Sunday, January 31, 2016

Awards / Rewards

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………"

Note:  I've been having problems with the blogger platform and email account.  It may have been hacked.  Working on a solution. 

Another post from the queue:

A lot of leadership comes down to two tasks: 1) Find and recruit the very best people you can to work with you, given your resources and circumstances; and then 2) motivate those people to do their best work.

There are numerous ways to motivate your people.  Finding fault is not one of them.  One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways is to acknowledge their contributions.  Everyone likes a pat on the back, particularly if public.  It's nice to be acknowledged and recognized for hard work done well.  While an occasional word of thanks is often enough, something more goes further.

An easy way to elevate those acknowledgments is to present people with a more formalized recognition of their contributions - in the form of some kind of award (be it a certificate, a plaque, a trophy or whatever).  I don't think we do nearly enough of this kind of thank you to our people.  Some might argue that such awards are diminished by giving them out too frequently, to too many people, but I disagree.  I don't think this kind of formal award is lessened, or in any way cheapened, by the fact that there are many within our organizations that deserve them - from our staff and board members, to our volunteers and donors / supporters.

When I first got to the California Arts Council and noted that many staff members had been serving for years and years - without any recognition at all - I arranged for small (but elegant) desktop, engraved lucite trophies to be given to staff that had been around for five, ten, fifteen, and even twenty years - acknowledging and thanking them for that service. I believe this simple (and long overdue) gesture was appreciated by the staff and that it helped forge a good relationship with me (being new), and most important, the recognition and simple thank-you relayed the message to the recipients that they were important to the organization, and that I knew it.  I think it helped in motivating them to continue to do the excellent work they had been doing.  It was relative inexpensive to do, and paid big dividends.  And it made the recipients feel good - and that is important.

I think more organizations should do just that.  And not only with their staffs, but with their Boards, their donors and supporters and even partners and government authorizing agencies (if applicable).

Of course, rewards are always appreciated.  Days off, special parking places, bonuses, salary increases,  increased decision making authority, and other tangible expressions of thanks go a long way, but I believe just the formalization of recognition and thanks is the key.

So, I would urge all of you to consider who within your organization you might be overdue in acknowledging and thanking for their past and ongoing contributions, and then do it.  Google "trophy / awards" and you will be surprised how inexpensive you can get engraved awards.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Generalists v. Specialists

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………………"

Another post from the queue.

We live in a niche world.  While the promise of the internet to unite us in a global world has leveled the playing field in terms of access and arguably shrunk the world, it has also created countless smaller niches of specialty interests.  Beginning even before Henry Ford ushered in the era of specialized tasks on his assembly lines, the world was moving towards people having expertise in limited areas.  Doctors, lawyers and thousands of other professions moved from being general practitioners to being specialists.  When we are sick, or need legal help, we face having to deal with an array of experts.   Today, technology has accelerated that movement towards specialization.  And in the private sector, only at the top of the ladder are there really any generalists.  Throughout companies, people don monikers of specialists.  The same is true in our nonprofit arts field.  We have marketers, finance people, program officers, fundraiser / development experts, education people, outreach and engagement people, IT officers and more.

The generalists among us - those that have an overall vision of where to take an organization and how to do it - are increasingly only those who are our chief executives.  Everybody else specializes in some distinct area.  Companies and organizations are organized into hierarchies and separate departments.  Each has a job to do to move those companies and organizations forward toward their purposes and missions.

Being a generalist isn't the kind of entry on one's resume that leads to getting hired, and so we downplay its role in our personal and organizational success.  Yet on the other side of the coin, we have to be aware that technology is moving to eventually replace a lot of us and our specialized expertise with software, apps, coding and even robotics (and don't scoff, because very few jobs are not being targeted by technology)

This trend seems inevitable over time - everywhere.  When companies or organizations are launched, there are often no resources to hire people who are theoretically trained and expert in specific jobs, and thus the original founders need to wear multiple hats and juggle multiple jobs in order to survive.  But as organizations grow, and resources increase, they quickly move to hiring people who are not charged with the full range of tasks necessary to move towards realization of the organization's vision, but rather are the worker bees who, in the aggregate, move the organization forward by being a part of a larger machine effort.

But I wonder if that's smart?  I wonder what is lost as organizations move to that level?

The world - our world - is a constantly, and often dramatically, changing environment. By assigning everyone a narrow range of tasks, without a means to tap into their individual and collective intelligence and creativity, are we losing some critical energy and thinking as to the whole of our organizations?  I have repeatedly heard from people on arts organization staffs lament the fact that their advice and counsel is rarely sought as to the big picture.  And, in some cases, staffs are not even informed of the kind of major decisions that impact the whole of an organization over time.  As often as not, the decision making as to those moves resides exclusively at the top, and there is no attempt to involve the rank and file of the organization.  Not only are the final decisions handed down as fait accompli, but the whole process of how the decisions are influenced and ultimately made isn't shared.  What is lost in such a case?  In some cases, the loss, while not immediately recognizable, can be measured in lost production and turn-over rates as those who are treated (even if unintentionally) as cogs are less motivated to have the organization's best interests at heart.

And even our executive leaders - the ostensible generalists among us - are today increasingly required to be specialists themselves - most frequently as fundraisers.  Time and lack of money dictate that the myriad of daily critical small tasks take precedent over thinking as a generalist. So even their positions, as those who have the space and resources to consider the whole picture, is compromised and degraded;  even they are becoming only quasi-generalists.  Theoretically, Board members fulfill that role to a degree, but do they?  Even Board members are recruited for their specializations and assigned niches in how they can help the organization.  Focusing on the whole of the organization is often relegated to an annual planning retreat process.  But shouldn't it be rather an ever present, on-going process?

The fact is that we need both - we need specialists and we need generalists.  The pendulum seems to have swung towards more specialists.

So who's minding the store as it were in terms of continually considering the big picture and how to fit within that big picture?  Is the answer in many cases, nobody?

How then do we pay attention to that big picture?  What can we do within the structures of our organizations to make sure we are always considering ideas to advance our purposes and missions, and I mean big ideas, not the little (though important) ideas that have to do with our own areas of specialization?

I think there are two things we can do without much trouble.  First, talk about it - openly. What are people's thoughts about the role of generalists within the organization?  And second, figure out how everyone in the organization - staff, board, volunteers, supporters etc. can be encouraged to be generalists - at least some of the time - so we can tap into that collective creativity that can help our organizations not just to survive, but to thrive.  We have to value the role of the generalist without asking anyone to shutter their role as specialist.  That is the true multi-juggling of tasks.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Legacy Project Report

Good morning
"And the beat goes on……………."

Note:  I am overwhelmed,  humbled, and deeply grateful for the outpouring of concern and support for me.  I cannot thank you enough for your kind messages of comfort and encouragement.  

Here is one of the reports in the blog pipeline.


With special acknowledgment to Marian Godfrey as the co-author of the report that constitutes this blog post, and to our Legacy Panel members who generously gave of their time to share their perspectives on the issues.

The opportunity for me to interact with our esteemed panel members (whom I wish could constitute a permanent Think Tank), and especially the chance for me to work with Marian was a rare privilege, for which I am very grateful.  

Eighteen months ago, Marian Godfrey and I began a series of conversations on the coming exodus of long time arts leaders from their current positions due to retirement or other reasons for moving on.  We observed that the field's interest in this area - including issues of succession and transition - was principally centered on the issues of the leaders that are moving into the vacated positions the Boomers were leaving.  We were initially interested in the other side of the coin: the issues for those retiring Boomer leaders.

At first, we were principally interested in one small thread of this topic:  How to preserve some of the experience and knowledge of those with long careers and accomplishments in the field for the benefit of those remaining, and those still to come.   In our preliminary conversations with retiring, or recently retired colleagues, we have heard an almost universal wish to continue being of use to our respective fields.  We and our colleagues have speculated about to what degree the knowledge and wisdom we have gained is relevant to the next generations of leadership; if it is, how to create mechanisms that would allow for the intergenerational transmission of knowledge; and how to make it possible for those individual exiting leaders who are interested in continuing to contribute can do so.

But from our early conversations, it became immediately clear that the leadership exodus intersects with a host of other challenges and issues important not just to those who are exiting the field, but to mid-career leaders and those coming up, as well as to the field itself. There are now two generations of younger arts leaders who are, or will be, moving into positions vacated by retiring senior leaders.  We refer to them, for short, as Gen-Xers (born between the early 1960s  and the early 1980s), and Millennials, (born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s).  We recognize that there is great ambiguity about the age boundaries of these two cohorts, and that their titles have been freighted with stereotypes about each generation that are reductive and inaccurate.  Their needs are equally challenging and strikingly different.  We found that we share an interest with many colleagues in examining all of the impacts on all of the groups that this transition will have.

While there has been much discussion over the past decade about succession issues in our field, the focus has been on emerging leaders and the needs of those who are poised to replace the senior leaders now departing from positions of responsibility and power.  We are interested in shining a light on the other end of that continuum as well.  What are the needs of those who are leaving and what is the impact on the field of that (soon to be) mass exodus, which in our relatively young sector is happening for the first time.  We have embarked on a limited and preliminary exploration to test whether there would be merit in pursuing a more formal study, structured similarly to one conducted by Barry for the Hewlett Foundation.  That research looked at emerging leaders, and advanced the field’s discussion about generational change.  (Hewlett is currently in the process of developing a further initiative focused on the evolution of younger generations of arts leadership.)  We believe the study we are pursuing now may provide a useful counterweight to that work.

To move forward on this subject, we formed an advisory committee  (which we chose to call a Legacy Panel) that helped us to define in more detail the issues attendant to the exiting of the nonprofit leadership of the past fifty years, and to consider some of the possible ways to address those challenges - both for the individuals leaving and those moving up, and for the sector.  Members of this panel, who participated in our preliminary explorations, included:  Vickie Benson; Janet Brown; Roberto Bedoya; Talia Gibas; Devon Smith; Adam Huttler; Ruby Lerner; Ellen Lovell; Cora Mirikitani; Bill Ivey; Joan Shigekawa; Cynthia Mayeda; Shelley Cohn; Judi Jennings; Olga Garay- English; Jonathan Katz; Olive Mosier and Russell Willis Taylor.    

We assembled this small group with an eye to as much diversity—in position and role, experience, geography and ethnicity--as possible in a very small group, with an emphasis on senior leaders but with some next-generation voices.  We acknowledge the bias inherent in such a limited, personally selected group, and note with regret the many voices that are missing in the discussion so far.  But because of the speculative, preliminary—and unfunded—nature of our investigation, we began where we could, with a handful of distinguished leaders who were willing to participate and who, we knew, would have useful things to say.  We hope this modest effort is a beginning to a deeper understanding of the issues involved.

We began with a brief survey that was completed by 17 members of our panel, and based on their responses developed a protocol for individual interviews with each of them.  The survey and interview questions were divided into four sub-categories:  The concerns of retiring (Boomer) leaders; perceptions and needs of incoming (Gen-X and Millennial) leaders; considerations of transition and continuity for non-profit organizations; and implications for the nonprofit arts sector as a whole.  The balance of this report summarizes our tentative findings within each of those four categories.  We acknowledge that our limited survey was unscientific and in no way could be thought of a truly representative of the nonprofit arts field as a whole.  Nonetheless, we believe that the collective wisdom and perspective of our panel offers insights that might inform the field and suggest areas for more dialogue and conversation.  We had hoped to convene this panel for an in-person summit to delve deeper into the issues with an eye to specific suggestions in meeting the various challenges those issues pose.

I. Retiring or Retired Senior (Boomer) Leaders

This cohort contains various categories of individuals (not all represented on our Legacy Panel):  1) those who have already long retired from active positions; 2) those who have recently retired - including both those who are no longer active in the field, and those who have transitioned to some (at least tangential, but different) continuing role in the field; 3) those with imminent retirement plans – some with no plans to stay involved, and others with definite plans to stay involved; 4) those contemplating retirement in the near term; and 5) those who might retire in the near term.  It also became clear to us that within each of these classifications, the reasons for exiting the field might be very different.   Most, but not all, are voluntarily leaving, although for many, that decision is/was not easy.  Others are being forced out - either by term limits, confrontations, political considerations as appointees or otherwise.  These categories have a combination shared and unique needs as they face the challenges of transition.  The challenges are broad and varied, and include: 1) making the decision to move on (timing, announcement, succession, and transition including advice and counsel as to legal, logistical and other matters), along with questions of health care, retirement support and surviving and thriving in older age; 2) unpacking and downloading their knowledge base - with or without specific invitation to do so; and 3) landing - what comes next if they want something to come next.

About 70 percent of our legacy panel members had recently (within the past three years) retired when they took the survey.   Nearly 60 percent of retirees continue to attend conferences and symposia; 50 percent serve on one or more arts organization boards; 36 percent work as consultants; 43 percent are or plan to be mentors to upcoming leaders; and 28 percent are writing or plan to write for publication.

Asked to rate the importance of issues, from the perspective of the retirees, to be considered by the field as it faces the coming wave of Boomer retirements, 100 percent of panelists rated imparting/unpacking knowledge and experience to be important, very important or critically important, and 93 percent rated imparting information about key relationships important to the organization as important to critically important.  Similarly, 93 percent ranked making the decision to retire, the exit/transitioning process and financial issues in retirement as important to critically important.  Maintenance of personal and collegial relationships was rated important to critically important by 86 percent of panelists; post retirement health coverage was rated 79 percent; and post retirement options allowing continuance of making a contribution was deemed important by 71 percent.

The individual interviews provided more nuanced perspective about these answers.  Senior leaders, as the survey showed, are interested in and concerned about how knowledge, expertise, interpersonal connections and organizational trust are transferred from retiring leaders to next generation leaders.  However, for the most part their sense of how and to what degree they should be responsible for the transmission of both explicit knowledge (e.g. relevant data and organizational protocols) and implicit knowledge (e.g. the benefits of personal relationships with trustees, donors, policy makers or other stakeholders) depends upon whether they are currently leading an organization or already retired.  Senior organizational leaders see the preparation of trustees, staff, donors and incoming leaders for transition as an important part of their jobs while they remain in their positions.   On the other hand, most expressed a strong belief that once retired, senior leaders should intervene with either their own previous organization or other organizations (i.e. as a consultant or trustee) with restraint and only when invited—by trustees or by their successors.

Similarly, interviewees, while shying away from being designated as mentors in any formal sense, almost universally expressed the pleasure and satisfaction they have felt in the opportunity (present or past) to teach and guide younger staff of their own organizations, and to prepare them for leadership roles in the field.  A few sustained those relationships with younger leaders after retirement, although their point of view shifted, and they provided continued advice and information only when asked for it.  In general, our panelists are careful to steer clear of any assumption that just by virtue of their long experience and deep knowledge, they automatically have useful information to impart to younger generations.  Several explicitly noted that younger leaders, already endowed with their own experience, should be trusted to know what they do and do not need to learn from their elders.

Most senior leaders were very concerned about the financial constraints imposed by retirement.  Several commented that not being able to afford to retire is a key reason why they in particular and the Boomers as a generation are staying too long in their positions and thereby crowding out the next generation of leadership.  Nevertheless, most did not believe that there was any field-wide or blanket responsibility to provide financial assistance to departing senior leaders.  There was some feeling that very long serving and very effective retiring leaders ought to be recognized by their trustees through some form of transition funding.  But for the most part, interviewees noted that these matters are contractual and ideally should be dealt with as part of the hiring process.

Retiring senior leaders were eager to hear from members of the next two generations about their expectations—both of Boomer leaders and of arts organizations.  Better communications among these cohorts could undoubtedly lead to more effective service to the field by both outgoing and incoming leaders.

II.  Incoming Leaders

While our panel had only a few members within the Gen X and Millennial cohorts, both they and Boomer respondents had thoughts on the issues of concern to and for mid-career and emerging leaders.  All respondents noted that the interests and concerns, as well as experience, of Gen Xers and Millennials were distinct: that their life experiences, attitudes and ways of doing things are as different from one another as they are from the Boomer generation.  For example, Gen Xers are now, in general, in mid-career (and middle age) and are the likeliest successors to the Boomers retiring now and into the next decade; but demographics suggest that their cohort may not be large enough to constitute an adequate pool to fill all the positions likely to open up in the near-to-mid-term future.  Millennials may well be tapped for a portion of those positions.  On the other hand, Millennials, because they are an even larger cohort than Boomers and because they tend to take maximal advantage of professional training and development opportunities, may generate a far larger number of trained and skilled arts leaders than there are positions for them to fill, at least at the level of professionalism they expect.

Asked in the survey to rate the importance of issues, from the perspective of the incoming leaders, to be considered by the field as it faces the coming wave of Boomer retirements, panelists placed greatest priority on 1) the challenge of maintaining important organizational relationships during and after the leadership transition; and 2) the related challenge of garnering trust and respect for the incoming leader.  In the interviews, there was general consensus that it is the responsibility of the organizations to address both of these challenges as part of the governance obligation to ensure board and staff continuity, generally through succession and transition planning.  Among retiring Boomers there was no consensus on how best to help and support the incoming leadership; some suggested a minimalist approach: merely to be accessible for consultation; others suggested providing detailed written thoughts, observations, and information.  There was general agreement among the Boomers, as noted previously, that no advice or counsel should be offered by retirees except that which the incoming leadership specifically asks for.

While there was agreement that the transfer of knowledge from retiring leaders to the incoming leaders would be of value, there was no overarching consensus on the best way to effect that transfer.  Mentoring (or the more preferred term “coaching”), in some form, was enthusiastically supported by some, and dismissed as unimportant or unworkable by others.  Some dismissed any kind of impersonal online brokering in favor of the development or continuation of personal relationships; others supported the role technology might play in facilitating knowledge transfer if the appropriate platforms and approaches could be established.  Several interviewees suggested the establishment of some kind of knowledge bank that would match those with knowledge to those who wanted to be matched, but with no agreement on what form that might take.  Further discussion could usefully identify which types of knowledge, e.g. operational, interpersonal, historical—might best be transferred through which mechanisms, e.g. in-person, via databases or via more sophisticated social media approaches, to which constituencies—individual leaders, organizational units or the sector as a whole.

There was support for insuring that the history of both specific organizations and of field trends, such as arts funding, arts education and cultural policy, be captured and disseminated, and there was substantial support for a project that might record, and preserve for the future, oral or written interviews with those who have lived that history firsthand.  Some interviewees noted that the arts as a field celebrate story-telling, and that stories of the field’s history are worth preserving.

Additional issues for the younger cohorts of leaders include:  inadequate pay and compensation packages; the dearth of vertical promotion opportunities within the sector; inadequate opportunities to have real impact on outcomes; and as a result of those challenges, questions about whether leadership positions as they open will actually be attractive or desirable to the available younger leaders.  The panelists expressed deep concern about the potential that Millennials, especially, may be uninterested in committing their efforts to the leadership opportunities that currently exist in arts organizations and in the sector as a whole, and may choose to exit the field entirely rather than working with existing organizations or creating new ones as means of transforming the sector.  We repeatedly heard that:  1) unless compensation in the field increases dramatically and becomes competitive, a percentage of Millennials will choose not to stay in the sector; 2) unless there are ways for Millennials to access promotion opportunities at early stages of their careers, more Millennials will likely move to other sectors; and 3) Millennials want to make a real impact in their work irrespective of where they sit within an organization, and will gravitate to opportunities to have such an impact.  Finally, these younger leaders need to be excited. Boomers should remember that they gravitated to and stayed in the field in earlier days precisely because they were excited—by the arts, and by the potential to make a difference in their communities.  Millennials want no less.

III.   The Organizational Perspective

The survey asked respondents to rank the importance of issues, from the perspective of the organization from which the senior leader is retiring, that need to be addressed as the field confronts the coming wave of Boomer retirements.  Panelists ranked two issues as having the highest importance:  notification (about the leadership transition) of the organization’s board, staff, donors, funders and clients; and maintaining the key professional relationships with donors, funders and supporters that were enjoyed personally by the retiring leader.  The search process for the replacement leader was ranked as of nearly as great importance, followed by financial (severance/exit contract) obligations to the retiring leader.

In the interviews, panelists clarified their belief that organizations must engage in both succession planning, to prepare for leadership turnover at both board and staff levels in advance of any specific leadership change; and transition planning, to manage opportunities and challenges involved in the actual process of leadership change.  Panelists also agreed that once a leadership transition is announced, it is the role of the board chair and board, rather than the exiting leader, to lead a process of transitioning key professional relationships with donors and others.  The retiring leader should participate in that process when and if asked to do so by the board chair.  Similarly, while the survey responses also placed high importance on helping the incoming leader get up to speed, and helping the incoming leader to establish confidence within the institution, panelists in the interviews stressed that the retiring leaders might not be in the best position to assist or mentor incoming leaders.  Board leadership should determine the best way to orient and coach incoming leaders.

The distinctions between succession planning and transition planning, and the importance of both to the good governance and sound operation of every organization, was the most common and strongest recommendation made by our panelists.  Such planning is largely honored more in the breach than the observance, and yet it responds to the most basic, and one of the most urgent, requirements for organizational success.  Again, this is an issue for nonprofits in general, not just arts nonprofits.  Our panelists believe that arts organization boards and executives need to be educated about the importance of succession and transition planning.  Well developed plans address all the concerns raised by senior leaders in our survey and interviews, from transfer of knowledge, to brokering relationships between incoming leaders and key stakeholders, to ongoing staff mentorship and trust-building within organizations, to finding fair ways of recognizing and compensating the long service of retiring leaders (where appropriate).

Regarding the question asked in the survey about whether organizations have a responsibility to provide adequate compensation (including retirement support) to senior leaders, several interviewees thought that the field could benefit from thinking more realistically about compensation for all staff.  Given how poorly most small and medium-sized organizations are able to compensate staff, and given the higher expectations of younger entrants into the field about compensation as well as work-life balance and related issues, panelists saw this issue as an existential challenge to organizations and to the sector.  One noted that this is not an arts issue, so much as an issue for all nonprofits, and that whether or not organizations can afford to offer pension or retirement programs for staff, they could and should offer access to financial information and retirement planning resources so that staff are educated and able to make informed choices for themselves.  Another interviewee speculated that both nonprofit arts organization boards and arts funders could benefit from discussions about the importance to the success of the field of more realistic staff and leadership compensation, and the value of considering increased compensation as part of the larger field-wide discussion about what constitutes adequate capitalization of cultural organizations.  On the other hand, as one interviewee said, “Get real—I’m worried about just making payroll this week!”

IV.  Sectoral Perspectives

Several concerns raised in relation to outgoing senior leadership, incoming generations of leadership and/or arts organizations as collective entities also lend themselves to consideration at the sectoral level:

Preserving and transmitting outgoing leaders’ knowledge:  What knowledge needs to be preserved and made available to subsequent generations of leaders; what mechanisms are most effective for recording and providing access to that knowledge; and how that access is provided, are separate though intertwined questions.  There is some consensus that operational knowledge has value in allowing leaders to proceed more efficiently than when they only can learn through trial and error, and that formal—including digital—mechanisms could be developed for transfer of operational knowledge.   Implicit, or personal, knowledge (that is, knowledge not susceptible to being formalized or written down, or sometimes even verbalized), can only be transferred through long-term personal interactions that build mutual understanding and trust.  There was agreement that this kind of knowledge is valuable and highly desirable, but no consensus about how best to create sectoral-level opportunities for leaders to learn from one another.  We suspect that this is an intra-generational, as well as inter-generational question.

The continued participation of senior leaders in the sector, even in retirement:  Our limited research strongly suggested that most retiring senior leaders are not exiting the field, but only their current, often long-held positions.  Most expect to continue to be active, either through a career-capping new employment position, a move into a consulting role, or participation as board members or advisors.  How can they best be mobilized in support of the next generations of leadership?  There is concern on the part of some of our panelists that their influence could be unhelpful, because not relevant to the challenges incoming leaders confront.  How can we explore further what aspect of senior leaders’ legacies are useful, and what are not?

Support for and preparation of incoming leaders to succeed in their new positions is important to the sector as a whole.  What are the opportunities at the individual, organizational and sectoral levels that can be amplified and supported?  The senior leaders in our panel generally expressed a desire to support incoming leaders.  Younger leaders, both those in our panel and others with whom panelists have discussed this question, are also eager to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from their predecessors.  At the organizational level, it was generally agreed that it is a governance responsibility to ensure that incoming leaders succeed, and to make resources available to them accordingly.  At the individual level, personal mentorship can help.  At the sectoral level, the question of the success of incoming leaders is tied to broader questions about the changing role of the arts, and arts organizations, within our communities and our society.   What changes in the sector will ensure the committed participation and leadership of Millennials and even younger generations?

V.  Recommendations

1.  Engage in additional, and share, research and information about intergenerational leadership concerns with other entities also interested in strengthening leadership in the arts, e.g. with the Hewlett Foundation and Grantmakers in the Arts.  We are aware that similar conversations are cropping up in other parts of the nonprofit arts sector, and hope that the findings of our panelists can contribute to broader conversations.

2.  Create intergenerational opportunities for senior, mid-career and early-career leaders to communicate and exchange ideas with one another about leadership development and the needs of the sector.  Both our interviews with the Legacy panelists and our conversations out in the field conveyed a hunger from leaders at all levels to learn from one another about how we can collectively move our sector forward.  Younger leaders see themselves as having different strengths and capacities than Boomers, and want both to benefit from their predecessors’ historical knowledge and experiential wisdom, and to have their own professionalism and skills (both technological and cultural) affirmed.  Senior leaders want to participate in the development of incoming generations of leaders, but don’t want to inject unwanted, irrelevant or counter-productive ideas and opinions into the process.

3.  Advocate for both succession and transition planning as good practices that sustain intergenerational leadership and that should be adopted by nonprofit arts organizations.

4.  Advocate that financial planning resources and training be provided to staff  of small and mid-sized arts organizations as a way to begin dealing with the compensation issues that challenge the nonprofit arts sector.  How to change the organizational culture of the sector such that adequate compensation is both valued and achievable is a difficult, long-term challenge; perhaps the inter-generational communications recommended here is one place to start. See the Appendix below for one suggestion about creating a policy-level forum for such discussion.

The transition from one generation of leaders in our field to another is underway. It will likely take a decade or more to complete.  We believe that the needs of both those leaving their positions and those who are moving into those jobs, along with the needs of the organizations experiencing this transition, and the field as a whole, and the issues raised, are important for the field to discuss.  Both Marian and I hope this limited report can contribute to a wider dialogue and discussion of the issues.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Time Off

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………"

I would like to wish each of you a very Happy New Year, and I hope 2016 brings you a year of good health, the joy of meaningful work well done, and a year with the love of friends and family.

Taking Some Time Off:

I have been struggling with some serious health issues for some time, which, unfortunately, are not resolving in my favor.  And so I need to take some time off to focus on dealing with the situation.

I have a number of blogs in the pipeline ready to be automatically posted over the coming weeks, including two reports, and a current What I Have Learned blog with contributions from leaders in the field - so in the short term things go forth.  I hope to be back regularly posting new blog entries soon, but the reality is I don't know exactly when, or possibly even if, that will be possible.

Have a great week.  And again, Happy New Year.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The American Middle Class Continues to Shrink - Implications for the Arts?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………."

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, the American middle class continues to shrink in proportion to the wealthy and the poor.

Share of adults living in middle-income households is falling

The question I have is what, if any, relationship this fact / trend has to the shrinking audiences for the arts?   And if there is any correlation, is there any identifiable causation?

We have research that shows a decline in our audiences; not for everyone, and not to the same degree for every discipline / every organization, but overall, generally.  Perhaps there is research about the middle class decline relative to the arts.  Or if no research, then theories about the relationship.

There are many possible causes of our audience decline and we have talked about most of them - ranging from time, cost, convenience, competition from other leisure time options, technology, and changing generational preferences.    It would be informative to know if those possible explanations are related, directly or indirectly, to the changes in the middle class, and to what extent.   And if the middle class decline continues, what does that mean for us?

Decades ago, before the decline in our fortunes, the middle class was the mainstay of American demographics.  It's decline isn't necessarily the cause of our problems, but it logically seems to be a possible factor.  That we were faring better when the middle class was thriving doesn't necessarily confirm a causal connection to our declining audiences, but one can speculate on the relationship.

Other questions surface as well.  Is the increase in the wealthy a positive development for us?  Are the wealthy more likely to be our audiences, our donors and supporters?  Or are the other factors such as the increased options people have for ways to spend their leisure time and money in competition with us an offset to the gains of the size of wealthy bloc?  Or is there no relationship at all?

Was, or is, the middle class critically essential to the health of our organizations?  Why or why not?

While there may be little we can do to alter the changes to the middle class, knowing its possible impact might help us to formulate strategies and approaches to deal with the challenge.  Of course, figuring that out is likely a complex undertaking.  Theorizing about it, while inexact, might still be worth the effort.  I leave that to others.

I certainly don't know the answers to these kinds of questions.  But I believe those answers are important; if not to definitively uncover, at least to consider.  My own belief is that a declining middle class is bad for virtually everyone in society,  including the health of arts organizations, but that is just my own bias.

Something to think about perhaps.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

How Political Power Really Works

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………………"


Another mass shooting last week.  So common an occurrence that it hardly seems surprising anymore.  Terrorists, or disgruntled employees, or just crazy, angry people.  And innocent victims.  We decry that society cannot allow this to be the new normal, but all the evidence points that it is.

Gun opponents argue that we have to do something.  Gun defenders argue that it isn't the guns.  Like the Buffalo Springfield song:  "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong."  And what can we really do?  There are so many guns already out there, that the horses left the barn a long time ago. But then it seems to turn out that many of these mass shootings are done by people who acquired their guns relatively recently.  Common sense suggests certifiably crazy people ought not to have access to weapons.  But the gun lobby's policy is to fight any attempt to limit access to guns - any kind of guns.

I've read a report that a majority of the membership of the NRA actually approves of reasonable limitations on acquiring guns, including certain background checks and registration.  But the lobbying organizations seem controlled by a faction that believes any restrictions will lead to more restrictions and ultimately to some attempt to outlaw guns entirely.  Certainly there is a large group of citizens who hope that is exactly what happens.

I read an article recently that a bill to deny guns to those on the security watch list (and the no fly list) has stalled in Congress for the past five years.  Even an attempt to pass simple legislation to cut off sales of guns to those who are suspected of being terrorists can't pass.

How is that possible?

The gun lobbies are among the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country.  And what makes them so powerful?  Two things:  First, they have built an enormous, stable constituent group that provides them two things:  1) money and funds; and 2) a grassroots support group for whom the right to bear arms (and own whatever kind of guns they want) is a sacrosanct, line in the sand, issue and a large portion of those people will vote for or against someone running for elected office on that issue alone - and it doesn't matter whether the politician is for or against any other issue that may or may not be important to the pro gun voter.  And this group is fairly disciplined.  Second, they are sophisticated lobbyists who know that affecting government policy is a long haul game.

But don't take my word for it.  If you want to understand how politics works, and how policy is affected by citizens with a viewpoint, such as the gun lobby, check out this article (The Real Nature of Politics and Politicians)  by Mike Rothfeld, a political consultant who apparently is affiliated with the National Association for Gun Rights (not the NRA, but with a similar agenda).   Mr. Rothfeld gives a very concise and I think very accurate tutorial on lobbying.  Whether you disagree with his position isn't the issue.  He's playing the system by its own rules, for something he believes in.  I find no fault with that at all.    I accept the Constitutional right to bear arms, even though I completely disagree with the gun lobbyists policy positions regarding reasonable regulations.

But to understand the gun lobby's political strategy, consider his article's opening statements:

"Politics is the adjudication of power.  It is the process by which people everywhere determine who rules whom. 
In America, through a brilliant system of rewards and punishments, checks and balances, and diffusion of authority, we have acquired a habit and history of politics mostly without violence and excessive corruption. 
The good news for you and me is that the system works. 
The bad news is it is hard, and sometimes unpleasant work, for us to succeed in enacting policy. 
There is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time, talent, and money in politics except for this:  If you do not, laws will be written and regulations enforced by folks with little or no interest in your well-being."

He goes on to dispel the widespread, and erroneous assumption, that public opinion and education, are the keys to political victory, as well as dismissing access to politicians as real power:

A "common mistake is to believe that the key to victory is education. 
The “education is the key to political victory” theory claims that if we educate people as to the problem and the solution, then the elected officials will fall in line. 
It is important to understand the two reasons why the education theory of politics is a mistake. 
First, the theory assumes no opposing “education” effort.  This is rarely the case. 
The second, and more important, reason the “education is the key” theory fails lies in the nature of politics and politicians."

And in describing politicians and their behavior he concludes:

"Access is calling a politician and having him take your call.  He listens to what you want, and may or may not do it.  It is what most grassroots leaders end up settling for. 
Power is the ability to tell a politician what you want, and either get it or deliver substantial pain (maybe even get a new politician) at the next election.  
No matter what, you will make it harder for the politician to win re-election, costing him extra time and money.
If the politician loses, every other elected official will fear you and your group.
If the politician wins, he (and other politicians) will remember the extra pain you caused him.  And he will know you may do it again or worse.  When you return to continue fighting for what you believe in, you will find him and his colleagues more willing … and surprisingly, sometimes more gracious (though do not count on the latter; personal pleasantness is cheap coin).

And finally this:
"As the late Everett Dirksen said, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.

I've said as much repeatedly.  When a vote is problematic: Forget your stories - they don't really matter.  Sorry.  Forget your value.  It doesn't really matter. Sorry.  The righteousness of one's cause may provide "cover" that a politician can use to justify their vote, but it only sometimes will get the vote you want in the first place.  Our victories in the arts, such as they have been, have come about because there was basically no reason for the "yea" voters not to support us.  But we all know that our victories have been small; not anywhere near what we need or want. And we are often on the defensive in response to attacks.  As often as not, the arts have been the lighting rod for right wing political groups who use opposition to the arts for other reasons - including inciting their base and in their fundraising..  We simply don't have the political will to amass the power that Mr. Rothfeld describes.

I urge you to read Mr. Rothfeld's article.  It isn't that long.  I think you will find it an eye-opener.  It's very specific, practical political advice.  If people want some kind of reasonable gun restrictions, or if the nonprofit arts want more funding and specific legislation passed, this article intelligently sets forth the way the game is played.  You may not like it, or him, or his beliefs, but his advice to his constituents and to anyone who has an agenda is, in my opinion, spot on.  And the fact that gun rights, as his and other groups define them, are so important to them, that they are willing to engage the system as it is, make the necessary sacrifices, and do what is necessary to increase their chances of winning -  is their right. That's how our system works.  And as Mr. Rothfeld notes:  the system does work.

As to gun regulations, one can only hope sanity prevails at some point.  But don't count on it.  The political system is stacked against such a result.  As to the arts, maybe someday we too will be able to amass real political power.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Keep Your Customers Happy, and When You Don't, Find Out Why and Make It Right

Good morning
"And the beat goes on………………"


Recognizing that satisfied customers are a critical variable in success, all businesses are increasingly concerned with service delivery, and when that delivery falls short (service failure) that taking steps to "make it right" are essential to maintain customers and avoid a situation where service failure negatively impacts future business.

The nonprofit arts are no different.  It is incumbent on all arts organizations, and particularly on performing and visual exhibition organizations to provide their customers with satisfying experiences at all points where the customer interacts with the organization - from initial contact all the way through.
Smart businesses now engage in trying to figure out what the expectations are of customers at those various points, and as, or more importantly, what needs to be done if there is a breakdown at any one of them. Invariably, things don't always go as envisioned and things happen that disappoint, annoy or even anger customers, and that experience, absent an earnest and successful attempt to make it right, threatens to harm the business.  And even little things can create negative experiences.  While we talk about the transformational experience with the arts, it's the little things that sometimes are more important to the customer.

According to an Abstract Paper by Christine Ennew and Klaus Schoefer on Service Failure (defined as "when a service fails to live up to what was promised, or what the customer expected"), and Recovery in the Tourism Industry, "customers who experience a service failure are of three types:  They complain, they spread negative word of mouth, or they elect not to repurchase (or again patronize the offending seller)."  They go on to state that "there are three types of service failure: 1) unavailable service, 2) unreasonably slow service, or 3) other core failures - including unexpected behaviors by a company's employees, including level of attention, unusual actions, cultural norms, gestalt and adverse conditions."

The authors note that "understanding the type of service failure is important in designing the appropriate response."  And that, according to a framework proposed by Day and Landon (1976), dissatisfied customers engage in:  "redress seeking, complaining to others, and personal boycotting."

Which customers are likely to complain and by which means, helps to understand the whole area of service failure.  Thus, for example, customers who believe complaining yields desired results, are more likely to complain.

Today, it is commonplace for businesses to engage in market research to identify customer expectations, to compare those expectations against what the business sees as realistic to deliver, and to assess and analyze that delivery and where it fails.

For arts organizations, the customer experience starts before they walk in the door, first with knowledge of the arts organization and what it offers - from advertising and promotion to websites leading to ticket purchase.

There are several expectations people have irrespective of the nature of the business.  As to information, they want correct and reliable information, and they want that information to be easily and quickly available - whether dealing with a product or a service.  Failure to provide that information may end the potential customer relationship before it really even starts  With exhibit or performing organizations that's not only the what, when, where, and how much, but the ancillary information of site directions, parking, and more.  Moreover, they want a sales message as to why they should be interested in the art that is concise and convincing.  These 'needs' bear on the website and its ease of navigation; ticket office knowledge, responsiveness; and the staff treatment on arrival.  It also involves the point of entry to the physical site, to such things as building appeal, layout, signage, and more.  There are many things that can go amiss and disappoint arts organization customers before they get in the door.

Then, of course, there is the experience of the exhibition or performance itself.  And the aftermath of that experience.  Of course, not every exhibition or performance will please an audience, but there are elements of lighting, audio sound, comfort (including for performances seating, temperature control, et. al) amenities (cafe, bar) that audiences will take into consideration in judging service delivery.

So when something goes wrong, and invariably it's common that something may go wrong, what is to be done?

Businesses know that it is critically important to know when something goes wrong.  It is understood that you need to take corrective action and move to placate disappointed or upset customers, and you can't do that unless you know they are unhappy. There must be some mechanism to hear customer complaints.   So businesses have developed various approaches and tools so that there is built into the system means for them to discover and identify problems.  There must be some mechanism or process for people to register their dissatisfaction.  If you don't have a means to register complaints, you can't assess them or deal with them.

Tools ranging from audience surveys, and phone or internet complaint points,  to focus groups are used to try to find out at what points service delivery has been, or may be, service failure.  One of the tools businesses use is a Walk Through Audit.  James and Mona Fitzsimmons in their work: Service Management (McGraw Hill International), suggest the audit "can be a useful diagnostic instrument for management to evaluate the gaps in perception between customers and managers.  Customers visit a site less frequently than do managers, and thus, are more sensitive to subtle changes (e.g.,peeling paint, worn rugs) than are managers who see the facility every day and who are likely to overlook gradual deterioration of the supporting facility.  The quality of customer service can also deteriorate and be less noticeable to employees as well as to managers."

A sample Walk Through Audit for the Helsinki Museum of Art and Design, included everything from asking if it was easy to get to the museum, were the operating hours convenient, to questions about ticketing, information (signs, language, available, friendly staff) to the experience of being in the museum (lighting, clear paths, background noise, to questions about the facility (toilets, cafe, gift shop etc.)  Such a detailed feedback response allows the museum to "evaluate the service experience from the customer perspective."  The best way to administer such a survey is thought to be immediately after the customer's service experience, and offering a future discount or gift certificate helps to increase participation.  Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons op cit.

Once a service failure has been identified, then it is essential to have ways to make it right for the customer.  Companies have developed all kinds of ways to address service failure so as to minimize the damage done to their businesses - and have employed devices ranging from unconditional guarantees, warranties, refunds, future discounts, free replacements and letters of apology.

The literature suggests that customers are primarily interested in: "1) early acknowledgment of the service failure: 2) an apology, and by a real person; 3) a willingness to quickly offer some remedy, to make it right; 4) some kind of "symbolic atonement" or form of compensation; 5) a follow up; and 6)  a sincere promise to remedy the problem for the future."

Binder et. al. (1990) suggested that "it is not necessarily the failure itself that leads to customer dissatisfaction, as most customers do accept that things can go wrong.  It is more likely the organization's response (or lack thereof) to a failure that causes dissatisfaction.  They suggested that for a successful service recovery an organization's response should include four key elements: 1) Acknowledgment of the problem; 2) Explanation of the reason for the failure; 3) An apology where appropriate; and 4) Compensation."

An organization must also watch out for a kind of double dissatisfaction where there is not only a service failure, but the attempt at a service recovery is also perceived as a failure.

And it isn't just the dissatisfied customer.  Research indicates that one dissatisfied customer will tell as many as 10 people of their negative experience, and that can result in the loss of potential customers.  On the other hand, successful responses (service recovery) can have a positive impact on word of mouth.

According to Christine Ennew and Klaus Schoefer, "the potential benefits of effective service recovery include improvements in cumulative satisfaction, increased loyalty, repurchase and positive word of mouth."

The question is:  To what extent do our arts organizations understand the true critical nature not only of superior service delivery, and have moved to make sure of that superior delivery quality - at every step of the customer interaction - but have also created and implemented means to identify when a service failure does occur (encouraging customer complaints), and have developed means to respond to that failure in a way so as to minimize the negative consequences.  We're talking about systemic mechanisms that are ongoing.

I believe that all our arts organizations ought to review the procedures they have for welcoming complaints so they can be assured that when a service failure arises, it comes to their attention. And then I think they ought to establish and employ means to immediately deal with those service failures so that they minimize the loss of customers.  There ought to be formal policies and established mechanisms and all of that ought to be reviewed periodically.  And staff people at all levels should be trained to handle customer complaints.

Meet your customer's expectations, and, if you don't, know that and find out why.  Then make corrections.  That's a business requirement for everybody - including us.

Have a great day.

Don't Quit