Best Practices: Developing High-Performing Units

In 2009, the BSA introduced a new methodology that focused on the retention of units. This was greatly needed to address the growing national concern of only one out of every three new units organized surviving into their second year. The research results were staggering, with a 67 percent dropped-unit rate and only a 33 percent retention rate in the life span of a new unit. And, with every dropped unit, there were countless disappointed families and severed community relationships.

A national new-unit organization/retention task force was developed to review the root causes of dropped units and to build a workable plan that could be used by all councils, no matter what economic conditions existed in their communities. Thus, the Unit Retention Guide (now called the Unit Performance Guide) was developed with a focus on building and organizing all new units into active and sustainable high-performing units. It condensed the process from 12 steps to four key pillars.

Changing the BSA’s long-term history of organizing new units too quickly to a new concept of sustaining high-performing units would require councils to embrace a new methodology of “No Unit Before Its Time.” For this new-unit process to work, it had to be slowed down, be strategically planned, be executed with discipline, involve more volunteers, and, most important, contain a successful retention plan.

As a result, the BSA tested, piloted, and approved the new methodology found in the Unit Performance Guide that utilizes best practices from councils that have been successful in the Journey to Excellence. It will be a continuous improvement process with updates and revisions online as needed. These concepts were also taught to new district executives at the Center for Professional Development as the standard for new-unit retention. Some pilot results include:

  • Of the pilot councils, 78 percent find the Unit Performance Guide methodology process effective.
  • On average, pilot councils had 18.8 percent fewer dropped units, while nonpilot councils averaged 14.5 percent.
  • Pilot councils had a 33.3 percent higher success rate in retention.

High-Performing Council and District Best Practices—Unit Performance Guide

1)    The district executive, new-unit commissioner, and new-unit organizer work together to organize new units. Volunteer-driven, professionally guided. Professionals should not have to do it alone anymore.

2)    A new-unit commissioner is assigned at the very start of the new-unit organization process. Once the unit is organized, that commissioner serves the unit for three years to help it become a high-performing unit.

3)    Organize every new unit with at least 10 youth (two dens or patrols or a crew of 10) and five adults (non-LDS). This also supports the JTE requirement to increase youth market share/retention.

4)    Develop the unit Key 3 concept. The unit leader, committee chair, and chartered organization representative meet together monthly. The assigned new-unit commissioner serves as the advisor to the meeting.

5)    Focus on organizing the full Scouting family—pack, troop, and crew—in faith-based or community groups.

To access the Unit Performance Guide, visit and click on “New Unit Development.”

It also is available in PDF format (English, No. 522-025; English/Spanish, No. 522-026); in EPUB file for iPhone, iPad, Nook, and Android devices; and in MOBI file for Kindle.

9 Responses to Best Practices: Developing High-Performing Units

  1. Allan Green says:

    I wish our council had anything like this kind of infrastructure that serves our units. I have been a scoutmaster for six years now, and until last year, I never had a unit commissioner assigned to our troop. I desperately need help in recruiting, as I now have only five scouts left in the troop. Our council seems much more interested in building expensive facilities than in finding more boys to fill the ranks. In addition, the gay membership issue threatens to shut our unit down if the vote goes against the wishes of the church that charters us. Our council does not seem to be communicating with the chartered organizations very well. So, I think you will need to focus on bringing the councils up to speed, retraining the scouting professionals, before anything like this will work for us.

  2. John Whitford says:

    This is a sound guide to getting a new unit off the ground. I would suggest that a very heavy emphasis be placed upon putting a high quality 12 month program in place. No boy or adult drops out if we are meeting their expectations. If a boy is looking forward to receiving a recognition or going on a great field trip or outing then he remains in the program. Dull programs result in poor retention and dropped units. I expect that a big part of the success of this program is that the followup attention given to the unit results in stronger program following the sound organizational steps.

  3. Charles Johnson says:

    A strong Commissioner Corps is critical to the success of this program. The program is well thought out and should work in a variety of field environments. Unfortunately, the Council Commissioner is still not considered an equal member of the Council Key 3. Until CCs are selected who have deep Commissioner experience with a passion for aiding units the process will not be successful. The current method of selecting CCs who are lap dogs for the Council Exec or just a figurehead results in dedicated Commissioners of all sorts exeting the movement.
    Most Council HQs have honor rows of the pictures of the Scout Exec & President back to the start of the Council. What Council ever keeps the photos of the CCs anywhere? This is just an example of the reality of what is considered to be the lower class status of CCs. Until this type of attitude changes, the poor results within units will continue. If the CC does not know how to provide leadership to the ACCs & DCs then the UCs will be completely without direction and continue to think of Commissioner Service as a bit of a social club & not recognize the serious need for what a Commissioner should be doing.

  4. Rick Williamson says:

    In reality the 12-Steps were folded into the 4 pillars. Involving a new unit commissioner early in the un it’s development and the unit key 3 are integral to the success of the program.

    Everyone should look forward and not back. Doing the right things going forward will produce highly successful units.

  5. Heather Bolte says:

    Having volunteers that are dedicated to helping is hard to find. Volunteers that want to be a Unit Commissioner are hard to find – not many ASM’s or SM’s want to stick around after serving, help a leader who doesn’t know how to recruit, professional’s can only do so much. The structure of the BSA is designed as a volunteer organization and it’s the volunteers that will help the organization continue to be successful and build the leaders of tomorrow.

  6. Connie Knie says:

    Our Council introduced this new strategy with a lot of fan fair and it is a very very strong concept. With what may be the best use of volunteers in a long time.

    Therein lies the rub. Getting the strong commissioner staff that is vital to the process. We don’t have near enough professionals let alone volunteers.

    So here we have units popping up in a few places that are being started by the professional whose job it was to sell the idea to a new CO only to have NO SUPPORT and failing only a few months later.

    A couple of nights ago at our Council dinner where I was fortunate enough to be able to escort my good friend up to receive his Silver Beaver the Key 3 did all of their wonderful speeches. They thanked all of the volunteers and praised our good works. But the theme the whole time was to keep remembering that “the main thing is the main thing” the mantra around here that keeps us recruiting.

    So I had a novel though. Why don’t we actually SCALE BACK on the recruiting and the forming of new units until we can support the ones we have? We currently have failing units and not enough commissioners to help them.

    I am an ADC who just recruited 3 new commissioners and so I am fortunate but there are so many more needed……

    Sorry this was so long but until there are enough professionals out there (at National) who start focusing on the youth who are already in the program we will continue to lose them.

  7. Asa Ralls says:

    when Councils are working on items that never help the units, Scouting will fail. The boys should always be first. Councils should be about finding and keeping Den Leaders and Troop leaders. Build up a Great Training Program. So that the leaders can keep the boys active in their units. They should build up the units they have before going looking for new ones. If you build what you have, others will want to join.

  8. Tye says:

    I notice a repetitive theme within some of the comments. Not enough Unit Commissioners and not enough Unit support. I also know that we share the same chalenges in my area. Sometimes we all forget one very important thing: We as Scouters ARE the Council. When we notice something such as lack of Commissioner Staff we need to help resolve the issue. We all know people that would make good Commissioners. We need to be vested in the health of our own Units and be proactive, helping the District Commissioner identify and recruit Commissioner Staff. It is OUR responsibility. “Council” is not a building. We are the Council, each one of us. Once we all understand that we can begin to be part of the solution to our own chalenges. The Scouting movement has not survived all these years by a few key District people doing everything administrative on their own. It thrives or starves based on the involvement of volunteers. In the end who is really responsible for success? We are, and we can do it by working together and helping one another. Remember the 3rd Scout Law.

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