Monday, December 31, 2018

Books I'd Like to Read, But No One's Written Yet

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

As 2018 mercifully fades into the rearview mirror, this is the time of year when everyone sends out their lists. Lists of what's been accomplished, lists of upcoming plans, lists of needs, lists of New Year's resolutions, lists of predictions.  In the last couple of years, we have lists of books people have read. or mean to read: Books that help us to improve our skills; to trigger our imaginations and creative juices; books to make you a better manager; books to guide your professional development; books to help you cope.

Many of these books contain good advice - sometimes pragmatic and even inspiring.  Most of them are in the "self-help" genre.  While well intentioned, most of them also often don't really help us very much.  They may address the exact major challenges we face, and they may offer valid prescriptions for action and behavior, but they often miss the point of telling us what we need to know to actually change things.  

I suppose it's a lot to expect to ask for blueprints to success that will unfailingly work.  After all, the author's - though experienced experts and perhaps even wiser than we are - primary motive in writing the book in the first place is to make money.  Nothing wrong with that, and often times we are, at the least, entertained and given some ideas that we might try out - some of which might even be of real benefit to us.  But infallible answers that categorically are the answers we seek - well, those works are hard to find.  

So here's my - tongue in cheek, sort of  - list of a few books that I would like to read next year:

  1. Magic Words - a straightforward compendium of exactly what to say to donors and funders to get them to finally loosen their purse strings and give you money.  The book might be subtitled just that:  Oh For Pete's Sake - Give Us the Damn Money Already.  I use the title MAGIC WORDS, because it so often seems that only magic will help as you try to close the deal with potential supporters.
  2. You Want Me To Do What?  Seriously?  What to say when people make inane, ridiculous, stupid, insipid and totally impossible requests.
  3. The Five Habits of People Who Know When to Tune Someone Out.  Self-explanatory, I think.
  4. OMG - One More Grant - Sympathy and advice for when you have to write just one more freakin' grant.  
  5. Dead Ends - An explanation - in plain English - as to why you won't get the job or the promotion that simply doesn't exist.
  6. Playing to Empty Seats - a dystopian novel as to the future wrought by technology and the internet. 
  7. Why You Say Yes, When You Should Say No, and No, When You Should Say Yes - an attempt to explain why our brains seem to be hardwired to screw ourselves on a regular basis.
  8. We're Working On That - an explanation of why real progress on equity seems to move at a snail's pace.
  9. Everyone's A Leader Doesn't Mean No One's A Follower - why the notion that everyone is a leader only makes sense, if, at times, we're all followers too.  
  10. I'm Ok, You're Ok - the Rest of Them Are Nuts - The truth about everybody you know.
  11. The Corporatization of the NonProfit Arts - the truth about the similarity of some of our organizations and the wider corporate world, including the non-essentiality of the staff rank and file.  
  12. Relentless and Endless Storytelling - an examination of decades of fighting just to protect the status quo of the NEA.

Next year is very likely to be as crazy and turbulent, if not more so, than this year.  Still, there is always hope, and, for some inexplicable reason, I remain optimistic -- although I often feel like this line from the Paul Simon song, America:

"'Kathy, I'm lost' I said, though i knew she was sleeping.                                                    
          'I'm empty and aching, and I don't know why'"

Wishing you all a very Happy, healthy, safe and sane New Year.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 16, 2018

What Is The Number One Reason People Leave Their Jobs?

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

Attracting, recruiting and retaining management and leadership talent to our ranks is generally recognized as critical not only to our success, but to our survival.

We benefit from a large pool of arts administration graduates and others who passionately want to work in our field.  But, like every organization in every sector, we face the prospect of losing our people.  It is one of the challenges to any organization.  What is the number one reason people leave?

It's not because of money - not because we don't necessarily pay a competitive - or even living wage, although that is an issue.  It's not because we don't offer enough opportunities for promotion and advancement - despite the fact that a lot of senior baby boomer leaders are not retiring on a previously predictable timeline and making way for the next generations.  And it's not because of too few opportunities to share decision making authority and feel as though one is having an impact - though that too is a complaint.

None of the above challenges are the principal threat against keeping good people in the fold.  According to Gallup's latest report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, a study of over seven thousand adults, the number one reason people leave their jobs is toxic managers - in other words, bad mangers and bosses.  According to the study, fifty percent of employees left their jobs "to get away from their manager to improve their overall life, at some point in their career."   

Hiring qualified people isn't enough.  Giving them responsibility isn't necessarily enough.  And paying them well isn't always enough either.  You have to create a working environment that, more than anything, demonstrates to them that they are valued and respected; that their contributions make a difference; that they are crucially part of a team.  That takes constant reinforcement.

Smart leaders, managers and administrators know the following are key to grooming and keeping talent - both leadership and rank and file:

1)  Employees should always be counted on the "asset" side of the ledger, and not considered as merely "expenses".  In other words, you've got to treat the organization's people as human beings, each one an individual with differing needs and situations.  Be empathetic and concerned, not just with the job they are suppose to do, but with their careers, and to a reasonable extent their lives.  Caring about your people must be genuine; it can't be faked.  If the organization doesn't seem to really care about them, why should they really care about the organization?

2)   Always accentuate the positive - focus on what your people are doing right and what they are accomplishing, rather than their shortcomings and mistakes.  Set a tone within the workplace ecosystem that values your people, not one of constant criticism.

3)  Giving credit and making sure everyone knows the contributions of your people is important and appreciated.  Acknowledging and honoring people is an easy and simple thing to do, and reaps huge rewards in terms of job satisfaction and motivation.  Don't skimp on touting the contributions of your people.  If saying thank you is too much to ask, then your organization is in trouble.

4)  Act like the leader your people want you to be.

Often times there is so much on our plates as leaders, so many challenges and demands, so much to get done each day, that we take for granted our number one asset - our people.  And our people include our boards, supporters, and volunteers too, and the same logic applies to treating them in ways that make them want to continue to work hard for the organization.

Make it a point today to complement the people of your organization and listen to them so as to more readily identify their genuine needs.  It should be a big part of your job.  Every day.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, December 3, 2018

Video? What video?

Once again the gremlins of technology messed with me.  The video accompanying yesterday's post made it to the blog site, but for some inexplicable reason didn't get included on the emailed version.


If you want to see the video click on the blog logo above, and that should take you to the blog site, where you can scroll down to yesterday's post, and the video should appear at the end of the post.



Sunday, December 2, 2018

What Do You Do If The Economy Goes South?

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

Economic health is a cyclical thing.  It goes from robust to decline, and back again, with some regularity.  That's due in part to the reality that the economy is largely dependent on human confidence or lack thereof, and that condition is subject to all kinds of subjective criteria - including politics and paranoia.

Of late, the stock market has been on a mini roller coaster, rising and falling, though the underlying conditions really haven't changed much.  The once stratospheric housing market is cooling off, and some say it's over.   Both of these markers may simply now be in a period of what is called "a correction".  Add to that, global trade wars have investors worried, resulting in layoffs at some affected companies.   It may be that the decade long growth in the economy, including record low unemployment, may not continue unabated for the longer term.

So what happens if the economy cools off considerably?  What will it mean?

History tells us that another recession is probably a matter of when, not if.  But how deep a recession and how long might it last?  Nobody can definitively answer those questions.

The deeper the downturn, if there is one. and the more likely, for us in the nonprofit arts, that our widespread undercapitalization situation will leave many of our organizations hurting, if not their existence threatened.  Nonprofit arts organizations continue to rely on five revenue streams: government support, foundation support, individual philanthropic support, performance or exhibition revenue from audiences and earned income from all other sources.  Earned income has never, unfortunately, been of significant size to rescue us from downturns in our other cash flow streams.  And, as we are all painfully aware, maintaining high levels of audience income continues to be challenging.

When economic conditions change negatively, government usually sees a reduction in income, and their natural response is to cut back on expenditures.  Unfortunately, for us, the arts are most often one of the early casualties of that approach.  Such cuts are rarely the same across the board.  Some states and local jurisdictions have reserves and will weather any economic downturn better than others, and so the hurt for the arts won't likely be the same everywhere, if, in fact, the economy does a downturn.

The same may be true of foundations, who will be under pressure to divert funds to a host of other seemingly more demanding and priority causes.  And in any case, foundations lack the resources to  rescue all the organizations, no matter how worthy, that may be in peril.  And individuals - at least the middle class - may feel the squeeze and be less comfortable with the same level of their previous support.

So, if there is, in the future, another round of economic hard, or harder, times, at the very least the arts may find it more difficult just to tread water, let alone continue any growth.  Again, some organizations will fare well, others will have a harder time.

Of course, the economy may stay robust and healthy for quite some time still, but it's reasonable to anticipate that, at some point, we ought to be prepared for negative changes in the economies at the global, federal, state and local levels, with perhaps great territorial variation.  Economics is not a precise science, despite the preachings of the media pundits and the financial sector experts.  Right now may be a good time to consider what it would mean for your organization were a recession to be on the horizon.

So what do you do?

First, you take a long, cold hard look at your finances and capitalization, and your budget, to see where you might be if the worst case scenario were to happen.  The prudent thing to do is consider the issue before it's on top of you.

Second, you look at your projections for income and expenses with a suspicious mindset.  You try to figure out what income on your books might not actually materialize, and what expenses might increase.  You look at what you might be able to cut if it came to that.  In other words, you need a plan, now, in case of a precipitous or even cataclysmic event.  You may have only two choices: take in more money, or spend less.  You have to figure out which approach is realistic, and will work for you the best.

Its entirely possible that many smaller and even mid-sized organizations would be faced with cuts as the only alternative.  And so very hard decisions would need to be made as to where those cuts could / should come from.  There are no easy decisions here, and both predictable and unintended consequences would need to be considered and accommodated.  We're talking about some hurt here.  No way to avoid it if it comes to that.

Third, if changes in the economy are still sometime off in the future, this is a good time to address -head on - the audience development challenges.  We know our audiences are shrinking - big time for some, a tiny bit for others.  But all of us also know that the population is accessing art across levels of platforms very different from our historical live performance / exhibition audience paradigm.  We have simply got to figure out how to capture the larger audience that exists outside of our traditional approach.  And that's only the half of it, because then we've got to figure out how to monetize any new directions we take.  You may not be able to solve this conundrum, but we have absolutely got to begin to try now.  Any progress will help to minimize the hurt if, or when, it comes.

Again, some will be ok, others will not.  So Fourth, you have to figure out where you fall - a hiccup in your affairs, or a big time problem that will threaten what you do.

Fifth, on a local or regional basis, arts organizations should ratchet up their lobbying efforts now with government, so that if the time comes, they will have already laid the ground work for making their case in competition with all the other interest groups that will want a piece of the dwindling support pie.

Sixth, ditto that approach with local foundations, and individual donors.  Conversations should be held now about what to expect in an uncertain future.

And finally, watch this very short video clip:

It is a clip of a baby bear cub desperately trying to follow its mother up a treacherous snow capped mountain to safety at an upper ridge.  The little guy has a lot to overcome.  

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is, like the little cub, stay the course and keep trying.  You
Don't Quit.

Have a good week.