed with a high energy, names gathering campaign took off.
My own fraternity saw a surge in the number of successful new chapters (i.e. ones that didn’t fail to receive a charter) and those new chapters began winning our top awards shortly after being established. The success rate was such an improvement, that there are now several variations of that formula working for fraternities big and small and at colleges/universities big and small at an impressive rate.
Unfortunately, some folks have confused “things that sound good” with “best practices,” and even fraternity expansion is suffering from the same bureaucracy that chokes the rest of the potential in the field of Greek Life.
How, you ask? Some practices sound nice: scholarships, resident staff members, bringing a speaker to campus – but haven’t improved the success rate of expansion in the way many who make selections would have you believe. The cost for these highly regarded practices far outweighs any noticeable benefit. So we’ve certainly forced expansion to be more expensive, without improving its end result (objectively anyway).
We are in a weird habit of forcing what we think is ideal on entire communities or fields of work, increasing the cost of participation and the opportunity cost of trying something new.
In summary: A best practice is only as good as its results.
It seems to me that we need better practices. Chapters still close, people are still racist, men and women are still sexually assaulted, and nothing we’ve done seems to have made enough of a dent to be taken seriously by anyone other than the Association of Fraternity & Sorority Advisors “Reflections” magazine.