Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

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The Jewish Agency’s Strategic Plan: Now For the Hard Part…

November 2, 2010

“At a time when the Jewish Agency should be looking ahead to improving its role at the nexus of the emerging world Jewish polity… the Agency must complete putting its own house in order in whatever way it chooses to do so before it can truly play the leading role that it must on the world Jewish scene.” Daniel J. Elazar  z”l The Jewish Agency: Historic Role and Current Crisis (1992)

Last week in Jerusalem the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency approved its new strategic plan, one that The Jerusalem Post called “the most significant redefinition of the Jewish Agency’s purpose since the declaration of the state.”  Without question, the Agency has set off on a path that, while uncharted, is also grounded in the belief that the fundamental challenges of the Jewish future require fundamental changes in the strategic direction of the Jewish Agency.  If the past 81 years of the Jewish Agency has been about helping the development of a state, the new direction of the Agency squarely focuses on helping the development of a people that, in turn, can continue to help build a nation. In sum, just as the history of Israel and the Jewish Agency are testaments to the power of nation-building by aliyah, the new strategic plan is an experiment of nation-building 2.0 by identity.

This experiment has a substantial amount of risk, especially since it proposes to not only transform the Agency, but also to transform the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations. By staking its future on the engines of Israel experience that impact Jewish identity and deepen the relationship between the Jewries of the Diaspora and Israel, the Jewish Agency has chosen not just to refocus its efforts, but to redesign its very purpose. It is a bold move by an organization with a history of bold moves.

But in truth, the Agency is also an entity that has struggled with organizational shortcomings, ranging from bureaucracy, inefficiency, misdirection and missed opportunities. Notwithstanding its historic success, it suffers from an organizational design that needs substantial reimagination and a governance structure that requires a significant updating. Equally, the Agency needs to quickly begin implementation while facing the challenges of managing internal politics, external relations and, of course, a need for increased resource development.  Alone each of those challenges requires outstanding execution, together they demand the highest level of administrative excellence. With that in mind, a few suggestions:

  1. Reorganization. Without question, the new strategic plan requires a redesign of the administrative and programmatic structure of the Agency. The reorganization is not just needed to align functional responsibilities, but also to create a structure that is adaptable to change. If the past of the Agency has been one of silos, the future must be one of transparency and integrated execution. The leadership must not only have core capabilities, but also must have clear confidence in the future of the plan; this is not a time for half-measures or half-heartedness.
  2. Governance. There is no question that the Agency’s leadership is deeply and passionately earnest about the present and the future of the agency. Equally, there is no question that the very same leadership is keenly aware of the need or substantial changes to its governance structure.  The Jewish Agency can and should maintain its unique forum for Jewish leadership to interact, but it must take substantial measures to redefine who that leadership is and how they interact. A board structure that is representative of the partnerships that comprise the historic relationships of the Jewish Agency can exist while also bringing new leadership that also reflects the future foci of the Agency; the key is to develop new pathways to leadership and reduce barriers to participation. There is room for WiseGen and NextGen at the future governance table of the Agency, but first that table needs to be set by existing leadership.
  3. Partnerships. The strategic plan calls for new tactics to achieve new goals, including deepening a sense of social activism by under-35 Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora. But these goals cannot be achieved solely be looking inside the organization, they can only be realized by engaging new partners with relevant experience in new ways. There are far to many organizations that have either a skeptical or critical (or both) view of partnering with the Agency; one of the key tasks of the Agency is to create new confidence that partnering with the Jewish Agency will be an experience of excellence.
  4. Resource Development. Last, but by no means least, funding the new strategic plan will require a fundamental reorientation of the way the Jewish Agency partners with Keren Hayesod and the Federation system in North America. Equally, it will require a level of engagement with foundations and individual donors that has eluded the Agency in the past. This is a complicated strategy – the future of the Jewish Agency depends on energizing new resources to support new endeavors, while also realigning existing financial resources to meet changing goals. Redeploying existing funds will not be enough to achieve critical success, but waiting for new sources to fund new initiatives will be equally unsuccessful.

The Jewish Agency’s new plan is a reminder of an old fact: nothing worth achieving is easy. The coming weeks and months will be a clear reminder that making a shift of historic proportions requires an effort that is equally historic. During its great history, the Jewish Agency has helped bring more faces to Israel and now it is endeavoring to change the collective face of the nation and people of Israel. But first it must change itself –

and with that, the hard part begins.

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Not Too Small to Matter: Hybrid Organizations and the Challenge of Jewish Innovation

November 3, 2009

A few weeks ago one of my friends suggested a new game – innovation bingo. The rules are simple, sit in a room full of under-40 Jewish volunteers and professionals and wait until the word ‘innovation’ (or some variant) is used. Then yell bingo, and you win. The real fun, my friend joked, is not whether someone wins, but how quickly it takes for someone to win. Unfortunately, nothing about Jewish innovation is as simple as the rules to my friend’s proposed game.  Inspiring and nurturing Jewish innovation is still easier said than done, and the manner in which the rapid increase of Jewish start-ups are supported and integrated into the broader fabric of contemporary Jewish life presents not only opportunities but  challenges as well.  Whereas the last Jewish century has been, in part, built on a foundation laid by large community organizations that are too large to fail, the next Jewish century may very well be shaped by Jewish initiatives that may seem limited in size, but are definitely not too small to matter.

Some interesting thinking that has influenced my own opinion on the role of small, entrepreneurial organizations in the Jewish world is the concept of a hybrid organization.  This type of organization, most succinctly defined by Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, is “a mix of social mission, disruptive market strategies and web-like scale and collaboration.”  One of the reasons why I like the definition Mark proposes so much is that it encompasses fundamental aspects or organizational structure (mission), strategic orientation (market strategy) and tactical strength (scale and collaboration). I also think that truly strong hybrid organizations are do not mash-up so many ideas and tactics that they lose their cohesiveness, but are entities (or initiatives) that also leverage core values and incorporate the best practices of learning/changing organizations.  Given the challenges of reframing large organizations entrenched in history and (oftentimes) complexity, the development of small hybrid organizations are frequently the easiest way for engaged social activists to organize an efficient response to a social need they have identified.

While theory is interesting, the facts are even more compelling.  A cursory survey of the Jewish communal landscape results in an interesting an energizing set of Jewish start-ups that address a wide rang of social needs. Ranging from organizations that address shifting approaches to Jewish prayer and learning (Mechon Hadar), to organizations that address issues related to environmental education in the orthodox community (Canfei Nesharim) to initiatives that leverage Jewish values to change the broader world (Repair the World, American Jewish World Service), there are hybrid organizations being created to address every flavor of Jewish social mission imaginable. But it is not just in North America – in Europe and Israel you can find a similar explosion of Jewish start-ups, from organizations helping share a Jewish vision of a positive and inclusive Europe (CEJI) to the expansion of Jewish knowledge and social action in Hungary (Marom Budapest), to organizations developing new pathways of Jewish microphilanthropy (JGooders) new relationships between Israel/Diaspora young adults (Parallel Lives). One gets the feeling that the world of small Jewish start-ups is just beginning to unfold and that, while these organizations may be limited in current scale, their ability to expand the frontiers of our global Jewish community may be unlimited.

But there are limits.

These organizations, just like larger more established organizations, often suffer from shortcomings that can and do impede their broader development and success. First, the proponents of Jewish start-ups tend to overly fetishize Jewish innovation and assume that all small start-ups are going to be the paradigm shifting hybrid organizations they promise to be.  While mixes of mission, strategy and scalability may provide solutions that are engaging and invigorating, they will not be an all-answering (or even an adequate) substitute for larger, historic and impactful organizations. Second, their leadership is often in need of greater training, maturity and reflection – characteristics that entrepreneurs sometimes lack (or resist), but which our broader community desperately needs. Third, we need to make sure that we do not overly invest in a cult of personality, but rather in a cult of excellence. New is not always better and fresh is not always transformative.  While we should not discourage Jewish innovation, we also should recognize that blindly encouraging the development of hybrid organizations to the exclusion of renewing our established organizations might result in community infrastructure that is diverse in spirit but insufficient in capability to address social needs in an efficient and impactful manner.

Nevertheless, the real question then is not whether there should be a role in the Jewish community for these emerging hybrid organizations, but how to make sure that we support their development in a way that doesn’t assume their small size is a reflection of their small potential. Just as much, however, we need to make sure that our value of their high-level of “buzz” is not a substitute for our expectation of their high-level of performance.  In any case, a better understanding, encouragement (and mentoring) of these small, developing (and sometimes disruptive) hybrid organizations will no doubt help the Jewish world mature in a way that, like my friend’s game, would be a no-lose proposition.

Bingo indeed.

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Game Changers and Gunslingers: A Few Thoughts From Slingshot Day 2009

October 16, 2009

In the North American Jewish community there are a few names that, when said, conjure up more than just an organization – they convey an idea. For example, mention the words Birthright or Federation and you get more than a nod of understanding of the name, you typically get a discussion (and sometimes a debate) regarding their meaning. The same is true with another word – Slingshot.  Now in its fifth edition, Slingshot has become synonymous with an idea and a movement within the Jewish world of recognizing the contributions of innovative non-profits in the Jewish community. Recognition by Slingshot not only provides exposure to the work of organizations that may otherwise be less visible, but it provides a moment for various organization, funders and partners to meet and discuss common opportunities and challenges. This year’s Slingshot Day occurred at a time when participants had both a recognition of the challenging funding environment in which they operate as well as renewed momentum upon which each organization is trying to ‘slingshot’ itself beyond that challenge (and others).

The bulk of the day’s events occurred in the Louis L’Amour Room in the Random House offices in NYC. Not being a connoisseur of western novels, one might be unaware of the impressive oeuvre of L’Amour and his centrality to the western genre.  However, one could not help but recognize that the room was an appropriate place for the Slingshot proceedings, because in a way we are all still in the wild west of the Jewish innovation movement, where new frontier is being explored and there are new forms of Jewish gold being panned in the hills.  Like any expansion into the frontier though, there often is a bit of lawlessness as well as uncertainty, until conventional forms of interaction become the norm.  New territory means new challenges and new challenges means creating new strategies and tactics.  Yes, there is a certain romance to the frontier; a romance that is rooted in reality is also often better when fictionalized. L’Amour knew that better than anybody and he sold millions of books by telling stories not just of hardship of the Wild West, by the grandeur of its experience and the conquering of its adversity.  The maturing world of Jewish entrepreneurship is no different – it is raw, it is real, but in many ways there is a romantic notion about it that captures our collective imagination of the Jewish communal frontier.

In the L’Amour room during Slingshot Day there were dozens of gunslingers and game changers, activists and entrepreneurs (and their funders) who are staking out a new frontier of Jewish life in a world that is not fiction.  Even those organizations that were five-time Slingshot finalists could not help but discuss some of the untamed aspects of Jewish organizational and financial life with which they need to contend. Certainly there were pioneers in that room, even cowboys and cowgirls so to speak, that would have fit right into the romance of a L’Amour novel. Seeing challenges, these individuals were not turning around and heading home to safer havens, they were drawing their double barrels of Jewish creativity and compassion and continuing to fight on into the frontier. They are changing the game and gaining ground.

That is not to say, however, there is not rugged terrain to cover. Even at Slingshot Day, discussions about how to define Jewish innovation and identify the ethics the Jewish entrepreneurial community were uneven and required more specific and action-oriented approaches. Moreover, the broader challenge to contend with remains communicating how big the frontier is and how we must cover so much territory when time feels so short. Sure there are a lot of Slingshot gunslingers and game changers from New York and California, but between the two there is a lot of ground to cover with Jewish innovation, literally and figuratively. And even after Slingshot Day, it is important to remember that Jewish innovation is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.  In the words of Louis L’Amour (prominently displayed on the wall of the L’Amour room) – “Reading without thinking is nothing, for a book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.”  With apologies to L’Amour, Jewish innovation holds to the same principle – innovating without meaning is nothing, for an entrepreneurial endeavor is less important for what it says than for what it makes you experience.  With that in mind, while there is still a wild (east and) west of Jewish innovation, we are fortunate that Jewish gunslingers and game changers don’t need to rely only on six-shooters – especially when they’ve got a Slingshot it their pocket and all of us supporting their pioneering efforts. May that continue to be the case in the future.

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Target Panic

August 8, 2008

In last Friday’s edition of the New York Times, Katie Thomas penned an interesting article about the phenomena of target panic among archers. Like the maladies that afflict other athletes at a time of precise action (whether it is the ability to throw a ball at a glove or make a simple putt), target panic affects archers in connection with the targeting and release of an arrow, oftentimes causing the archer to impulsively release the bow when the target comes into their sights. It is an affliction that can mysteriously come and inexplicably disappear, but for the competitive archer it can be absolutely destructive.

This article got me thinking, how often do we find ourselves with a case of target panic in our own lives? When our focus and goal becomes clear, do we stay focused and release at the exact moment to achieve our intended result or, in our overanxious approach to hitting the target, do we release too early, therefore missing our target? At the moment in which we have should have the ability to become laser-focused on hitting the mark, do we suddenly lose sight and cause our shots to land astray?

And just as much in our personal lives, what about in the lives of our Jewish community organizations? How often do they fall into a bad case of target panic? Oftentimes they spend months developing strategic plans and setting specific organizational targets, but then at the exact moment in which they need to hit the target their leadership gets a case of target panic. While leadership often succeeds in getting everything ready for the moment of execution – gather data, develop identifiable targets, acquire the correct set of skills, and get into the appropriate positioning – they then often seize up at the exact moment of execution. It is those questions of panic that freeze them up and causes a case of organizational target panicking, questions such as:

  • Is this really the right time for change?
  • Will our stakeholders abandon the us if the road gets rough?
  • Do we have the organizational will to succeed?
  • Will success really change anything, or is this effort a waste of time and resources?

While those questions should be vetted in the strategic planning process, oftentimes they creep back in to an organization’s mindset at the moment execution is to unfold, therefore causing target panic.

In 2008, it seems there is not a Jewish organization that isn’t involved in some strategic planning effort. But as a collective Jewish people, we are also searching for strategic ways to target the collective challenges we face. Intermarriage. Assimilation. Apathy. Each of these areas of concern is a target of the urgent and intense focus of our Jewish community. The solutions needed to address these challenges require tremendous resources, skill and positioning. But it also requires exceptional targeting.

And as a Jewish people we can’t afford a case of target panic.