Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

What companies — and politicians — could learn from Rosh Hashana

“This week, we usher in the Jewish New Year,” began an article that I posted on LinkedIn three years ago. I called it, “What companies could learn from Rosh Hashana” and began by explaining a bit about the holiday before drawing a parallel – and then offering my suggestion as I am so often compelled to do – on how to adapt the holiday’s lesson to the world of business:

Unlike the secular one, it is not a time of celebration, but one of introspection and reflection. In the days that follow leading up to Yom Kippur, we recognize how we have wronged others and ask for forgiveness.

This is a very personal act, but one surrounded by communal days of prayers. And during those, when we recite the multitudes of sins we have committed – even if we personally have not – we know we are doing this collectively, as a community “in it together.”

This annual ritual is an opportunity to remember and refocus on the values we hold important. Unlike New Year’s resolutions, we don’t pick and choose one area where we want to improve, but look at the entirety of who we are, where we are falling short and what we can and should be doing better.

The gist of what I wrote focused on business, although I mentioned other kinds of organizations. In some ways, Israel’s annual State Comptroller report does this. I remember when I lived in Israel actually looking forward to hearing its focus and findings each year, because I knew someone was keeping an eye out on the citizens’ behalf. With the American government, its political parties, and the myriad of angry groups out there, I can’t help but feel this is a process which all groups, especially those involved with leading any country, really ought to apply.

What happens when individual employees behave less than ethically – embezzling, cutting corners, inappropriate behavior, etc.? When these acts come to light, employees may be fired or even arrested. Other times, it’s chalked up to technical error.

But the truth of the matter is that someone made choices, and those choices went undiscovered for X amount of time. Maybe that was because of incompetent or absent supervision, maybe because without rules of ethics, employees felt anything goes. Eventually the violation may be made public. Perhaps processes are reviewed and corrected. All of this is triggered by the act in the first place.

Really, think about what a better world it could be if political parties, government agencies, congresses and parliaments, presidential and prime minister offices were to take a step back and truly evaluate their motivations, decision, actions within the framework of their mission? This is not something only businesses should do:

But what if companies and organizations were to hold an annual introspective review of themselves, of every aspect of what they do, how they do it, what it means to the larger picture? Would they be able to course correct if they’ve veered?

Perhaps it could start with reviewing mission statements and values, progress to examining every department to see how each project and job description works to advance them? Policies need to address all kinds of situations even before they happen. Moreover, employees ought to be dedicated and feel they are part of the team; they need to have a collective interest in the betterment of the company. An annual introspective accounting would work to advance these goals.

A tall order, I’m sure, but not one worth putting on the calendar?

What we are not seeing in government these days is the idea of public service. Servants to the public. All of the public, not just those of one’s party. If employees can feel vested in what is best for all concerned, why can’t politicians? And not just at a federal or national level, but state, county, city, municipal, local?

I love the idea of an annual taking stock of one’s self, one’s life, one’s actions, one’s values and applying it to organizations. Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if companies, governments, non-profits and all other kinds of organizations did the same, and asked themselves, “Are we doing what we are really supposed to be doing and in the most honest way possible?”

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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