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April 30, 2010

Earning Your Strategy Badge

Catherine New
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To combat falling membership and scattered leadership, the Girl Scouts launched a new strategy in 2005. Five years later, the plan to increase participation appears to be working — at least in New York City where the New York Times recently reported a boom in troops.

The case of the Girl Scouts provides key lessons for strategy, says management professor Willie Pietersen. His new book, Strategic Learning (Wiley, March 2010), examines how organizations can turn market insights into strategic actions. In it, he uses the example of the Girl Scouts, with whom he has worked as a strategic adviser since 2004.

“The Girl Scouts are a movement rather than a legally aligned organization. It’s similar to a franchise operation,” Pietersen says.

The movement’s new strategy entailed redefining its customers and its winning proposition clearly, restating its mission and setting new priorities. Additionally, each of the organization’s 312 independent councils was required to set its own priorities, based on local markets, in alignment with the movement’s.

“After a total strategy was defined as a central idea, a local strategy was created for each independent council,” he continues. “They aligned their own propositions and priorities as a direct translation of what the total organization was trying to do. That gave coherence.”

In order to further streamline the Girl Scouts’ efforts, the number of councils was reduced from 312 to 109. “This was done to improve the implementation effectiveness of the strategy that had already been defined,” Pietersen says. The Girl Scouts made other tactical changes, including shifting the emphasis away from earning merit badges to learning about topics, like health and wellness or financial literacy, and using online tools to foster engagement. A key point in the strategic learning sequence is that structure should always follow strategy, Pietersen says.

Pietersen cautions that independent subsidiaries cannot automatically align with the central mission but should instead develop their own priorities. “They have to do their own situation analysis and learn about their own local markets,” he says. “They can translate that information into an aligned winning proposition.”

Willie Pietersen is teaching the Columbia Business School Executive Education program “Creating and Executing Breakthrough Strategy,” taking place May 16–21, 2010.

Comments

by Mitzi Hahn | May 03, 2010 at 7:49 AM

The article failed to mention that Girl Scouts uses volunteers who use many of their own dollars to support activities and purchase supplies. In addition, they use the girls (now beginning in KINDERGARTEN) to sell popular cookies, which finances the larger organization for the most part. Troops are given a mere fifty cents per box (betcha didn't know that) which is only fourteen percent. Of course they are doing well! In my book this is called slave labor and should be outlawed. The push to SELL SELL SELL and compete with other girls and troops for trinkets and prizes is far afield from the GS Promise of "serve God and my country, help people at all times, and live by the GS Law. The Law states "I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout." Nothing about turning an ever increasing profit there, or beating out your "sister" Scouts to get the prize. Another point the article failed to mention is that along with the "reorg" in 05, the promise to "Serve God" was made "optional", although the organization was founded upon a faith in God and service to Him and others. I would encourage families and supporters alike to explore "American Heritage Girls", whose mission is more like what GS was in the past. They get my support from now on. Thin Mints are good, but not, in my opinion, worth the cost. I should know, I am, make that WAS a GS leader.

by Gigi Johnson | May 03, 2010 at 11:34 AM

I'm amused by this piece. For a long time (not just since 2005), Girl Scouts has had a franchised structure, which makes it difficult to share best-practices across the Councils and even within them. There isn't a good knowledge management structure and significant hoarding of information. So great programs in one region don't replicate fluidly. I'm amused at the NYC example -- that article is titled "Girls in Private Schools Ask, Thin Mints or Samoas?" and focuses on getting rich white kids to be engaged that thought the Girl Scouts was beneath them before. The robust challenge of Girl Scouts is to become vibrant to our digitally connected, multi-cultural base that is the current world of our daughters. And in a world of working mothers, how do you embrace the self-leadership model? Girl Scouts is doing much of this better and the organizational system helps this grow in local context, but doesn't fertilize the great ideas across a slow-change platform. Girl Scouts is changing, but I think the system actually hurts, not helps, in the process. 10 years in Scouting Gigi Johnson

by Leonard Kloeber, author Victory Principles | May 03, 2010 at 12:51 PM

It is instructive to look at more distributive models for leading organizations. They current generation of future leaders continues to have wide access to information through the internet and are increasingly addicted to social media and other forms of communication that transcend organizational boundaries. I think this article may offer some interesting insights for any leader to consider as they lead their organizations into the future.

by Darrell | May 03, 2010 at 9:13 PM

The fact that the Troop only gets 50 cents is not a good figure to use for an analysis. 14% of Gross may be a fabulous sum. What is the percentage off of Net? Manufacturing and distribution is not free. Also, of the remaining money, how much of it is given to the girls in services rendered as in the form of trained leaders and well equipped GS camps. I believe you will find that the 50 cents is just what the local troop gets to control, but that a larger percentage goes to the benefit of the Girls. As for making God optional, I will agree that is a shame. However, there is a general trend in our society to push all things dealing with God onto the church and parents -- which is not an entirely bad thing.

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