What We’re Hearing from the Field July 17 – August 14

By Leading Edge, Boardified (formerly Board Member Institute), Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Jews of Color Initiative, JPRO Network, and UpStart

Each week, we speak with hundreds of CEOs, funders, volunteer leaders, and professionals from across the Jewish community. The following is a synthesis of the prevailing themes we have been hearing most frequently and urgently during these past few weeks (July 17 – August 14). For our last summary of themes, see here.

Across the Community
Five months ago, many organizations in the Jewish community (and beyond) announced that offices would be closing for a two-week work-from-home period. Very few had the foresight to know that the two-week period would stretch on for months. We have seen the very best of people as they approached this crisis with compassion, action, and collaboration. We have also seen relationships stretched beyond measure as everyone struggles to deepen connections and develop trust via Zoom while juggling their personal lives.

Much of what we are sharing this week demonstrates that though funders, board members, and professionals struggle to bring stability to this moment, there is also hope in the storm.

CEOs’ Top Concerns & Needs:

  • CEOs continue to feel the weight of every decision they are making about how work gets done – whether they are remaining virtual or returning to the workplace. The tensions that persist include:
    • A return to the workplace for some: Certain jobs can be done from home indefinitely, while others require in-person presence in a workplace. This divide is creating ongoing communication challenges, equity concerns, fears of exposure, and more. 
    • A moving line in the sand to use for making decisions around returning to the workplace: is it about infection rates? Availability of a vaccine? The calendar year? There is no one right answer.
    • Accounting for all staffs life circumstances: Employees who are parents have significant concerns about school and childcare, while employees who are not often feel the weight of increased workloads and other matters. Leaders know there is a need for increased sensitivity to the challenges every person is facing during this time, but how that gets manifested is complicated.  
  • Racial justice remains at the forefront of many leaders minds. In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, many organizations scrambled to respond. Over the last few weeks, many leaders have been able to move towards a more strategic and long-term approach to engaging in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice issues, and are continuing to seek resources, strategies, and tools for significant change.  

Professionals Top Concerns & Needs:

  • Performance Management – At the beginning of the pandemic, many organizations moved away from performance management systems and goal-setting, recognizing that the context was constantly shifting and that employees were doing their best. Now organizations are returning to their annual performance review processes, knowing that it is essential to acknowledge strong performance and manage performance-related issues.
  • Staffing Structures – Organizations are continuing to revisit their broader staffing structures to meet this moment. This includes a review of individual goals and job descriptions to ensure they are focused on what is essential; succession plans to bring clarity to how things will be handled if a person leaves or is out for an extended period; and significant planning around making hiring and lay-off decisions with speed and equity.
  • Differentiating Work-Life Balance Needs – Understanding the need for support around work-life balance, senior executives, and talent professionals are striving to be compassionate and ensure equity through innovative practices, including:
    • Flexible approach to mapping individual needs (e.g., allowing employees to set their hours)
    • Establishing boundaries around the workday/email time which may include core working days or hours, an afternoon Zoom ‘siesta’ to ensure everyone has a Zoom free period
    • Providing stipends to support people working from home 
    • Scheduling for a workgroup to cover time for when people have non-work responsibilities or are taking time off
    • Closing the office for a period around the holidays to ensure the team takes a full break

Board Members Top Concerns & Needs:

  • Many boards are using this moment to spark conversations about how to reignite or reinvent themselves. A crisis is one form of “natural” intervention in the life of a board. Board Chairs and their professional counterparts are using this time to experiment with different governance tools to set the board up to maximize productivity and effectiveness. For example, they are rethinking how to structure board meetings and board committees and if they need to “re-onboard” all board members.
  • While this time has been clarifying for many organizations, confusion remains about roles, responsibilities, and decision making authority among funders, lay leaders, and the senior executive teams. The blurring of lines is most notable for organizations grappling with long-term sustainability, for example when evaluating a collaboration or formal integration; determining how to proceed if an organization cannot adequately fulfill its mission (i.e., Israel trip providers); expanding offerings as Zoom brings down geographic barriers, etc. 

As this unusual summer draws to a close, we hope that the people who keep driving forward the crucial work of our sector can find some respite and relaxation before the new Jewish year dawns.

The next Snapshot will be published Monday, September 14th.

Leading Edge
Boardified (formerly Board Member Institute)
Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
Jews of Color Initiative
JPRO Network