Shaking The Wrong Hand

My parents met as leaders of the local wolf cubs group, part of the Boy Scouts. So it’s no surprise that I was a regular member of Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts growing up. I don’t remember it all that well, but it was a part of my formative years.

A few years ago one of my sons was invited to join the current Cubs group so we went on registration night in September to check it out. On the way in I was chatting with another dad and tried to introduce myself: “Hi, I’m Chris” reaching out to shake his hand. He gave me a strange look, ignored my extended right hand, and offered his left hand with a corrective “This is how we do it in Scouting”. I sheepishly apologized for forgetting the subcultural tradition after 30+ years and went in to learn more. To sign up I was told we needed to buy the full uniform, pay in advance for the weekly dues and major activities, and commit myself to a role in the spring fundraising event. All before attending a single meeting to see if he liked it!

I walked to the car thinking “No wonder Scouting has declined so much”.

Of course I do the same thing sometimes. There are groups I’m part of that don’t make many allowances for beginners. We take a sort of pride in our form of exclusivity; whether it’s entry standards, performance,  jargon, rituals, or whatever.

You might be thinking my point is that every organization should be sure there is an inviting and well supported on-ramp for newcomers. But that’s not it.

It’s not a problem to be exclusive unless you don’t mean to be or can’t sustain it.

The U.S. Marines have been effectively recruiting for years with their “The Few, The Proud, The Marines” slogan. It sets exactly the tone they intend.

The leadership question here is: Does your organization have, and promote, an approach to outsiders that is as invitational as you really want to be?

Your entry points should accurately reflect the real culture you are trying to establish: 
-If you have an uncommon culture you need to train people to assimilate effectively.
-If you want more people you may need to accept that some of them shake with the wrong hand at first.
-If you only accept the very best, make the standards foremost in your communication. 

Your outward facing messaging has to align with your current goals and the reality of the broader culture in which you exist. If not you will not get the responses you are looking for.

And by the way; my son only stuck with scouting long enough that we couldn’t get our money back on the uniform.