With the Southwest District Convention of Kappa Kappa Psi happening this weekend in Texas (no, I’m not there), I figured it’s time to share my reflections on the Southeast District (SED, from here on out) Convention that I attended March 21-23 in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve had more than enough time to process and reflect on the experience! What follows is the first in a three-part series of convention recaps posts covering two fraternity conventions, one professional conference, and assorted experiences in between.
This being my first time attending an SED Convention, I will say that I was very impressed with how the host chapters from Georgia Tech and district leadership worked together to present a well organized and enjoyable event. While there were many great take aways I could talk about, my recap of SED 2014 will touch on two main points:
- planning for the future (strategic planning)
- re-evaluating traditions
Planning for the Future (Strategic Planning)
Kelly Nellis, Kappa Kappa Psi National Vice President for Student Affairs, delivered a great presentation to a packed house on how chapters might approach chapter goal setting sessions in the future, but with the ultimate goal of helping chapters run more efficiently and effectively. It was interesting to hear why students chose to attend this particular presentation:
- “Our chapter is a mess”
- “The chapter needs to improve”
- “We need to clarify our goals”
The list continues, but those seemed to be the underlying issues. Many of the students who chimed in, as well as a VAST majority of others in the room, indicated that they have chapter meetings that go for an HOUR or more. Suffice to say that those are (probably) not the most productive, nor pleasant, chapter meetings to sit in. Ugh. A few issues might contribute to this: 1) no clear-cut plan of attack for the meeting (an agenda) and/or 2) allowing for free-for-all conversation/commentary throughout the meeting. Rectifying these issues will help chapters move towards achieving their overall goals.
However, our chapters need to know who they are before they simply lay down a list of goals. One way to do this is to conduct a chapter SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. By doing so, chapters can learn what they do well, what they could do better, where there are opportunities for success, and what might hold the group back. It is important though that this process be a full chapter project, not just something done by the executive board. By incorporating the entire chapter, it helps to paint a more accurate representation of the organization.
Once a chapter has a basic idea of who they are, then it is time to start looking at goals. What is it that the chapter wants to achieve? What would the chapter strive for if there were no limits on what was possible? Start with a large end goal and then work backward – this will help define what needs to happen along the way in order to make the large goal come to fruition.Regardless of the goals, chapters should ensure that the goals are SMART. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound. Following this format, chapters will lay down a framework for how the goals will be achieved, any deadlines, and how they will assess if they make sense to even pursue.
After a chapter identifies its strengths, weaknesses, and so on and then establishes their goals, the next challenge may come in the form of chapter traditions. Christine Beason (current KKPsi National President), Kelly Nellis, Dr. Kirk Randazzo, and Dr. Malinda Matney (past KKPsi National Presidents) engaged the fraternity delegation in a candid discussion on how members might work to re-evaluate their chapter traditions. But where should a chapter start? With the leadership.
Before I proceed though, let me be clear - my definition of leadership (picked up while working in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke) is that leadership is action, not position. Leadership is when a group of people who are able (and willing) come together to influence positive change. These are those chapter members who motivate, take on the tasks that aren’t popular, hold themselves accountable, and influence others responsibly to execute a shared vision.
- “…but this is how we’ve always done it.” Nope, I call bullshit.
As a leader, your primary objective is to help inspire the group towards achieving the shared vision and goals that were just established. Where does the existing “tradition” fit in? If the answer is that “it doesn’t”, then it might be time to re-evaluate that tradition. If your chapter’s goal is to win best organization on campus, then some of the more questionable traditions might need to get the boot. Remember: just because you have traditions doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly stupid.
- How do we navigate re-evaluating / changing our traditions?
First and foremost – and this cannot be stressed enough – start small. You have an idea of what should be based on your organization’s vision/goals/etc. Share this vision with other members, particularly those who are of a similar mindset. This will help to develop buy-in later as the idea progresses to the whole chapter. Also, remember that changing a tradition takes time and will likely not happen overnight. Your fellow members (hopefully) want the best for the organization, regardless of how they feel about certain traditions.
- Okay, we’ve made some changes, but our alumni aren’t as thrilled about them…help!
Your alumni are an important link to the past of the organization. They have great stories about their own individual experiences as well as of the organization as a whole. They may have participated in some of the traditions that you’ve recently re-evaluated/change and they some alumni might be okay with the changes, some might be upset, and some may not even care. What is important to remember here is that their time as an active member has come and gone. The local chapter was, in most cases, founded before they were even born, evolved multiple times before they even joined, and will continue to do so long after the current members join the ranks of alumni. What might have been relevant to an active member in 1985, might not be to an active member in 2025. The current organization should reassure alumni members that they, as individuals, have a place and are always welcome back. However, they should also be made aware that visions and goals change over time, and some traditions may just need to go.
Planning for the Future / Strategic Planning
- Meetings that go an hour or more are no fun. Establish an agenda or some other plan of attack and stick to it.
- Allow each person who wishes to speak have their chance before allowing repeat speakers.
- ALSO, keep a running list of interested speakers. When someone wants to talk, acknowledge & add them to the list, and then have them put their hands down – it’ll keep the focus on the current speaker.
- Figure out what makes your chapter tick - conduct a SWOT analysis.
- Establish the END goal first when goal planning then figure out the smaller tasks to get you there.
- Make your goals SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound
- Leadership is action, not position. Leaders influence positive change in the organization.
- Line up your traditions with your vision and goals. “This is how we’ve always done it” shouldn’t be the justification.
- Establish buy-in. Get a few other members on board, then a few more, and THEN go for the large group.
- Alumni aren’t active anymore – you are. The organization needs to reflect the people who are in it NOW.
As stated before, the 2014 SED Convention was a fantastic event. The content of presentations was incredibly relevant and seemed to flow nicely together, especially the two sessions that I chose to review. These sessions made sense and hopefully these take aways made it back to the local chapters.
As always, it was great to visit with friends from all over the region/country that I haven’t seen in some time. Between enjoying a humorous brunch at Babs’ and getting to visit the World of Coca-Cola, I would say this was a successful trip to Atlanta – a city that I would normally avoid simply for the traffic woes alone. It’s actually a great city to visit and I look forward to visiting again.