A Practical Guide to Embracing Sector Permeability

  • Adam Simon

January 13, 2015

  • Jewish Community

This article first appeared in eJewish Philanthropy.

It is rare to hear support for the same recipe to strengthen the Jewish professional sector from both 30+ year veterans of the field and 30-something year old professionals at the earlier end of their careers.

But such was the case when, earlier this fall, I published an article on the critical need to embrace sector permeability in the Jewish community. In “To Keep Jewish Professionals, Let Them Go,” I argued that the more supportive the Jewish community is of individuals who move between jobs and sectors over the course of their careers, the more durable and attractive the Jewish sector will be.

Yet, while it’s clear many of us in the Jewish professional sector are excited by the prospect of a system that supports a dynamic, empowered and engaged workforce, many people have reached out to ask how to translate the theory of sector permeability into practice. In other words, how do organizations actually implement these changes, recognizing that most may not be able to implement models from the high tech sector such as LinkedIn’s “Tours of Duty,” short-term missions that meet both company and employee development goals?

While the obstacles are real, there are specific strategies Jewish organizations can adopt to set them on a path toward permeability. I offer five here that are gleaned from analysis of other sectors, conversations with organizational professionals and my own personal experiences:

1. Talk about it. While it may seem obvious, the first step toward fostering a culture shift like this is to create a forum where key stakeholders can put the issue on the table and openly discuss the opportunities and challenges it raises for their organization. Even more, as organizations start to implement these changes, we should form deliberate communities of practice that enable us to learn from the experience of organizations and sectors that have already made headway down this path.

We have created two resources to help jumpstart this dialogue. The first is an interview with Chris Yeh, startup investor and advisor, marketing expert and co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, in which he talks about how LinkedIn built a permeable culture. The second is a facilitated discussion guide that will help you get the conversation started inside your organization.

2. Create a culture of transparency around professional trajectories. Almost all employees – particularly the aspirational and driven – stay on the lookout for new jobs. That is why it is important to have open conversations with those you supervise about what they might do next. By lifting the usual veil of secrecy, and making an effort to understand and leverage the skills and interests of your employees, you will actually help to increase your retention rate. Indeed, retention comes when talented employees clearly understand how their current position contributes to their own personal trajectory; as supervisors it is to our benefit to help create that understanding. The organizations I know who adopt this practice have higher than average retention, and it is notably more challenging to succeed in recruiting professionals from their ranks.

3. Provide stretch work assignments. Stretch work assignments are projects that are slightly beyond employees’ current skill level and knowledge, and provide for the ideal learning environment for adults with just the right amount of discomfort. While there are examples of stretch assignments in the Jewish community, they are certainly not standard or systematized. Evidence suggests that the best mix of professional development is 10 percent in traditional classroom training, 20 percent coaching and the rest —70 percent&mdash as on the job learning. I would argue that employees would develop at a faster rate if they had multiple chances to reach just beyond their comfort zone. Most importantly, these kinds of assignments breathe new life into the role of an employee and help to place further value on their contribution to the organization.

4. Embrace the flow between professional and lay leadership. There is a natural moving sidewalk between professional and volunteer leadership opportunities in the Jewish community. The movement between these roles is good for our community, so long as we pay attention. Within our midst are people who are demonstrating a commitment to our shared missions and values, all while following the societal trends of shifting between lay and professional positions. Let’s help bring them to the fore. Search committees and hiring managers can start looking on their organizations’ boards as a source for talent. During exit interviews, departing employees can be asked and invited to take on board or committee roles. In larger communities, major community organizations could run trainings on being a professional “sector switcher,” something that has been done to great success in the public education sphere. This flow of movement is a source of talent, not a drain of talent, for our organizations.

5. Create a professional alumni association. When you graduated from college, you were inducted into your alma mater’s alumni association with the clear indication that you would be included in this group for life. Your organization can do the same. If your employees follow dominant trends, they are all going to leave your organization in the next 2-5 years. To keep them engaged as active advocates of your mission, it is important to nurture an ongoing connection and sense of belonging even after they have turned in their key card. In addition to engaging them as lay leaders as I describe above, there are many ways to keep former employers engaged, including offering “alumni” the same referral bonuses as current employees to help you recruit great talent, being part of mentoring programs or even getting first dibs on tickets to interesting events. Most importantly, alumni themselves represent an ideal pool of candidates for future jobs as they grow, develop and gain diverse experiences.

These tactics are not easy to implement, nor will they produce change overnight. Yet, embracing ideas suggested here and other similar practices will go a long way to achieving a cultural shift that is critical to our ability to attract and retain top talent in the Jewish sector.

Watch the video interview, The Alliance: A Discussion with Adam Simon and Chris Yeh.

Want to keep the conversation going? Leave comments, thoughts and question here.