There’s a saying that I use whenever I’m teaching or mentoring others regarding the importance of feedback:
I want to know how I’m doing, but I don’t want you to tell me.
Most of us, by nature, are inquisitive and interested in what others think of us; we’re self-conscious and often hypersensitive to how our peers, loved ones, coworkers and customers see us through their own eyes. But at the same time, many of us understandably struggle with the responses or insight when it’s less than totally positive. Who among us really likes to be told that they’re doing a bad job, making someone unhappy, letting someone down, or underachieving? Count me in the group that is ready for the good stuff anytime, and afraid of the bad stuff all of the time.
As the leader of an organization with a network of dedicated stakeholders – we count more than 700 families, 1,000 children, 250 staff members, 15,000 alumni and many others as part of our constituency – I recognize the inevitability of feedback in our efforts to run the best camp that we can. And despite my own personal fear of hearing what’s “wrong”, we’re taking an approach at Camp Harlam that looks to solicit as much information as we can. We want to gather opinions with detail whenever possible, and we aim to make sure that our modeling of Hachnasat Orchim, the Jewish value of “welcoming others”, carries over to our presentation of openness to feedback.
At the close of each session this summer, we asked every family to take a little time to share their perceptions of Camp Harlam and how we are doing. We did this through the “Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Survey”, a North American project that more than 70 nonprofit Jewish camps use as a means of gauging how parents and campers see the strengths and areas of improvement needed for camp, and do so against a benchmark of all of the camps participating in the program. We received the complete results from the survey recently, and I’m excited to share some of the key information gleaned from the responses:
- OUR FAMILIES ARE VERY ENGAGED WITH CAMP HARLAM, AND THEIR PASSION FOR CAMP SHOWS IN MANY WAYS. We saw a response rate in the survey of over 50%, an indicator of a great commitment, and the hundreds and hundreds of responses to specific and open-ended questions present an amazing amount of evidence of where things are excellent and where things can improve. Our response rate was the highest of any camp that participated in the CSI survey.
- WHAT ARE WE WORKING ON THIS YEAR IN RELATION TO THIS? We are looking forward to sharing the information from this survey with the community. We will also be engaging in a more intensive evaluation process throughout the year with families and particular segments of the community to be sure that we’re getting the most accurate and insightful information. Follow-up surveys will include outreach to first-time families, those attending both First and Second sessions, and others.
- IMPROVEMENTS TO TARGETED AREAS OF CAMP IN THE LAST YEAR WERE NOTICED. Changes to policies, the sharing of more pre-summer information, the addition of new programs, a focus on food service quality and Camper Care, and the greater emphasis on staff training and supervision all seemed to impact parents’ perceptions of the quality of the camp experience.
- WHAT ARE WE WORKING ON THIS YEAR IN RELATION TO THIS? We’re doubling our efforts and will tweak the areas of improvement even further. With positive results comes even more attention and reinvestment.
- KEY AREAS THAT NEED CONTINUED ATTENTION INCLUDE COMMUNICATIONS, FOOD SERVICE, AND THE RESIDENTIAL LIVING AREAS FOR CAMPERS. Even with improvement across the board on these areas last year, our standards are higher and we will need to continue our determined efforts to make more headway for the sake of the camp and its campers.
- WHAT ARE WE WORKING ON THIS YEAR IN RELATION TO THIS? With communications, we are overhauling our strategies and will be allocating resources to be better at sharing what’s happening with camp throughout the year and in the summer, and to be excellent in customer service. This means more communication and more effective communication, big changes in the Bunk1 and summer information assets for families, new staff positions to focus solely on communications and much more. We are very excited to really build on the food service focus of last year by further adding to the salad bar and buffet options, expanding the menus, and making improvements to the dining hall facility. And much more will soon be shared about the renovations to our Girls Camp cabins, beginning this off-season with the replacement of three old bunks with new one
- THERE’S A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF POSITIVE IMPACT AND EXPERIENCE HAPPENING AT CAMP HARLAM RIGHT NOW. We know of the influence that camp is having on the development of Jewish identity in our campers, we know that our counselors and camp leaders are creating an exceptional sense of belonging for our kids, children at Harlam are connecting to each other and creating meaningful relationships, and many more extraordinary things are taking place in our program and community.
- WHAT ARE WE WORKING ON THIS YEAR IN RELATION TO THIS? We are excited to celebrate the many things that are going so well at Harlam, including a great deal that has been foundational to our success for generations. And we will take nothing for granted; we are looking ahead to continued growth and development.
With responses representing almost 500 of our campers from 2012, there were many take-aways from the survey. We’ve even prepared a summary of the report to share with all of you that can be found by clicking here.
Charlene Li, author of “Open Leadership”, stresses the need for organizations to be bold and to hold themselves up as transparent to the people they serve. That strategy can be terrifying for the risk-averse, but she also tempers her enthusiasm for starting the process with a dose of reality with respect to how long the cultural changes and improvements may actually take:
“The lesson I take away from this is that the process can take time and patience. As you contemplate the transformation you want to create, consider your time line and your company’s position. Do you have the luxury of a secure position from which you can advocate for change and the slow, intentional development of new things, new ideas, and a better company overall over a period of months and years? Because any transformation is going to take a long time and require that you find the unique formula of push-and-pull that works for your organization.”
Ms. Li’s assertion rings true for us at Camp Harlam, and my response to her would be that we are absolutely in a secure position to take on the challenges of transformation. The last two years have been a wonderful period of discovery and reflection for our entire leadership team, and with so many early signs of improvement already crystallizing, our energy to continue the efforts is as high as ever.
Thank you to all of the people that share their feedback with us, and of course, to all of the staff, lay leaders and congregational partners that have been part of making Camp Harlam the amazing place that it is. Even if I don’t want people to tell me how I’m doing, I sure am thankful that I still ask! Remember to share your feedback with me anytime at ThinkCamp@URJ.org.