Sunday, June 28, 2009


While in Jerusalem for extremely challenging meetings of the Jewish Agency, so fraught with its own challenges, I had time to ponder those facing United Jewish Communities; on the cusp of (some) new leadership, what has brought us to this low point for an organization which promised us so much. Here's my take.

Jim Collins, the guru of organizational strategy and a GA speaker so important to the current leaders of UJC that they convened their inner circle for a meeting with him, has already covered the subject of this Post better than I. In his works -- Built to Last, Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall -- he might have been writing about the potential of UJC and how mismanagement and a failure to understand let alone honor the core values and timeless principles on which we constructed UJC have led to its sorry state today. Kathy and Jerry, you have an incredible challenge ahead of you.

In the last four years hope for the future of United Jewish Communities has melted away faster than ice cream on a Summer day. Those who have tried to help, to point to a different path, who have objected to the constantly changing road map, have been disregarded, dissed and discharged -- even their offers of help treated with disdain. A broad based governance structure housing power within the Board and Executive has been ignored as the Board Chair, Treasurer and CEO have built a simple and opaque power structure more suited to the Ayatollahs in Iran. And federation support, once enthusiastic has waned as more and more walls shutting out transparency have been constructed by the tiny group "running" the organization. Kathy and Jerry, you have an incredible challenge ahead of you.

Look at UJC over the years of this leadership. Jim Collins, without knowing, certainly did. A professional who has toiled in the federation vineyard for a long time, wrote me and reminded me of Collins' work. In Good to Great Collins discussed the Flywheel effect and the doomsday loop. The former compels the creation of a coherent organizational strategy and sticking with it while it builds momentum like a flywheel; the latter is gravitating from issue to issue without giving any strategy a chance to grab hold. UJC today, my friends, is once again in the doomsday loop.

In mandating that the best organizations align actions with values, Collins wrote: "(failed leaders) spend too much time wordsmithing Vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose statements, and aspiration statements -- and nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the the values and visions already in place." Now, if Collins had sent that keen observation to Mssrs. KanferRieger, what would have occurred? He would have been ignored or, worse, chastised as "not being on the team" and ostracized, Jim Collins or not. What KanferRieger has built is a simulacrum of the intended UJC -- unfortunately, what we have is the real UJC of today.

If you look hard at the deconstruction that has occurred at and within UJC over the terms of the current leadership (leading directly to the nominated leadership to follow), anyone can readily see the doomsday loop, the lack of any value placed on the core values that rest at the heart of the concept of United Jewish Communities, the lack of any knowledge or the total disregard of the Chairs of the values of the federation system, and a strong desire to leave a legacy of change even if it's "change for change's sake." Kathy and Jerry, you have an incredible challenge ahead of you.

Collins would also be among the first to point out that leadership and the ability to listen go hand in hand. At UJC its current lay and professional leader, KanferRieger, are figuratively deaf and blind to the reality around them. As Arianna Huffington said about Dick Cheney, very appropriate to the point: "He lives in such a permanent state of denial" -- these guys have surrounded themselves with a claque that reinforces their denial of reality and shields these leaders from the facts.

I have already written of my belief that this ship can be righted. I have come to understand that Kanfer has acted under the belief that he and he alone may direct Rieger (and everyone else) down the doomsday path. While I know that UJC's governance designed a "Co-Chairmanship," Kanfer apparently dictated that their would be no "Co" and the results, as always, speak for themselves -- loudly. (And, what has been clearly proven over the past three years, along with so much else, is that it is time to amend UJC's governance and end the non-existent "Co-Chair" structure -- one Chair is more than enough.) But, with every passing day, every failed policy, every step further from engagement with the federation owners, every day UJC's current leaders say one thing while doing another, the doomsday loop comes closer to being doomsday itself.

As I may have written, Kathy and Jerry, you have an incredible challenge ahead of you... Best of luck.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, by Collins’ “Good to Great”criteria, UJC seems headed to an ignominious end. Even Jerry Silverman's selection flies in the face of what Collins teaches. Although maybe non-profits should not be compared to profit-making companies, the negotiations over Jerry’s compensation package – reported to be the “hang-up” in his selection as CEO -- are a warning signal. In Collins’ world, CEO compensation bears no relationship to performance. That Jerry has apparently sought a compensation package of more than $700,000 flies in the face of this finding. If true, and if it has not been rejected by UJC leadership, it is appalling. Values about service to the Jewish community aside, we’re in the midst of a crisis. Many are in need and many of my fellow professionals have lost their jobs. Jerry, as of two years ago, was being paid nearly $500,000 to run a $16 million organization (FJC) and perhaps it’s reasonable from his perspective to want more to run a $30M organization. But is it appropriate? Isn’t there anyone competent – with a sense of Jewish values and a commitment to the community – available to run UJC? Or, is the UJC so debased that only hard cash can be used to motivate a new CEO.