Production Values – The Missing Element in Jewish Organizational Life?

Vancouver Film School via Flickr

By Rabbi Jim Rogozen

Many of us place a high value on crafting strong mission and vision statements, creating powerful strategic plans, and fostering positive and productive organizational cultures. We’ve read the books, and can even quote key leadership lessons, including (my personal favorite), Peter Drucker’s observation that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” As Jewish professionals we do our best to use what we’ve learned to strengthen our organizations, ensuring their long-term viability.

But there’s one more element that needs our attention: Production Values.

Growing up in Los Angeles, not far from the entertainment capital of the world, it was common to hear people use phrases such as, “It was a good concept, but the film had low production values” or “You’ll be amazed by the production values of the show.” In Hollywood, the term refers to the quality and amount of resources used to make a movie or TV show: the number of cameras, the lighting, the set design, the story, the acting, and the sound quality. Think of all the Oscars that are given out in these areas, and you get the picture.

Production values are connected to customer service, execution, marketing, and culture. If we want to create welcoming and impactful organizations there are systems to put in place, quality materials to be created, and human interactions to carefully “script.” What lessons or opportunities would appear if we examined the following practices through the lens of production values?

Intake Interviews: How do schools or synagogues approach the first contact with parents or members? Are there forms and scripts that show evidence that people are welcomed and valued? Are they personalized? Is there choreography in place for newcomers to meet other people?

Synagogue Services: What do we want congregants to learn/feel/do? How does the furniture set-up accomplish those goals? Do the lighting and sound systems create the proper atmosphere? Does the music invite people to participate or to sit back and listen? Is there a smooth flow, or are there “dead times”?

School Programs: Do invitations indicate the nature of the program? Are there greeters at the door? Printed name-tags? A translation of the Hebrew content? Is there an explanation of the learning goals of the program? How do administrators welcome the guests? Does the sound system allow each child to be heard clearly?

The practices above aren’t new. The question is how to elevate them. In a world that offers so many “high production value” program options, Jewish organizations need to do the same. We must make it a standard of practice to create events and interactions in which attendees can tell that people put a lot of thought into making their experience meaningful, showing them that they (parent, congregant, donor, visitor) are valued. An organization’s consistent commitment to production values creates loyalty and appreciation; it shows that people care.

People reading this might point out that Jewish organizations simply don’t have the money to make everything a Hollywood-level production. I would counter with two observations. First, there are many everyday interactions that can be elevated and made more professional (and pleasant), at no cost. Second, when people identify with an organization’s goals and appreciate the effort that goes into its programs and interactions, they are on a path to becoming loyal supporters. If their internal dialogue is “When I go to that place I am always moved or inspired,” or “They really know what they’re doing there” that’s a win! In my experience, doing the right things well is a win that pays off!

When we bemoan shrinking numbers in some of our local and national organizations, we tend to blame the usual “big picture” suspects: personnel, policies, the inability to connect with certain age-groups, the challenges of “liquid modernity,” or the unpredictable nature of an evolving Jewish identity. True, it could be some or all of those things.

But sometimes it’s really about how well we do what we do.

Rabbi Jim Rogozen is the Head of Schools at the Galinsky Academy, an integrated system comprised of Day School, Preschool, Religious School, Hebrew High, Youth Programs and Day Camp, at the Jacksonville Jewish Center. He is the former Chief Learning Officer at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.