“Who, me?” The What, Who and How of Accountability


The work that needs to be done in synagogue life can seem overwhelming to any leader, largely due to the fact that frequently, there is no structure in place for delegating tasks and inherent ambiguity exists in who should do the work. Synagogue leaders often react in the moment, moving from crisis to crisis, instead of trying to bring the synagogue mission and vision to action in a more formalized way.

Based on responses from 807 leaders in 31 kehillot who took the Thriving Congregations Assessment in 2017 and 2018, ONLY 9.77% completely agree that lay leaders have clear job descriptions AND only 6.95% completely agree that the board and committees have annual goals and are held accountable to those goals. Even when goals are set, it is very unlikely that the purpose, action, capacity or time (P.A.C.T) of the goal is even considered.

Imagine this scene from synagogue life:

Sara, a newly appointed membership committee chair, is informed by the president via email that he has set a membership goal of 20 new household units. The president would like Sara and the committee members to conduct focus groups with new members to find out why they joined, in the hope that new recruitment efforts can be designed and implemented from the information they collect.

About six months pass and no communication takes place between Sara and the president. The board reviews the budget again and notices that there are no new members and concludes that no effort has been made by the membership committee. The board wants to hear from Sara as to why the directive wasn’t followed. They start to doubt if she should be leading the committee.

Focusing on “what” went wrong, not “who” went wrong

It would be easy in this case to blame a number of people for the lack of membership growth. The president for setting an unattainable goal based on previous membership numbers and for not reaching out to Sara to find out if she has the talent or capacity to hold focus groups or run new programs; the members of the membership committee for not supporting Sara; and Sara not sharing her concerns and asking for support. BUT in the end the issue is that there is no structure in place for support and accountability. Instead of engaging in REFLECTIVE leadership, the executive committee started to doubt Sara’s ability to do a good job in this new role.

How can leaders make sure that they have the support and accountability that they need to fulfill annual goals? By following these three rules of Accountability (your Kehilla Relationship Manager [KRM] can help you access these resources):

1. Written Job Descriptions: All committee chairs need a written job description. It should be shared with the chair prior to them accepting the assigned role and/or written by them (with approval by the board) if none exists.

2. Use of P.A.C.T. Goals: All goals should have the following components: purpose, action, capacity and time. The goal needs to be agreed on by leadership and the person committing to the task.

3. Reflection and Communication: Use of “committee interview worksheet.” The chair and a vice president, and/or president (depending on the structure of the organization) should take the time to review status on goals that are agreed upon for the year. They should discuss what is moving forward, and what is getting in the way from the goal being accomplished. Support and direction should be provided if necessary. The goal should be revisited if it seems unlikely that it will be accomplished in the time frame set.

The argument against accountability: How can you fire a volunteer?

It is true that you cannot fire a volunteer in the same way that you can fire an employee. You can, though, have certain expectations and provide support. For this reason, it is very important that the right volunteer is given the right task, and that expectations are shared well ahead of the project start date. And in the case that a different person needs to take on the task, that will be known well ahead of the task expected due date. While not easy, the person who might not be the right person will hopefully come to understand with conversation that there is another role at the synagogue that they are better suited for and relived to be excused from the task at hand. It’s a win-win for all.

Providing support can be the answer to how to not fire a volunteer

Accountability starts with writing goals and sharing them with others. We recognize holding people accountable for a goal can be challenging on a personal level. Conceivably it is easier to pass the buck, or kick the can down the road instead of holding an individual or a group responsible when a goal is not fulfilled. Instead of these tactics, try being in a conversation with the person to whom you are assigning the task. Ask “how can I help you accomplish your goal? What do you need from me or from others?” What is working well and what needs to be improved?”

In the end, a volunteer is a volunteer. But like an employee, they need to be supported and provided praise for a job well done. As a leader it is your role to help make that happen and instead of looking for a way to fire a volunteer, look for ways to help them thrive.

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