Yesterday afternoon I joined 400 people at an event for Jewish Family and Child Service. During the program, Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks Coffee, gave an inspiring speech about “serving people.”​

Mr. Behar started with a question..."Is Starbucks about the coffee or is it about something else? Is the company in the business of serving coffee or is it about the people and their experiences?" In his mind, everyone’s role is to serve others – and not focus internally about ourselves. Too often we get caught up in our own daily routine and those things closest to us while often forgetting what is going on in the world around us.

His inspiring talk made me think about the Jewish Federation and our Jewish community. Every organization must go through a period of reflection and rethinking – evaluating what it is along with where it is today and where it needs to be in the future. There are many ways in which to go about this process.

In the 1960s, Albert Humphrey, while working on a research project at the Stanford Research Institute, developed a technique known as the SWOT Analysis. I am sure many of you have heard the term before. It is a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or business/organizational venture. It helps specify the objective of the venture or project and identify the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective.

What has made the SWOT technique particularly powerful is that it can help uncover enormous potential opportunities. And by understanding the weaknesses, the organization can manage and eliminate threats that would otherwise catch them unaware. More than this, by looking at ourselves and our “competitors” using the SWOT framework, we can begin to craft a strategy that helps distinguish ourselves from others so we can compete and succeed in the marketplace.

Now, I bet many of you have gone through a SWOT process. Too often you get to a point where every strength has a corresponding weakness and every opportunity has an alternative threat. Because of this, I had a very successful business leader tell me that in his company the SWOT process was a “stupid waste otime.”

Now, I do not agree with that businessperson. The process plays an important role in strategic planning. It is an excellent tool for gathering ideas and input from those closest to day to day operations and focused more internally.

Too often, however, businesses/organizations are “blind” to the sweeping trends going on around them. Instead, they look inward at both themselves and the industry challenges creating what Verne Harnish calls the “inside/industry myopia.” While helping organizations see the forest through the trees, a SWOT analysis “tends to lead them to forget there’s a world outside the forest...pulls people down into operational issues, distracting them from the much bigger forces around that can hurt an organization if not prepared.”

Harnish suggests replacing the SWOT with the SWT – an approach that identifies inherent strengths and weaknesses while also exploring broader external trends. Instead of focusing on immediate opportunities and threats, we must begin to look at the major trends – significant changes in technology, innovation, markets, consumers, and society that may shake up the work we do and how we do it.

Here are a few key trends impacting Jewish Portland to be thinking about:

  • We have a growing Jewish population, where many of these people have little to no connection with our organized Jewish community.

  • National decline in institutional affiliation (across all groups – not just the Jewish community).

  • The Holocaust, birth of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism are no longer the focal points of “why be Jewish.”

  • An absence of a shared agenda with more people focused on single issues of importance to themselves.

  • There is a consumer mindset to Jewish communal life with expectations of free or subsidized services.

  • Continuing competition for financial resources from multiple Jewish organizations, as well as secular organizations.

The common denominator of these trends is that they are about people – their interests, wants, and desires. It is how they see their Jewish community and what they want in Jewish life. The focus can no longer be the products we offer.

What other trends do you see? What else should our community be thinking about that will effect Jewish life going forward? And how can we use our current strengths and weaknesses to prepare ourselves?

It is our obligation at the Jewish Federation, and as a Jewish community, to continue to look strategically at what we are doing. As part of that process, our decisions must be informed by “outside” current trends. We do not need to kowtow to every trend, especially since “what is old often becomes what is new.” But we can no longer focus on just our internal machinations. Howard Behar was right –it truly is all about the people. Only then can we build a vibrant and thriving Jewish community.
Shabbat shalom and Happy Mother's Day. 


PS – Join those who have already signed up for the Portland Mitzvah Network. Volunteer – to help serve others!


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