I’m really proud of the organization I work for; not necessarily because of its mission or how the work impacts individuals and communities (AKA our offerings for our target audiences, which is definitely something to be proud of) — but, mostly, because of the organization’s DNA. The culture, the spirit. The ways we do business.
I work for Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. [IMAGE HERE]
Hillel International’s CEO, Adam Lehman, was the former COO for five years (read: he really understands how the organization operates), and before that, Founder and President of several tech startups and SaaS companies… even a former Senior Vice President for AOL in the late 90s. There’s something about him being at AOL in the 90s that I just love so much… could be the older millennial in me?
Nevermind the fact that Adam is a genuinely good person with solid values, Adam is the ultimate embodiment and champion of innovation and experimentation. And, it trickles and permeates across the organization.
In my first week at Hillel as their first-ever Brand Director, he started to bring me into his brain — how he sees and dreams about our audiences engaging with our brand, how he wants our audience to feel, see, and do. How we bring them into celebrating our 100 year anniversary, our centennial. Towards the end of our conversation he said, “Jen, go crazy. Give me 14 ideas. We’ll try all of them. One of them will work. All I care about is the fact that we tried and innovated.”
And he meant it. And then every entrepreneurial nerve in my body jumped with joy and adrenaline. I was given the permission (and trust + freedom) to play… with ZERO fear. No consequences. Failure isn’t even a reality, just constant learning, gleaning, and iterating. COOL!
Not only that, I know the CEO “gets tech”. He gets tech, marketing, operations, and… more importantly: innovation. Transformation. He understands and has seen the power and enablement of tech and digital at work in a number of companies and organizations, and he is bringing that perspective and mindset (or, @Greg, “worldview”) into a 100 year-old organization that serves college students… and, one that is also faith and community-based, rooted in a religion that was founded what… 5,000 years ago?!?!? If we can innovate in this kind of space, where can we not innovate?
When I spoke with Adam my first week at Hillel in early August, I was reading a book titled, “Getting to Nimble: How to Transform Your Company into a Digital Leader”, by Peter A High. [IMAGE HERE]
Peter is the president of the technology and digital business advisory firm Metis Strategy, and he advises a wide array of Fortune 500 business and tech executives on how to compete in the digital era. More on him here.
I was reading the book because I was insanely inspired by a Car Max Case Study that was assigned to our Process Innovation class this past summer. The book dives further into Car Max’s origins, the company’s many phases and iterations — moments of decline, homeostasis, and growth.
There are some incredible insights and lessons in this book. The biggest, in my opinion, is that there’s a difference between having “innovative moments or projects”, and being “innovative”. I’ve experienced both, and both are awesome in their own way, but I can also share that a larger innovative and experimental culture has more inertia.
And that’s actually how the Foreword of the book opens: “At West Point many years ago, my comrades and I studied the concept of inertia — the reality that, unless subjected to outside forces, an object at risk remains at rest. Also, an object in motion remains in motion — in the same direction.”
But, how do you build that culture of ‘intertia’? One that can compete in an environment of increased change and disruption? There’s no “silver-bullet”, it’s multi-pronged, multi-faceted, and interdisciplinary. Peter breaks it down with these five factors:
Here are some highlights of the first three:
“The concept of nimbleness begins with teams that are nimble in their approach to training, nimble in their approach to recruiting, and nimble in their approach to understanding where new skill needs are emerging and determining how to grow those skills or buy those skills”
- Culture and its importance
- Need for clear titles, rols, and responsibilities (while highlighting job families and room for growth inside and outside of one’s department)
- Evaluating people
- Growing existing people
“Processes are critical in guiding actions of teams. They guide behaviors, they determine the methods and the efficiency of delivering products and services to market, and they also highlight how to recover when issues arise”
- Agile processes
- Shift from project orientation to a product orientation
- Service desk
- Knowledge management
Technology: “No matter the industry that you play in, technology is central to your success”
- Enterprise architecture
- Cloud penetration
- Microservices and application programming interfaces (APIs)
How does this have to do with Hillel and CEO Adam? And my pride for the organization? I really feel like we take the above very seriously. It’s baked into our fabric (and not subconsciously, very intentionally), which means we are constantly agile, innovative, and in a state of inertia. This is what makes me proud.