At best, Bad PR. At worst, Dysfunctional Organization.
Here is a situation for you managers, board members, consultants--anyone interested in organizational analysis. It contains conflict, power, harassment, an Executive Director revolving door, inability to influence. . .
The Seattle Times reported a story titled Vandalism, threats strike sour note in Seattle
Symphony. If you want to join in the organization analysis, read the full story and we'll continue.
Got it? We need to start with one assumption. Since we don't have the ability to go into the situation and do a proper diagnostic, let's first take the report at face value. Looking at some common diagnostic areas, here's what we might surmise:
The governance/management situation seems out of balance. Does the structure actually support a strong Executive Director or does the Board make all of the managerial decisions? The allusion to a 56-2 vote would indicate the latter, although on issues of Conductor tenure the Board would, in fact, be the deciding body. If all decisions are taken in that manner it would be more difficult to get a new coffee machine for the musicians' lounge than it would to have a small country admitted to the European Union. If I'm reading this correctly, are there really at least 58 people on the Board? Nice perk for big donors, unwieldy to govern in any meaningful way.
How are things supposed to get done? Is there a system in place that allows the orchestra (musicians) to be heard on issues that impact performance, including leadership and colleague behavior? If there is, it would seem ineffective at best. I'm not sure what to make of the "survey" issue, but I can say this: It is the norm--and for most consultants an ethical "must"--to provide respondents with survey results. If the surveys are done using interviews the actual quotes don't have to be presented to protect anonymity. But the thematic issues do need to be fed back. The absence of this step discourages people from future participation ("Why bother?") and raises the question "What was so bad that we couldn't see it? (negative fantasy). "If we didn't see it, who did? And why them and not us?" The list could go on.
Note: The nature of the music world normally has musicians represented by a union. Not sure yet where their representation is on this one.
This can be a catch-all phrase. In this case, don't we have to wonder how this ended up in the newspaper? It seems that there is a clearer channel between someone(s) within the Symphony and the media than there is within the organization itself. If there is a communication system within the organization, who is responsible for accuracy, timeliness, and coordination? Does everyone get the same information at about the same time? Or are there some things left dangling so that different constituencies have to "fill in the blanks" on their own. They will. The world abhors a vacuum. In this case, the symphony may need a vacuum cleaner.
Judging from the article, the Board exercises some of the leadership normally performed by an Executive Director. Not sure why there is turnover--that would be an area to explore. Experience with similar organizations has shown me that there are inherently different focal points for the internal constituencies. The musicians are concerned about performance quality, sitting under an effective conductor, tenure, and workplace issues: travel schedules, rehearsal schedules, and administrivia that can impact them.
Boards are concerned about generating revenue, endowments, reputation, etc. They are frequently composed of donors (nothing inherently wrong with that) who are interested in the organization.
An effective Executive Director really manages the constituencies and keeps operational rules and guidelines as well as cooperative communication on track. This role is key to the healthy and successful functioning of this type of organization.
The above represents some stream-of-consciousness diagnostic thoughts, by no means complete. But let's knock off the serious, navel-gazing stuff. There are some factors here that could lead us elsewhere.
1. The issue is about the continuance of the conductor. Conductors often leave or are asked to move on after a reasonable amount of time for creative reasons. In a creative industry you just need to renew your own batteries or bring someone else in to spark the creative juices. There is a time and a season for everything.
2. According to the article, the conductor hired the Principal Horn who is a main figure in this soap opera. If the conductor goes would he go, too? One of his colleagues notes that Principal Horn has a high self-opinion but that it is justified, implying that he is a good player. (For our readers in the U.S.A., this would equate to American footballer Terrell Owens with an embouchure).
3. Principal Horn-guy is the only one being vocal about this "terrorism." The other alleged victim has refused comment.
4. Alleged acts that supposedly include razor blades and attack-by-killer-coffee-cup have not been reported to the police. But they have been reported to a reporter. I don't know about you but if I am being "terrorized," my first phone call isn't to a journalism school graduate.
And so on. Now I'm thinking:
What if this whole thing is really about trying to keep the conductor and keep one's job. What if the orchestra members don't have the kind of union representation that can actually give them collective clout when it comes to their collective wishes? What if the absence of a proven, trusted Executive Director produces enough of a leadership vacuum to allow mischief to get played out through the media instead of managed through a legitimate process.
The only thing that seems clear is that there is no honest, legitimate, and internally accountable management process to deal with this in an upright way.
The good news: Jerry Springer is tied up on "Dancing With The Stars." We won't see any white tie, tails, oboes, and flying coffee cups on our local stations.
Your armchair analysis is invited. Please don't key the blog.
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