There’s an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”.
It’s a curious saying. The problem with living in “interesting times” is that the interest comes from change. Sometimes the change is for the better – for example: changes in technology over the past decades have certainly been interesting (that cool IPhone you just got could not have been built even a few ago). But if you’ve studied history you know that what historians find most “interesting” (those things that will show up on the exam) usually represent times of crisis and turmoil. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we are entering some interesting times.
Now you might think this is nothing new – after all, there’s the threat of terrorism, a war in Iraq, and every few years a hurricane seems to wipe another city off our gulf coast. But the truth is, unless you live in one of those cities, or have family in Iraq, chances are the most interesting development in your life recently has been that new IPhone.
But in the past month, things have changed.
If you have already lost your home, or live in a neighborhood where for-sale signs and boarded up homes are everywhere, or your parents have already lost their jobs, you know this. But for most of you, the economic crisis is probably still distant – something a teacher might talk about briefly as filler that you can tune out because it won’t be on the test.
This is about to change.
I hope I’m wrong. Maybe the next president will pull off a miracle. But nobody really believes that.
If you haven’t already, take some time and watch the news. Watch Paulson and Bernanke and the others who are trying to “manage” our economy. It won’t take you long to realize the truth – they’re scared. Really, really scared.
Read the news. Historically mergers between companies take place over the course of months after shareholder approvals and government antitrust reviews. Over the past few weeks huge corporate mergers have been taking place in days and hours – over weekends even (and bankers hate to work on weekends). If that isn’t a sign of panic, I don’t know what is.
And while most economists are quick to explain why what we face is nowhere near as serious as the Great Depression, they’ve finally conceded that the recession coming our way is going to be a long one, and it will be global.
AZA was founded in 1923. The Great Depression started in 1929. So BBYO has survived one depression. And I have every confidence that it will survive this one (whether they call it one or not). But that survival is likely to require a change in the way everyone thinks about BBYO, from the local level to the International level. It won’t happen overnight – but here are my predictions of some of the changes that you will see over the next year.
The chapter is more important than ever in tough times. Your chapter will have more families under stress. You’ll want to find ways to help members without embarrassing them. Watch event costs and when you go out to eat, be sure there are low cost options. Additional fundraising for scholarships to conventions and even chapter programs will be helpful. When the economy is tough, rates of domestic violence, alcoholism and abuse increase. Stressed parents sometimes take that stress out on their kids. Strive to create a chapter environment where members support each other. Regular good & welfares will help.
Conventions have gotten more expensive. Expect convention turnouts to drop significantly. You may need to reduce the number of conventions. Look for creative ways to cut convention costs (sleep on gym floors instead of in hotels or camps). Low cost and free programs will do best. Work on fundraising for scholarships.
I’m quite sure the folks at the international level are already looking ahead at an abyss. Donations will be harder to come by. Attendance at summer programs will likely be impacted. Maintaining staffing levels will be a challenge.
Now’s the time to invest in B-Linked. Though travel is costly, the Internet will remain inexpensive. Look for creative ways to incorporate web 3.0 technologies (online meetings, conferences, events of all kinds).
Look for policy changes that can save money. It’s time to drop any rules requiring BBYO to provide transportation to and from conventions – switching from busses to carpools will reduce convention costs.
Adapt or Die
I really hope that a year from now readers of this site will read this article and laugh at it as being completely off the mark. Nothing would make me happier. I really hope I’m wrong.
But if I’m right (and at the moment there isn’t an economist around who would disagree with me), I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of the maelstrom that’s coming our way. It’s not time to panic (panicking doesn’t do any good anyway), but it is time to start thinking about ways to adjust. Because in these tough times, BBYO and your chapter is more important than ever.
What makes a good leader or manager?
Answering that question would take a book (and there are any number of books written on the topic). And of course, there are many answers to the question.
But one in particular comes up often in BBYO, and it’s a bit subtle. Subtle, in that it’s a matter of attitude – yet it’s of enormous significance.
Fortunately, it’s an easy one to evaluate. A simple answer to a simple question. Ask yourself this:
When someone comes and asks you if they can do something, or how to do something, do you try to answer yes, or do you tend to answer no?
One measure of excellence in leadership is whether the leader tries to answer yes to requests. A leader who does this is one who empowers others – because they not only avoid placing obstacles in the way of their followers, they help others to overcome and avoid other obstacles. A leader who does this builds other leaders and ultimately strengthens the entire organization.
You’d be amazed how many leaders don’t do this. Why? because saying “no” is easy. Saying “no” means that YOU have the POWER. Saying NO is safe – you rarely get in trouble for saying no. If you say yes and something goes wrong, you share part of the blame – that’s scary, especially since one of the consequences of empowering others is that the end result isn’t entirely in your hands.
This principle does not apply only to youth leaders. It applies to advisors as well. A good advisor rarely says a simple “no”. When a good advisor has to set limits (and setting limits is absolutely part of an advisor’s job), those limits will always be accompanied by an explanation of those limits, a list of alternate approaches, and a willing ear to listen to further alternatives.
The principle even applies (especially applies) to staff – not only in their relationships with youth, but in their relationships with each other. Good managers empower their people. Bad ones collect information and power and thrive on their ability to say NO!
Which brings us back to attitude. The best leaders, advisors and managers sometimes have to say no. But when they do, you’ll know that they are doing it reluctantly as a last resort. And if they are really good (and if you are reasonably open minded), when they do you’ll find you reluctantly agree with their decision.
PastBBGBoardMember, in her recent comment, posted some very strong criticisms regarding this site and some of the comments members have posted. There are two in particular that I wish to address, both because I’ve heard them before and because they go to the very heart of the debate.
First, regarding IBoard she states: “If you don’t agree with how they are working, you should tell THEM, PERSONALLY- because in the end that is the only way that they can adjust their work ethic to best suit you”
And second regarding me she states: “you are an advisor for this organization, and I find it pretty unprofessional for you to be conducting yourself on here in the manner that you are”
The first of these comments raises a question of such enormous significance that it inspired this post. To understand the significance, let me ask you this: If you are unhappy with what your congressman does, what is appropriate action? To contact him or her directly – absolutely. But is it offensive to write a letter to the editor? Is it offensive to lead a protest march? After all, you did “elect them to office, saying that you wanted them to represent you to the best of their ability, but you trusted them to use their best judgment on how to handle every unique situation they encounter” (to quote PastBBGBoardMember). Does your vote mean you have abandoned your right to critique and debate the congressman’s action in public?
Assuming you have passed high school civics, or read a newspaper (especially in this election season), I think you’ll agree that the answer is no. Public and open discourse is at the heart of any Democracy. It is no accident that the first amendment is the first amendment. Freedom of speech is the fundamental basis of any Democracy.
So, the question at hand is this: Is BBYO a democracy or not?Â Â Â (more…)
Last month I made a somewhat humorous attempt to address the impact of bureaucracy on chapters. The truth of the matter is that (as a number of people informed me), that the ability of the bureaucracy to cause harm in BBYO is self-limiting. When the complexity becomes too great, it is simply ignored.
That’s one reason that Dashboard adoption has been slow when it comes to chapters using it to manage and clear events. While I expect many chapters are now using it for basic functionality (such as clearing events), I’ll bet it’s a rare chapter that uses it fully as intended (or even understands how to use it as intended). Chapter leaders have better things to do with their time than take long training courses on Dashboard – courses made necessary by the fact that it probably has one of the single most non-intuitive user interfaces in the history of the web. Seriously, whoever designed the user interface should be banned from any web development until they’ve taken a multi-year course on remedial web design.
That’s the nature of unintended consequences. BBYO invests in a very detailed policy manual intended to create uniform standards and procedures. Unfortunately, regions, staff, chapters and advisors are anything but uniform, so inevitably many of the procedures seem foolish at best, harmful at worst. The unintended consequence? Large numbers of individuals at the regional and chapter level (staff and members alike) end up interpreting, avoiding or ignoring policies in order to make things work.
This is not really a good thing. While it does protect the international order from lawsuits, it does shift the liability to the local level. It also creates a general disrespect for the rules – even those that do make sense.
BBYO staff will argue that standardized policies and rules is necessary to protect the organization and that it is too difficult to either create different rules for different localities or to allow local regions flexibility. This simply is not true. Yes, it would be difficult to allow individual regions to propose and adopt variations on policy – those changes would need to be reviewed by BBYO’s risk management team. But difficult does not mean impossible, nor does it mean it is not worth doing.
Last January, in my post 18,000, I noted the obvious fact that with the influx of new money and donors to the organization, it’s imperative that BBYO show results. In that post I explained that one of the key results that BBYO must show is an increase in membership, and that it is unlikely that a sufficient increase can be achieved using traditional membership standards (i.e., membership in a chapter). That’s why you’ve been hearing more about B-Linked, non-traditional programs, teen-connection and “engagement”.
Now I’m all for getting more teens involved in BBYO in many different ways. I expressed a concern then (and still hold a concern), that in the rush for numbers there is a risk that the traditional chapter based strength of BBYO will gradually fade. This would be a mistake, and not just because chapters are “traditional”. It would be a mistake because chapters are ultimately where youth leadership happens.
Every Jewish youth group from USY, to the various FTY to the Zionist and orthodox groups all have the ability to “engage” Jewish youth. But BBYO, more than any of them, has demonstrated the ability to develop leaders.
If BBYO is to preserve this (and I believe it is important that we do so), it is absolutely necessary for this to be reflected in the way that success is measured. In other words, it is not enough for BBYO to be able to show to donors that they are reaching more youth – they need to demonstrate that the youth who are being reached are receiving the same challenging quality leadership experience that has been BBYO’s strength.
Though in truth, this needs to be phrased the other way. It’s is really necessary for the donors to demand this of BBYO, and to ask for metrics beyond just membership or “engagement” numbers.
As far as I can tell, right now there is no measure of the quality of the program beyond membership and anecdotal stories of success. The metrics are purely focused on attendance, membership, engagement and (of course) money.
So allow me to present a few suggestions for additional metrics. Let me challenge the various foundations and donors who support BBYO to consider these metrics when measuring the success of the program – not just membership numbers.
- A way should be developed to measure how many members actually program/coordinate events at the chapter and regional level. In other words – what percentage of members are actually developing leadership skills?
- Let’s create a more formal leadership training program, consisting of both youth lead programs at conventions, but also professionally run programs (by staff, community members and other experts) made available to members on a local basis. Then measure attendance at these programs. (By the way, these can also be a useful recruitment tool, so open them to any Jewish teen).
- Let’s do an annual survey on college campuses of freshmen who take on leadership responsibility in campus Jewish organizations (Hillel, AEPi, AIPAC, etc.). Count how many of them are BBYO graduates. That’s a great metric for success going forward.
Following these metrics will not only help maintain a focus on chapters, it plays to BBYO’s historic strengths. Those who complain that BBYO invests a large amount on each member may be silenced when they realize what they are getting. Or put another way – would you rather spend $50/teen for 10 paper members who log in to B-linked once a month, or $500/member for someone who is going to end up president of their college Hillel? Both are important. Both represent success. Both should be measured.
18,000 – That’s this year’s membership target for BBYO. May not sound like much until you consider the Jewish teen population in the U.S. is estimated at between 200 and 250 thousand. Reaching 7% of that number would certainly be an impressive accomplishment. But is it enough?
Or specifically – is it enough to satisfy the community leaders, foundations and donors who provide BBYO with its financial support? Certainly not.
You all know that even with the increase in membership fees, BBYO comes nowhere close to being supported by those fees, right? So BBYO must satisfy those donors.
That means an increase in membership is necessary.
How can this be accomplished?