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I was on my way out of the grocery store, and was thrilled to see they were selling grilled hot dogs for $1. I had been shopping, and I was hungry.

“What would you like on it?” the nice lady selling the hot dogs asked me. “What are my options?” I replied. “Mustard, relish, onions and ketchup” she said.

I was surprised she said ketchup. Living here in the Chicago area, I know all too well…you don’t put ketchup on a hot dog. This is a strong Chicago tradition and community mandate. When you order a hot dog with “everything” in Chicago, ketchup is never included. You have to ask for it special, and even then, you do so at the risk of severe mocking and ridicule. Do a simple internet search, and you will see the strong opinions on the matter. There is even a book called “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog.” This is serious stuff, folks!

Community mandates (like the ketchup prohibition) are powerful forces. The way certain foods should be eaten, how a sports team should be cheered for, how we connect with one another, how we support one another. If there is a community, there are mandates of some kind.

For instance, Reform Jewish leaders are a tight-knit community. We share concerns, interests, and a rich, robust heritage. Several years ago, the Union for Reform Judaism launched a Yammer enterprise social network to replace a group of listservs that Reform Jewish leaders had used for many years. For those who had been involved in the leadership of their congregation, the listservs had what might be considered “community mandate” status. The listservs were easy for our congregational leaders to use, and very comfortable. Everybody used them, and they used them for almost 25 years. It was the way work was done. Emails would come in, a reply was made, and together people learned and expanded their network. Sure they got frustrated trying to send attachments, reading long conversations or searching the listserv archive, but the frustrations were tolerated. This was how work got done. Our email boxes filled up. We read through every single reply that repeated email signatures, logos and heartfelt requests to “Please consider the environment before printing” in a brightly green colored font. The community mandated that our listservs was the place where work got done.

When we launched our Yammer network, which promised better communication and collaboration, easier access to resources and a larger network, we did so in the face of this strong community mandate. No, we weren’t asking people to put ketchup on a hot dog, but we were asking them to abandon a known, comfortable platform for something new and different. We should have been better prepared for the response.

“What is this?”
“What makes you think I need another place to check?”
“Who’s bright idea was this?”
“Can you just bring back our listservs?”

The community mandate was clear. They had used the listservs for years, and they weren’t interested in a change. Moving to a Yammer network was not something our community asked for (many of them had not even heard of Yammer before). It was something that they were being told would be good for them, and would serve their congregations well.

Try the ketchup, it’s delicious!

But we stuck with it. Though the listservs had served our community well, the technology had become antiquated and we knew we had to keep moving forward. We continued to share in our Yammer network. We made posts, and answered questions. We connected users with one another, and the network began to grow and strengthen.

Today, after a little more than 4 years, we have over twice as many people using our Yammer network as were using the listservs after 25 years, and our engagement rates are strong. People are learning and creating community using our Yammer network in ways that could never have been possible in an email listserv.

Community mandates are important. They provide context, identity and character. Sometimes the mandates don’t make much sense (who cares if I put ketchup on my hot dog?!?!), and we have to push forward with intent, strategy and determination to make necessary change that, over the long term, will serve our community well.

At the grocery store, I asked for ketchup on my hot dog. The woman at the counter was surprised. “Ketchup?” she asked, almost incredulously, not believing her ears. “Yes,” I said. “Ketchup.” The hot dog was delicious.

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