Take-Aways from the Desk of Scott Kaufman
On Lessons Learned and Insights Gained through Federation Leadership
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
November 1, 2019
Adaptation is normal.
A key piece of the culture change I’m proud to have brought to Federation is that we have become more adaptive. We are better able, in real time, to balance our core mission, values and history with the myriad of new challenges we face.
Change is inevitable and adaptive leaders embrace change without derailing the system. Complex challenges usually cannot be solved by “technical fixes” – like hiring an expert or purchasing a product or service. These more complex challenges often require an organizational change that can involve many disparate stakeholders. Thus, adaptive leadership and a culture that welcomes such systemic change is a necessary operating system for any organization where the pace of change continues to increase geometrically.
Design the process, not just the product.
Once you have a favorable culture for change, there still has to be an effective process for creating that change. Often, designing the right process starts with a Convener or “Table Setter,” a natural role for our Federation, as we have earned a general sense of trust among a variety of stakeholders that can help address many common challenges facing our community. A well-designed process significantly increases the likelihood of successful outcomes. Through our recent work in managing change, we have learned that speed, engagement, inclusion, expertise and efficient use of time and people are all key ingredients for an optimal process.
Well-designed collective impact approaches may be slower at first. The best ones tend to go much further with far greater impact when the process aligns all the stakeholders in the same direction, deploying far more talent, bandwidth and resources than any individual group could leverage to provide the best and most efficient service.
Most corrections are overcorrections.
A few cautionary notes when it comes to collective impact projects: When moving a culture from a more siloed model (generally bad) to a more collaborative one (generally good), pay attention to what is working well. Not everything needs to be collaborative. More cooks in the kitchen are not always needed. Like the open-office space movement (a classic overcorrection to an actual problem) it is easy to go too far in the desire to change.
Engage the opposition early.
People don’t like the idea of change far more than they don’t like the actual change. Opposition often comes from former leaders who are experiencing a perception of loss. Rather than ignore their concerns or feelings, it is essential to have empathy for these stakeholders who, for a variety of reasons, prefer the status quo.
To skillfully engage stakeholders hesitant or opposed to a specific change, managing the communal process is essential. Though empathetic engagement is likely to add to the timeline, it often results in stakeholders getting onboard more easily – well worth the time invested for the benefit of having a broad coalition go further together. Take note: in coalition building, to “engage” does not mean to “appease.” Focus on solving issues for constituents together, rather than on pleasing funders as separate factions. Reframing issues from “loss” toward “help” often works, particularly for “resistors” who want to solve problems in their own way. And consider the fact that their historical knowledge can be valuable. Overall, with each “win,” the opposition to change shrinks a bit as the new, more adaptive culture takes hold.
Communication. Give the benefit of the doubt.
One of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration – both within an organization and among organizations – stems from communication challenges. While some of these challenges are technical (and there are now so many great tools for addressing these), the actual challenge is to identify the various reasons for any underlying problem.
Breakdowns in communication are rarely a matter of deliberately excluding people from the conversation for personal gain or for lack of respect for the opinion of others. Consider the factors of misunderstandings: how much do we assume people are in the know? How attuned is the team to the work or issue at hand? How explicit are we when we speak? How well do we listen? How readily can we acknowledge an error? The overriding answer comes from our Jewish texts where the concept of giving others the benefit is shown to be a core Jewish ethic. If we each live with that as a general operating system, more often than not, people will rise to meet expectations and collectively achieve so much more.
One size doesn’t fit all.
Each collective table looks different. As many of the solutions we seek address “common problems” that many different organizations and/or community members face, a critical piece of solving collective impact challenges is getting the right people around the table. And “the who” depends on what we trying to solve. For example, the question we asked when designing JHELP to help us determine who should be “on the team” wasn’t whether you were a Federation agency. Instead, we asked, “Is a core mission of your organization to provide help and service to the members of our Jewish Community?”
As process can be the enemy of speed, finding the sweet spot between efficiency and keeping the collation intact is key. Not everyone needs to be involved in every collaborative effort. To help inform as to “who” belongs in the room for each collective endeavor, we ask ourselves two questions: 1) Do they add meaningful value (expertise, influence, resources)? 2) Do they really want to be part of this? If both answers are yes, try to get them involved from the get-go.
Nobody sits at the kids’ table.
Millennials are particularly adept at collaboration and need to be at the table. Most millennials grew up in a world where “everyone gets a trophy” thus their default view of the world is that of a place of abundance and that win/win is a desirable and natural outcome. In contrast, communal leaders who came of age during the Great Depression, (while bringing many great skills to the table, because they grew up in a world of scarcity) are often more oriented to transactions based on a zero-sum worldview, rather than a win/win. While there are some issues with “everyone getting a trophy” having people who seek the win/win is essential in collaborative work.
Put the mission before the brand.
Customers are looking for great experiences and service and are more brand agnostic than earlier generations. Amazon – understood this model earlier and better than anyone. People no longer care about the store where they shop; the just want to make their purchase in the easiest way possible. Membership-based organizations are particularly challenged by this change as customers are purchasing experiences and services ala carte in more areas of their lives. (For example, choosing songs on iTunes rather than buying the whole album.) Paradoxically, in a brand agnostic world, the brands that do the best are hyper-focused on their Mission, not their brand.
Getting the culture right is an essential component of successful communal change. As the late business guru Peter Drucker remarked, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The best cultures feel authentic and go far beyond tag lines. It’s what you do, not what you say that defines culture. Jewish is a team sport and we are at our best when we play together. I have seen many instances of leaders- both lay and professional – energizing one another as well as entire meetings and processes by bringing a customer-centric, community first, brand-agnostic and ego-free approach to our collective endeavors and it is inspiring.
Measure the stuff that matters.
Change processes work best with clear goals, measurements and timelines. Do you think there is any chance that Neil Armstrong would have made his giant leap for mankind in 1969 if President Kennedy had said eight years earlier that we will try our best to get the moon as soon as possible? Rather than “we choose to go to the moon, and we will do it by the end of decade.”
Don’t merge – build new.
A more effective conceptual framework than the traditional merger is the idea of creating something new. In mergers there are often winners and losers. And, even with a solid business plan, mergers can fail by overlooking the importance of getting the culture right. The lesson here? To succeed, build anew, with careful thought and effort to creating the optimal culture for your organization.