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Commander’s Intent part 2 – making sure chapters are strong on the fundamentals

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Vince Lombardi

“Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist, but football is only two things – blocking and tackling.

— Vince Lombardi, ESPN’s Coach of the Century

Thanks everyone who responded to our Commanders Intent post last month. We discussed how an army commander ensures his forces cannot lose sight of the core objective and then we asked you to fill in the blank, “If a chapter does nothing else, it must _____.” So many insightful answers! If you haven’t read them, click on the above link and please do so.

As promised, we looked at everyone’s comments and discussed them at our Sept. 16 meeting. We’re not done processing and reacting to everything we learned from your participation, but I’ll say this: We didn’t see anything in your feedback that surprised us, and that was great news. I hope the following explains why.

While it might be wise to stick with the military motif for this post, please indulge me in switching to a related analogy: winning football teams and winning chapters. (To be clear, staff doesn’t define winning chapters by competitive scores but by whether a chapter is a exciting and fulfilling place that’s attracting more and more men. High-level performance and a healthy chapter culture often go together, but it’s very common to find one without the other.) However, successful chapters of all types are strong on similar key fundamentals. One goal of the commander’s intent post was to determine whether we’ve identified the same key principles as you have. 80+ insightful responses later, our strategic planning appears to be well in line with what you consider most important.

Now, a few words about arguably the best football coach of all time, and what fundamentals mean to strong barbershop chapters.An unusually gifted quarterback or defensive tackle has made many a coach look like a genius, deserved or not. Vince Lombardi was the real deal if there ever was one. He retired from the Green Bay Packers in 1967 after winning six division titles, five NFL championships, the first two Super Bowls, and a 98-30-4 record — in just nine seasons. The coaching itch returned, and in 1969 he took over the Washington Redskins and made a Super Bowl champion out of a team that hadn’t had a winning season in 14 years. He died the next year as the most revered man in football.

As far as Vince was concerned, his teams won because he was a relentless driller on the fundamentals. He made the “skill players” better by focusing more on the men who didn’t handle the ball. Solid blocking gave runners more room to move, gave quarterbacks more time to find an open man. The defensive focus was simply the reverse — drilling on the fundamentals of breaking blocks, closing running lanes, hurrying the QB and bringing down the guy with the ball.

Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect,” he said. His teams knew what was most important: blocking and tackling, and he never let them think they had gotten “good enough” to move past the fundamentals.

For some time, staff has been working on new strategies to ensure that chapter members and leaders are equipped to create a better overall chapter experience that will attract and retain more men. Having a top director, that’s great, and the Society is focusing and will continue to focus on developing great directors. But great directors are more like elite quarterbacks–only effective when the other chapter fundamentals are solid.

The 2007 New England Patriots failed to cap a perfect regular season with a Super Bowl win not because quarterback Tom Brady played poorly, but because the Giant’s defensive front won the battle of blocking and tackling–continually closing in on Brady before he could find his receivers. We’ve seen one elite director after another quit or be invited to leave in spite of his talent: poor leadership (his or the chapter’s), conflicting goals, chapter politics, personality issues, you name it. The Society also has many chapters that would love to upgrade their directing talent but are thriving and attracting members in the meantime. Kudos if you find a top director, but both a journeyman and elite quarterback will have little lasting impact unless the chapter is blocking and tackling. That’s not just riser skills, that’s vision, planning, leadership, and team of men who know their chapter’s game plan and know their role in making their chapter team a winner.

Staff focus is currently centered on identifying the fundamentals of a healthy chapters and helping strengthen chapters where it matters most–whatever the chapter’s goals or ambitions. Like Vince Lombardi, we believe clarity is essential. Thank you for helping make the picture even clearer.

Your core strategies line up with ours

Your commanders intent statements and descriptions matched up very well with what we’ve determined in prior strategic planning meetings. Most of your statements fell under the following categories:

  • The chapter as a place where men know they’re going to have a great experience every week – an exciting, fulfilling atmosphere that’s worth a man’s best time and efforts, so that he can’t wait to contribute the next week
  • The chapter knows what it is trying to be and is competently following a plan to get there. (This focus on better vision and leadership seems to be geared toward putting chapters in a better position to deliver on the first bullet)
  • The chapter’s public image, such as whether the chapter is singing music that people like, and sings well enough to attract an audience and new members
  • The chapter is doing what it takes to sing better (possibly a subset of the third bullet)
  • Other: includes Youth in Harmony, quartetting, working better with other chapters, personal commitment, cost of barbershopping

We haven’t yet created exact commander’s intent words, and if we do, it’s not yet clear what we’ll do with them. But the above major categories, particularly the first two items, summarize what we’re focusing on right now. We are currently creating some tools and information that should help chapters decide what’s important to them and learn how to deliver on that vision.

We’re also getting ready to absorb some feedback and guidance from the Membership Growth Task Force. Initial reports indicate that their first recommendations align strongly with the plans staff is already executing. It’s gratifying to see that for the most part, members, staff and volunteer leadership seem to be on the same page. That’s a big deal, in my book. (Now, let’s act together!)

What’s next?

Sorry if you were anticipating some grand announcement. But we’re not looking for some “Hail Mary” pass to reverse the Society’s membership trends — not trick plays that make the highlight reel. We’re looking at the perhaps overlooked fundamentals that spell the difference between a frustrating chapter experience and one that exhilarates, and attracts and retains more men.

Speaking for myself, I’m excited about the things that are happening now and that will be happening in the short-term and mid-term future. The way out of our membership slide is getting clearer and clearer. It won’t reverse all at once, and it won’t happen at all unless each member is dedicated to improving his own chapter experience. But it will happen if enough men get the vision, understand the principles, and apply them in their own chapters.

We’re listening to you and we like what we hear. Solutions are developing. Help is on the way.

As always, your feedback and help is always appreciated!

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