K’lal u’Prat

By Rabbi Jim Rogozen

Vision & Execution

In the 2nd century Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha listed 13 methods to interpret the Torah’s laws. One method is called K’lal U’Prat, and another is Prat U’klal, which means that sometimes the Torah lists a Klal – a command or general legal principle, followed by some examples (the Prat); at other times the Torah lists the Prat – some examples, followed by a command or general legal principle (the Klal). In both cases, the details help us better understand, and reinforce, the core ideas behind the mitzvah (commandment).

This comes to mind as I watch leaders struggle to find a balance in terms of how they spend their time and energy on daily challenges. Budget, fundraising, marketing, personnel issues – there’s always something to plan or a fire to put out. In prioritizing, they commonly ask themselves if a particular task falls into the category of the major or the minor, the big picture or the details, the Klal or the Prat. It’s natural to lean towards the big picture. It’s what makes leaders … well, leaders. I’d like to suggest, however, that this struggle is not always an either/or proposition. Just as vision informs the work, it is the quality of the execution that establishes, and connects people to, the vision.

Here’s an example of a successful connection: A Jewish day school believes strongly that creating a learning community helps it achieve its larger vision. In order to accomplish that it hires a parent educator who organizes a series of classes, workshops, and experiences that will engage all of the school’s parents. As an incentive, the school awards “give or get” credit to parents who attend learning sessions. During the year the parent educator keeps track of attendance, making sure to be in touch with the parents that have not yet come to a program. His goal is “no family left behind.” As the year draws to a close, the school publishes and celebrates the number of parents who have attended a learning session. The result? People feel connected – to Judaism, and to the school. They are excited to be there and they tell their friends good things about the school. Children see that the parents share the school’s values. This is a case where the process/details support the vision.

An example of an unsuccessful connection: A Jewish organization believes strongly that creating a staff culture governed by Jewish values and professionalism helps it achieve its larger vision. However, when candidates apply for an advertised position, they often receive no response or (if they are lucky) they receive an “auto response email” acknowledging receipt, but are told not to contact the organization. The email does not describe the decision making process, nor does it give a timeline of when (or if) someone will get back to them. As time passes, there are no updates, and rejected candidates (including those who were granted an interview) are never informed that someone else was hired for the position. The result? Professionals have a bad taste in their mouth about the organization, and they tell their friends about their experience. The next time the organization has an opening fewer appropriate candidates will apply, making it harder for the organization to fill the position. In this case, the process doesn’t support the vision.

The good news? Processes can be changed! Focusing on the second example, the organization can make a few simple changes in order to bring things into alignment. The first thing is to understand why improvement in this area is worthy of the time and effort. The second step is to imagine what this process would look like when done well. For instance, a “task flow” chart can be created that shows all of the steps of the process and who “owns” them, including the creation of a “contact log” with a timeline. For smaller organizations, it might be more realistic to scale back on the “who” and the “what” items in the “task flow” document. The bottom line, though, is to ensure that “no candidate is left behind.”

These are simple snapshots, but they remind us of something very important: a vision needs to be translated into details, because the details prove that a vision means something. In fact, it is precisely the inattention to detail that can keep the vision out of reach.

It’s tempting to think that an organization or school is not thriving because of a changing market, the need for a new ideology, better facilities, or new leadership. In some cases those may be part of the problem. But poor execution of the mission/vision could also be a key factor.

Lack of alignment, when noticed, can serve as an invitation to improve. Paying attention to the interaction between Klal and Prat, Vision and Execution, is an opportunity to generate a sense of well-being among an organization’s constituents, as well as create excitement, loyalty, and brand equity. It makes an organization more consistent, more know-able and, ultimately, more compelling.

Rabbi Jim Rogozen is Director, Center for Excellence in Early Childhood and Day School Education at BJE (Builders of Jewish Education) in Los Angeles.