New Camp Director Pro Tip

Change At Camp

Written by Patti

Change is not only important, it’s inevitable.

Change is good, and healthy, and can have a really positive impact on your program.

BUT

(And that’s a really big but… like… Sir Mix-A-Lot would be writing songs about it… )

Sometimes how and when you implement change can have a huge influence on how well the change is received.

If You’re New

If you’ve just moved into a new position, or moved to a new camp. My advice (and the general consensus) is to hold off on ANY changes for your first year*.

A. whole. year.

Spend your first year talking to people (current staff, board members, alumni, camper families), finding out what THEY would like to change in your program, as well as what they love about the program. Spend your first season observing everything, making notes about what you love, and what you would like to improve. (Keep those notes to yourself.)

Show the camp community that you’re interested in learning about the position and the program.
Let them see that you respect their traditions, their culture, and are grateful to play a part in their history.

Then, in year two, start implementing changes.

*The ONLY time I recommend making changes in your first season, is if you identify something that puts your campers, staff, or the reputation of the program at risk.

 

 

Introducing Change

Incremental steps

Try to make big-ol’ changes in incremental steps.
Break em’ down into bite sized pieces that are easier for people to digest so you can ease them into the process.
Think of it as creating building blocks. Make a small change, see how it’s received, then tweak it further, until it meets your standards.
This also helps create a culture of change – more on that below.

Give reasons

I think, more important that “give reasons” is “have GOOD reasons”.
Changing something because “that’s how we did it at my last camp”, or “that’s how we did it when I was a camper here”, are NOT good reasons.
This goes back to step one, of respecting the camps culture and traditions. Just because your old camp sang songs after meals, does not mean that your current camp has to, or should.

That’s why it’s so important to take time before making any changes, you really need to get to know your program and role before you make any big decisions. Do things that make sense for the program, not things that fit another time or place.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re considering making a change at camp:

  • How will this improve the campers experience?
  • How will this make life better/ easier for the staff?
  • Does this make camp safer?
  • Will this save money, or bring in more money?
  • Is this in line with the camp’s mission and mandate?
  • Why is this change important to me?
  • Are there alternatives to this action?
  • What will likely be the response from stakeholders? (In this case, I mean anyone with an interest in the camp.) Why?
  • If this change doesn’t happen, how will that affect the camp?

Once you’ve asked these questions and done some soul-searching about the reasons why this change is important to you, communicate that with stakeholders.
You should always be able to back up any decision you make, and have answers to any concerns that may be raised.

Creating Buy-In

If you followed step one, then you’ll have lots of feedback to draw on when you’re introducing changes into your program.

There’s no better way to create buy-in, then by giving people what they want!
If you’ve taken the time to learn about the program, show that you respect traditions, asked for feedback – then made changes based on that feedback – you’re already a step ahead.

The way to win over the hearts and minds of your stakeholders is to show them you’re listening.
Make announcements in newsletters, social media, speeches, etc about how “you asked for it, and we delivered” or “your opinion means a lot to us, that’s why we’re …” or “ask and ye shall receive! After getting lots of requests for… we’re doing it”, etc, etc.

Let them know that they’re part of the process, that you really do value their opinion, and that your ultimate goal is to make camp better.

And if they’re just not buying-in, and you find yourself really butting heads with someone, here are some tips on how to have difficult conversations.

 

Creating a Culture of Change

Getting across the message that “change is good, we embrace positive change because it means we’re growing” is really important.

Here are some ways to do that:

Say it, often.

Have conversations about why you think change is important, and how it plays into the growth of the program. Talk to alumni about the many changes they’ve seen over the years, use those as examples.
One of my favourite conversations I ever had with a staff was something along the lines of “My goodness, this camp has been around for 80 years, can you imagine if nothing ever changed? It would still be called a ‘camp for crippled kids’ and our only building would be an old fishing shack!” That really got their attention, because A. even though 80 years ago the term ‘crippled’ may have been acceptable, by todays standards it certainly isn’t – it’s pretty cringey, and B. who wants to run camp out of a re-purposed fishing shack? Nobody. That’s who.

That example was a powerful way of getting the importance of change across, without sounding preachy.

Live it.

Don’t be a hypocrite. If your staff or campers come to you with suggestions for changes, don’t dismiss them – even if you’re not thrilled with the idea, ask them the questions above (in the give reasons section).

Then, either explain why you can’t or won’t make that change, OR give it a shot.
Tell them, “ok, I’m not completely sold on the idea, but let’s give it a trial run and see how it goes”. Then do exactly that.

Sometimes, once you start asking staff those reflective questions, they quickly see that it’s not such a great idea after all. You may have walked them to that conclusion, but if they arrive there themselves and feel like they’ve been supported in the process it’s SO much better than if you were to just dismiss the idea (which may feel like you’re dismissing them).
AND you’ve just taught them an important tool to use in decision making! Win, win, win, win, win.

Other times, if you’ve agreed to give it a shot, the staff will return with suggestions on how to tweak it to make it better, or they’ll decide it wasn’t such a great idea after all. Refer to the paragraph above on why this is important. 😉

Communicate changes that you’re making in your position, work flow, personal life (within reason) to use as examples of how you embrace change.
If they can see that you’ve stopped using plastic straws, started waking up earlier, are using a new filing system to keep piles off of your desk, etc. They’ll know that you’re not kidding when you say that you believe change can be a healthy and positive thing.

 

Sell to Your Audience

Ok, so you’ve done all the work, waited to make any changes, collected feedback, asked yourself questions, made incremental changes, walked the walk and talked the talk, created buy-in, and changed the culture, BUT there’s a change that you want to make that you’re still getting a lot of kick-back from your stakeholders.

This is when you have to “sell” your idea.

Schedule meetings with key stake holders, and, using all of the reflection work you’ve done during the give reasons step, create a presentation or argument that really targets what their hesitation and concerns might be.

If you can’t schedule a meeting, then do a video, or write a letter that addresses their concerns.

Target that message!

Here are some of the key stakeholder groups and what their priorities tend to be.

Board of Directors and/ or organization administration 

  • Risk management
  • Budget
  • Camper experience
  • Reputation of organization
  • Mandate and mission

Staff

  • Camper experience
  • Time management (things that will make their life easier)
  • Workload (making sure they’re not overburdened)
  • Values

Campers/ families

  • Camper experience
  • Safety
  • Cost
  • Values

Alumni

  • Success of program
  • Camper experience
  • Mandate and mission
  • Nostalgia
  • Community

When you’re crafting your argument, be sure to highlight the different priorities of each group.

Focus on the benefits, and address the concerns, but don’t divert from things that they care about.

Even though the board want their counsellors to be happy and successful, presenting them with a bunch of reasons why this change will save your counsellors time isn’t going to be the best way to get their attention.

Likewise, if you start talking to counsellors about how much this change will impact the budget, it’s not going to win them over – UNLESS you can link it to something that matters to them. If you tell the counsellors that this change will save a bunch of money in the budget WHICH MEANS that you’ll be able to hire an additional person, who will take some of the pressure off of them, or you’ll be able to bring in a new activity that the campers will love – THAT’S going to get their attention.

 

Have you ever had to implement a big change in your camp program? How did it go? Was it well received? How did you handle the roll out? Tell me all about it in the comment section below.

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