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Cburkhardt

Positive National Structural Changes during Financial Restructuring

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With a national Financial Restructuring Ch. 11 Bankruptcy filing likely in our future, this posting will focus on structural changes that might be good for the national BSA organization.  This posting will focus on corporate, governance, professional staffing, volunteer involvement (area, region and national committees and appointees), council oversight, public relations, insurance, financing and fundraising functions.  If you want to discuss a program issue, please engage in the companion National Program Changes posting, which is now active.  I ask that Supply Division and High Adventure Base issues be discussed as program issues on that posting.  We will not discuss Bankruptcy proceedings or media accounts of it on these postings.  If you wish to do so, there will surely there will be other postings to do that.  With that said, let us set the table with the basic facts about the current national structure and how it actually functions.

Volunteer Structure.  The National Council provides an exclusive charter to Councils to offer Scouting in a geographic territory.  It is comprised of National Council members elected locally to represent councils and other volunteers otherwise part of the national structure.  The National Council elects a huge National Executive Board during each national annual meeting and that National Executive Board thereafter elects various officers.  The officers comprise an “Executive Committee”.  So many people want to be on the National Executive Board that there is a companion National Advisory Council, whose members are privy to all confidential information and are allowed to attend Executive Board meetings – they just do not get to vote.  When the National Executive Board meets during its three regular meetings each year (twice in Dallas and once at each national annual meeting), it is in a room with over 100 members and many relevant staff.  Prior to each National Executive Board meeting there are 2 or 3 days of pre-meetings by “national committees”.  The more-important national committees are “Standing” committees and are dominated by Executive Board and Advisory Council members.  The committees without “Standing” status are comprised of council, area and region scouters with a few Executive Board and Advisory Council members.  Often the chair at the region level for a subject area will serve on the national committee for that subject area – but not always.  

In total, I guestimate there are about 500 volunteers formally involved in the various national committee/advisory council/executive board policy roles.  Admission to membership on any of these is tightly controlled.  It is very expensive and time-consuming to participate in any of these national roles.  Turnover of Board and Advisory Council membership is very slow, with maybe 6-7 new people replacing people who have died or become otherwise unable to serve.  Recently, membership was frozen and no new people being admitted.    All national meetings are confidential, and only national volunteers are allowed to attend – and even then only meetings directly relevant to their appointment.  The policies of the BSA generally originate in various national committees and are “reported up” to Standing committees for consideration.  A few policies or actions are recommended to the Executive Board.  After that, the smaller Executive Committee will usually decide the big issues in private.  Some policy matters are discussed and voted upon during the National Executive Board meetings.  These would more-typically be among the most potentially-controversial decisions that Executive Committee does not want to make alone.

The four “regions” and their component multi-council “areas” are delegated full authority to implement national policy and programs, and are therefore a part of the national structure.  They do not make policy – they implement it.  This includes everything from enforcing compliance with national policy standards, reviewing membership and advancement appeals, organizing a few national program activities (like jamboree sub-camps and OA activities) and reviewing (and even revoking) council charters.  When a merger of councils is arranged or mandated, it is the region volunteers and the few staff members who work with them who do it.  The key region/area volunteers with influence are former council presidents.  The remainder are experienced former council program people (commissioners, etc.).  I will guesstimate there are probably upwards of 2,000 region/area Scouters.

Professional Structure.  There are credentialed professional Scouters who are assigned to staff every one of the above structures and volunteers.  Most are former council Scout Executives.  These consist of Area Directors, Region Directors (considered one of the “top jobs” among professionals), substantive department directors in the national service center, and ultimately the Chief Scout Executive and 4-6 Deputy and Assistant Chiefs (considered to be the very “top jobs”).  There used to be region service centers – but these were sold-off and now staff in Irving, TX support all national professionals.  Currently the top professional position (normally the Chief Scout Executive) is the “CEO” and is not currently filled by a credentialed professional Scouter.  This is likely because of the skills needed during the course of the anticipated Ch. 11.  Professional Scouters who are identified to move up the professional ranks alternate between national and local council positions.

Issues.  The national structure and the individuals associated with it who have made the policy decisions and led the national movement over the last thirty years are largely responsible for where we are now policy-wise.  The national structure sets the vision, makes the decisions and tightly controls implementation and public relations.  With few exceptions, the Executive Committee received advice, made the decisions in private and announced and implemented the policies through the national structure.

Observations.  More regular turnover on the Executive Board and Advisory Council and injecting additional transparency might upgrade consideration and implementation of important, existential matters.  Some of the big decisions made – or not made – have variously had positive and catastrophic impacts on the BSA and its members.  Several decision makers and board members have been in place for 20 or more years and many intend to continue serving for life.

Possibilities.  The Bankruptcy process will likely force significant change.  The entire region/area volunteer and professional structure might be discontinued in lieu of direct management from the national service center and adoption of a greatly “deregulated” approach.  A more-independent legal structure might be adopted, whereby councils would have charters but be far less regulated and directed by the National Council.  For example, perhaps every council would offer not all BSA programs, and councils might be more on their own in terms of support services, like insurance, personnel and property development.  The BSA national foundation might be spun-off as an independent organization so that future major donor contributions would be protected from lawsuits seeking to attach BSA assets.  The national policy structure and process might be discontinued in lieu of a more-nimble approach.  The current Executive Board/Advisory Council might be discontinued in lieu of a smaller and more transparent structure.  Possibilities like these would dramatically reduce national financial overhead.

What are your ideas for positive national structural changes that might be encouraged as the BSA goes through a financial reorganization?  State support for your reasoning. 

 

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@Cburkhardt - I'm someone who has always been interested in understanding the structure of the organization at the national level.  I've asked around with local experts, looked online nationally, read reports, etc...  This is hands down the single best explanation and picture into the national structure I've ever seen.

Thank you.

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ParkMan:  This is, absolutely, how it works at the current time based on personal experience.  I've been an observer and participant in the national structure since 1976, when I was elected a regional youth officer in the previous East Central Region.  Since then I've been variously involved in the national program development, membership, fund raising, event, base management and council merger functions.  There are many very good people involved in the professionally and volunteer ranks of the national structure.

I encourage anyone considering a post to this entry to consider biting off a bite-sized matter and providing deeper analysis.  The subject matter spread of the national structure (and program functions for the companion posting).  Write your entries as though a good number of national leaders of the BSA are reading your thoughts.  Provide meaningful analysis and precisely-written suggestions.  Let's avoid speculating or negative thoughts.  We are looking to provide positive ideas.

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I do not have organization charts or similar documents, and do not encourage circulation of official BSA documents as part of this posting.

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The volunteer organizational structure of the BSA today is one that is largely based on a promotion model seen in large organizations.  You start as a volunteer in a unit, a few years later you get involved in a district, a few years later the council, later the area, etc.  Problem solving works much the same way.  A unit is an entity that works in isolation and receives coaching from a unit commissioner or district volunteer.  A district receives some coaching from a professional or council volunteer.  The net effect of this system is that it engenders consistency.  In an era where we have seen a consistent decline in membership of 40+ years I think national needs to look at new opportunities for how it interacts with councils.

One idea I would propose is that national champion the development of a team of consulting subject matter experts.  This would be a group of individuals specifically focused on helping some other group strengthen in a specific area.  The team would consist of individuals with a knack for problem solving, coaching others, and driving to deliver results.  This consulting team could be pulled from anywhere in Scouting - professionals and volunteers alike. 

Let's use council membership as an example.  Say that a council has been struggling to grow membership.  At the request of the council, this consulting team would come in, sit with a few key council membership people, and jointly develop a plan for membership success.  The consulting team would consist of subject matter experts and also those who know how to develop a plan.  Together the combined group would define the problem, identify solutions, and then together develop a specific plan for success.   Following the plan development, the local team would execute.  The consulting team would train, guide, coach, mentor - in some cases even project manage.  The consulting team would have access to national resources and could leverage those as well.  Plans would be ambitious - so setbacks should be anticipated.  But, the group would work together and stay engaged for the duration.  Once the project was over, the consulting team would then go work on something else.

If you go back to our example of membership.  Say that you're a council membership team.  Your council covers an area of 3 million people.  Something like 2% ot TAY are engaged in your programming.  You've got a shoestring budget, minimal marketing, an overworked DE staff, and units that run the gamut from troops of 100 scouts to troops of 5 scouts.  You've been declining in membership 2% a year.  What do you do?  Today, the team looks inward and tries to figure it out.  Periodically, some new volunteer or staff member joins the mix and you try something new.

With this idea, the BSA would have a team of people who could help.  So, instead of that council membership team trying to figure out a plan on their own, they've got a team of 6 people who have specific experience that can help get them started.

We see similar things done in business all the time.  There are numerous management and specialized technical consulting companies.  Those companies exist because often a local company simply doesn't have the local knowledge to solve a particular challenge.  In the BSA we often describe the solution to that as "more training".  But, very often more training needs to be accompanied with some subject matter experts to get you going in the right direction.  In the non-Scouting professional world these consulting companies come in an assist people who already working in that area all day, every day.  This works in large part because consulting companies see lots of examples and are able to extract best practices.  They become experts at problem solving and know how to select ideas that work and ideas that do not.

To me, this is a natural extension of what we are doing in Polaris.  Polaris today is giving people the tools to solve their own problems.  Step 2 is to now recognize that some problems benefit from working with subject matter experts.  Polaris would let that council membership team say "we are free to innovate".  This would give that council membership team an increased chance of success by then partnering them with expert resources.

 

Edited by ParkMan
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Great observations, ParkMan.  The consulting concept is interesting.  In the 1970-1980's there were in-house professional Scouter consultants stationed in the regions called "national field representatives" for the major programs.  The national field representative for Exploring would travel the region consulting and assisting the implementation of that program -- but this was really just implementing the standard template.  These were discontinued long ago.

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Perfect timing, @Cburkhardt. I just spent last evening talking to a financial guy about how totally screwed up our council is. The SE hires the board, so they will never complain. A capital fundraiser of $6M is in progress and the SE is already siphoning money off of it for other things (he can't explain what, though) The council president is a yes man. And the area leadership is chummy with the SE, so they will never do anything about the issues. The point is, for at least 20 years our council has been run by 2 different SE's that have no expertise in how to run a business. It used to be that we'd get enough donors to cover the mistakes. No more. All of the training in the world can't fix this hot mess.

So, the most important change is replace the top down culture with servant leadership. The relationships between areas and councils, councils and districts, and districts and units needs to change. "How can I help" and "tough love" should be the mottoes.

Also, have a standard best practices for every council that is transparent so anyone can see financial mismanagement. JTE is not enough. A council is a business so run it that way. This includes oversight to ensure the SE is doing a good job. The CO's should get annual reports that clearly explain the finances.

Change the hiring model. Allow councils to hire the best people they can find rather than the current internal dictates from above that we now have. A retired VP at one of our local companies could do more in a day than our SE can do in a month. Once we get real leadership all sorts of possibilities arise. The same thing applies for areas. Make it possible to fire people that don't perform.

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1 hour ago, Cburkhardt said:

Great observations, ParkMan.  The consulting concept is interesting.  In the 1970-1980's there were in-house professional Scouter consultants stationed in the regions called "national field representatives" for the major programs.  The national field representative for Exploring would travel the region consulting and assisting the implementation of that program -- but this was really just implementing the standard template.  These were discontinued long ago.

For this I would lean more heavily on the volunteer side and would draw them from locations demonstrating success. 

For example - look at your experience with your troop for girls.  You've been successful in starting that troop and know what it takes.  You understand the program needs, the volunteer needs, the focus needs - you are now clearly a subject matter expert on troops for girls.  Let's say a district is struggling to start troops for girls.  That district could contact someone at national and say - we need help getting a program of starting troops for girls going.  The BSA would then engage you and other similarly successful leaders and say "let's build a focus team that can help districts start troops for girls".  You'd meet as a team ahead of time and develop a plan for a visit to that district. You'd go onsite, hold some meetings, visit with different leaders, develop a strategy, and define a series of next steps.  You'd then regularly talk, review progress, and work through issues.  If need be, you'd make another visit onsite and regroup.

The problem in essence that we're trying to solve is knowledge propagation.  How to take the best ideas and leverage them to help others succeed.  I thought of the consulting team notion because it's a repeatable, organized way to transcend the limitations imposed by our current structure.  This lets us preserve a structure which is efficient for organization, but not efficient for innovation.  The consulting team become the innovation factory.

 

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5 minutes ago, MattR said:

Perfect timing, @Cburkhardt. I just spent last evening talking to a financial guy about how totally screwed up our council is. The SE hires the board, so they will never complain. A capital fundraiser of $6M is in progress and the SE is already siphoning money off of it for other things (he can't explain what, though) The council president is a yes man. And the area leadership is chummy with the SE, so they will never do anything about the issues. The point is, for at least 20 years our council has been run by 2 different SE's that have no expertise in how to run a business. It used to be that we'd get enough donors to cover the mistakes. No more. All of the training in the world can't fix this hot mess.

So, the most important change is replace the top down culture with servant leadership. The relationships between areas and councils, councils and districts, and districts and units needs to change. "How can I help" and "tough love" should be the mottoes.

Also, have a standard best practices for every council that is transparent so anyone can see financial mismanagement. JTE is not enough. A council is a business so run it that way. This includes oversight to ensure the SE is doing a good job. The CO's should get annual reports that clearly explain the finances.

Change the hiring model. Allow councils to hire the best people they can find rather than the current internal dictates from above that we now have. A retired VP at one of our local companies could do more in a day than our SE can do in a month. Once we get real leadership all sorts of possibilities arise. The same thing applies for areas. Make it possible to fire people that don't perform.

It's an anecdote - but...

Our church had a situation a few years ago where the minister had to leave abruptly for a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The local bishop didn't have a successor in the wings and we were a big church.  So, they asked a retired minister to jump in and help out.

Day one they showed him to his office and said they'd get it setup for him.  He turned and said - I don't need an office.  I never plan to sit down.  I will be spending every day out working with people in the church.  The next 6 months were a time of innovation, growth, and transformation.  

Rather than promoting through the system, I think we're out looking for these people.  Instead of worrying about whether they are a commissioned professional, let's go out and hire people with the ability to make a change.

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MattR:  If the fundamental metrics of a council are not going well, the conversations these days between council and area/region/national volunteers are not “affirming”.  In fact, having been both an area and council President not that long ago, I can confirm that those talks can get pretty unpleasant.  I came in as a council President after my predecessors, their boards and the SEs had all been “thanked for their past services”.  Maybe there are smiles in public in your council’s situation, but if your council is mismanaged the national structure is being very direct with them.  That function of the national structure is good.  In bankruptcy national volunteers and their professionals are going to determine (with a lot of council volunteer participation) whether the charter from a truly dysfunctional council will be withdrawn.  There will be less fooling around under the circumstances we will face.

My late Scoutmaster and my late Unit Commissioner father had differing views regarding whether our district/council was a hopelessly lost organization or worth something.  They are probably in heaven still arguing about that — as well as the proposed design of the next heavenly district camporee patch.  Maybe now is your time to come forward with as positive a spirit as you can muster and become a district/council volunteer.  You might help just when you are needed.  And, wearing a council/district target on your back can expand your perspective.

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Historical note:  As I recall,  the most recent  National organizational restructuring was in the summer of 2008. Mazzuca wanted National to focus on council needs and commissioned  a study by McKinsey & Co towards that goal.  Is that study available? A restructuring of National volunteer committees  also occurred.

Perhaps this time, the focus should be on scouts and the realization all Scouting is local... a bottom up restructuring.

Edited by RememberSchiff
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21 hours ago, Cburkhardt said:

MattR:  If the fundamental metrics of a council are not going well, the conversations these days between council and area/region/national volunteers are not “affirming”.  

It could be, in general. But I suspect that neither the council or area people know how to run a business. Just a few examples.  The 2018 financial numbers changed between reporting the 2018 numbers and the 2019 numbers such that in both cases things looked great. That's a huge no-no. Although our membership has dropped markedly in the past 5 years there has been no attempt to lower staffing, especially the staff that do nothing, or reduce capital expenses. Currently, my council has less than the equivalent of a month's salary in the bank and there is no money expected for a couple of months. They have not hired someone to run summer camp so there is nobody working on staffing camp. Hence, they have already missed the opportunity to hire good staff. My guess is they will not hire staff until after fos comes in in May, or they will dip into money raised for capital improvement of camps, another no-no, with no idea how to return that money.

However, their JTE numbers are probably silver, so things are pretty good.

BTW, the reason I know all of this is because I was on the district staff. I quit because I got tired of fighting off the council, which was only interested in raising event prices to increase their income. Because they're mismanaging their money I was asked to raise camporee costs to $40.

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2 hours ago, MattR said:

They have not hired someone to run summer camp so there is nobody working on staffing camp. Hence, they have already missed the opportunity to hire good staff. My guess is they will not hire staff until after fos comes in in May, or they will dip into money raised for capital improvement of camps, another no-no, with no idea how to return that money. 

 

Matt, this is the exact play our council chose out of the "How to Screw Up Your Summer Camp" playbook.  It worked so bad two summers ago, they doubled down and did it again last summer.  Now the council is shocked--shocked!--to find that camp attendance numbers have dropped like a rock.  Exit surveys from units were abysmal.  Food, staff, program, facilities, equipment--complete train wreck.

Thankfully, a fully qualified, proven director has been hired for this year.  Staff has been hired early this year and resources are being channeled to the camp.  Hopefully things will rebound.  Units have long memories.

Edited by desertrat77
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5 minutes ago, desertrat77 said:

Hopefully things will rebound.  Units have long memories.

I’m coming in after some bad day camp years. It’s taking several year to rebuild and Cub Scout units are gonna have shorter memories than troops. 

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