The Era Of Assessment: 5 Bits of Advice For Greek Life’s Newest Silver Bullet

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Beta Theta Pi recently announced a strategic plan, and in that plan is a call for an assessment of the needs and status of its membership. Bravo – Feedback is good! I overall gave the plan a thumbs up (if that matters)

At least one organization hired to conduct such an assessment will be DYAD Strategies. Beta is not DYAD’s only customer/partner in the fraternity/sorority world, and DYAD is not the only group providing research/assessment services in that space, though they do have a strong presence as you’ll see below. (Even Gallup has been brought in by fraternity/sorority umbrella groups)

Other recently announced or fulfilled assessment initiatives:

  • Kappa Alpha Theta has enlisted DYAD
  • Alpha Tau Omega & Delta Sigma Phi use a similar 150-200 annual question survey of chapter officers
  • Delta Sigma Phi has a position opening for someone with experience in assessment
  • East Carolina University & Colorado State just announced Greek Life cultural surveys via DYAD
  • The Association for Fraternal Leadership & Values (AFLV) recently finished a conference & partners with DYAD for assessment surveys
  • SigEp has also announced a partnership with DYAD
  • Update: Phi Sigma Kappa has just announced a partnership w/DYAD (3/2018)

There is more than what’s mentioned above, but you get the idea.

It’s almost as if decades of leadership education, hazing prevention, risk policy and risk management education haven’t delivered successful results and so we need a way to reform those best practices or gather data to prove the opposite is true.

I could have told anyone that, for free! Actually, I have. Many times [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]

Pettiness aside, folks in higher education take higher education credentials seriously (expectedly), and so it seems professional assessments are our next new silver bullet to calm down the angry mobs. Having worked at a fraternity national office, I can guarantee that assessment is being pitched with this exact intent to national boards, alumni, students and fraternity/sorority professionals. Just like the educational programming and policy proposals of yesteryear.

I don’t think assessment is a bad idea; that would be ridiculous. Here; however, are some bits of advice to consider before you splurge or prematurely celebrate your organization’s commitment to assessment. Again: There’s no suggestion here to rule out assessment or boycott companies providing it, just to reflect on whether it’s beneficial to your organization at this time.

1. Less Is More – Scientifically

Flying Delta? Call their customer service line and you’ll conclude your call with the following survey question:

 On a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being definitely “yes,” and 1 being definitely “no,” how likely would you be to hire the last Delta representative you talked to, if you ran a customer service company?

It’s a brutal question. Still, the folks on the phone know it will be asked, and they attempt to work to receive a 4 or 5 versus a 1.

It’s the only question the customer is asked, and, with regard to customer service, it’s the only question that is relevant. It speaks to Delta’s ability to help customers and the quality of professional Delta hires. If there is a need to further investigate, listening to the recorded call will indicate whether the issue is a Delta policy or the service representative. It directly influences Delta’s work and their future work.

Fewer, larger bits of data paint a clearer image more quickly than excessive, smaller bits of data. If two groups are watching an image of a fire hydrant go from blurry to clear in 4 slides versus twenty slides, which group will figure out first that it’s a fire hydrant? The group which receives more relevant data in fewer sequences.

Sometimes we get caught up in collecting massive amounts of data as if we’re the next Facebook. Don’t create a giant haystack around the needle you’re trying to find. That’s unnecessary, time-consuming, disorienting, and therefore expensive.

2. Consult Existing Feedback

Your members are talking about you online, sending you emails, conversing with your staff members and complaining at your conferences and conventions. Many leaders ignore these calls if they don’t come from a high profile source (say a news media company, a generous donor or a student who understands how to whip up a crowd).

The fact is that we exist in a Greek Life bubble. We often think that we know best and that anyone who doesn’t work within fraternity/sorority life doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s foolish. (See the T-mobile story on feedback linked above & here)

Working at the Fraternity, we’d talk all the time about how students could use the processes of our Convention and elections to make change within the Fraternity. What we didn’t understand was that the level and degree to which we understood our processes were not shared with the vast majority of our membership. We HAD to know those things, it was the only way we could deal with the bureaucratic nature of our work.

The feedback is out there; and if you’re ignoring it – you’re more than likely to ignore whatever uncomfortable truths you uncover through a dramatic assessment procedure.

3. Don’t Do It For Public Relations Purposes – You Know Who You Are

Data is a buzzword. Assessment is a buzzword. We know that successful companies do it, and so many of us, in our human desire to be successful, will attempt to emulate what the big guys do. Fraternities have literally zero opportunity for failure other than being outlawed, there is no reason to be so risk-averse and cautious to make daring leaps at this point in time.

Assessment is a tool you use when you don’t want to disrupt the status quo. We all agree that we must disrupt the fraternity/sorority status quo, right? Or is that just what we say to silence the hecklers and drive donations?

If you’ve consulted and addressed existing feedback (including the most important feedback – your staff members, volunteers and dedicated student leaders), and if you’ve already made significant changes and just need to thread the needle on a few more reforms – consider assessment.

If you’ve literally done nothing but contribute to the status quo – and by that I mean you’ve just spent a whole bunch of money trying to win over campus professionals, put on a bunch of leadership programs and create a bunch of services without considering your members’ interests – assessment isn’t going to help you.

4. Report All Of The Data Or Make It Available To Your Members

A Possibly Hypothetical Scenario: We had a strong initiative which began to falter after a few years. Many on our team had voiced ideas as to why we began to falter, and although none of those ideas were acted upon, the powers that be decided to hire some friends with an assessment company to investigate.

After reviewing the team’s practices, speaking with a variety of stakeholders, and speaking with the team itself, a report was drafted which confirmed all of the team’s opinions and ideas (remember what I said about consulting existing feedback?).

The report; however, was never shared with the team at large, nor was it shared with the powers that commissioned the report. Certain highlights were selected to be disclosed to the aforementioned powers that be – highlights which conveniently focused on things outside of the team’s control or which placed the blame on the lowest rungs of the team’s hierarchy (sort of like of how senior chapter members always say that the new members are “not pulling their weight!”).

It shouldn’t be surprising that not much has improved for that team in the years which followed. It is equally unsurprising that, given a professional report was provided, all involved parties play dumb as to why things have not improved or dig their heels further into the preferred highlights from the aforementioned report.

If you get great information, share it with no one, or manipulate the data you do share, then you don’t care about assessment – you care about covering your ass. Fraternity/sorority bureaucrats have been in the business of covering our asses for far too long.

5. Change

Follow the advice/warnings above and take the findings seriously or go home.