The Jewish Professional Talent Shortage: Striving for Excellence

by Scott Brown

I have Bieber Fever! I admit it. The difference is that I am looking for the next great Jewish professional Rock Star. One of the greatest single failings of Jewish organizations over my career has been the way the Jewish community has dealt with their internal and external talent. We’ve lost the opportunity to engage the very best talent due to poor recruiting, diffuse training programs not built around core competencies, and the retention of mediocre professionals because of inadequate evaluation procedures.

In short, with exception of organizations like The Wexner Foundation, not enough organizations or philanthropists have made a serious investment in Jewish professional leadership. We are paying the price.

I’ve had the opportunity to focus on talent recruitment, training and retention over the past few years, both on a professional level for Hillel and as a board leader at my local JCC. It pains me to consider how many rising stars have been lost due to poor supervision and not enough attention on work/life calibration/integration. We haven’t paid enough attention on making our organizations Great Places to Work.

At Hillel, we are working to address these issues and they aren’t easy. But, they are necessary. We take very seriously the need to develop quality talent not only for Hillel, but for the Jewish future.

Here are three areas for us to focus on:

1. Recruitment: Take the best practices of the top non-profits and businesses and apply them to our organizational cultures. We sometimes think we are more unique than we actually are. Look at organizations such as Teach for America, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Harvard Business Review and businesses that are featured as great places to work, and learn from them. Let’s find creative ways to share our most talented stars. Imagine if we developed a fully integrated world-wide Fellowship program where our top talent could be placed in different organizations as part of their career paths? Also, how many organizations have systematically identified their highest performing star quality professionals and have a plan to manage these relationships to advance their careers? Imagine what a deep pool of talent we’d have if we created a pipeline of individuals who have spent significant formative time in Israel and were recruited as Jewish professionals.

2. Training: I’ve learned that identifying an organization’s core competencies and then building a recruiting, training and evaluation protocol from these can be transformative. A few organizations have done this. But, why don’t we all identify our core competencies, share them and train together in common areas? As one model to consider, Hillel has developed 11 core competencies that we call Success Factors. We created an Interviewing Guide from the Success Factors to hire talent using advanced interviewing techniques. We have training programs that build upon our Success Factors, and we’ve developed a Performance, Feedback and Evaluation Tool. We also have a Summer Training Institute where we train our professionals and student leaders around our relationship-based approach. Our new directors are matched with a successful peer to work with for 18 months to launch their careers with Hillel and this is followed by an investment in Executive Coaching after three years.

3. Retention: We need to retain and reward our best professionals and be willing to fire the low performers. The stakes are simply too high to remain status quo if we want to be relevant organizations. How many professionals receive regular evaluations? We can’t possibly measure our organizational success if we aren’t even measuring the success of our professionals. At the same time, our most talented professionals need to be rewarded and recognized, and we need to significantly invest in their career development, compensation and other creative retention options.

The approach described herein is not as complicated as it may seem. Those of us “in the business” typically possess great passion as well as emotional intelligence. If we put these ideas into practice, believing that success truly hinges on engaging, training and retaining the right professionals, we can change the current paradigm for the better.

Meanwhile, my search for the next crop of Jewish rock stars continues.

Scott Brown is Executive Vice President of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. He has provided Jewish professional and volunteer leadership for over 30 years. Scott can be reached at

Reprinted with permission from the Wexner Foundation Newsletter, July 14, 2011 edition.