Harvest, Build, And Destroy – Part 3

Part 2 of this series included examining the goals for developing a system whereby the musicians in any given orchestra can maintain an ongoing active participation in organizational affairs without that work overloading their artistic responsibilities.  One astute reader wrote in with a wonderfully concise summary of the goals:

“The ultimate goal seems to be to give the musicians and their negotiating committees better information in real time, so they don’t get caught off guard or have to do a lot of catch-up at negotiation time.”

That summary is right on target, but the devil is in the details and the details for this concept are related to the design and implementation stages of creating a successful system capable of sustaining itself.

Step 1 Identifying the minimum requirements
Ideally, each group of musicians will have ample labor and time resources but the reality is that each group will need to develop a structure based on what’s available at hand. In order to obtain and analyze the minimum amount of necessary non artistic information about the organization, the musicians will need to have at least one representative on each of the following administrative committees:

  • Executive (usually comprised of the executive board members and the executive director)
  • Board
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Development
  • Any other ad hoc or specialty committees

The amount of participation each representative musician has in each of these committees would be determined by their individual orchestra.  However, it’s a good idea for most musician representatives to simply observe the meetings, take notes, and retain copies of all handouts. 

It should be expected that the musician representatives understand that some information may be sensitive and is not available for public distribution, however, that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from participating in meetings or retaining hard copies of information.

Step 2 Identifying the representatives
In order for any orchestra to get a system up and running, they will need to identify two or three members of the orchestra who have a unique combination of the personal characteristics needed to deal with the natural stresses of working out the bugs in a new system, for example:

  • The ability to handle multiple responsibilities simultaneously, especially during those times of artistic hyperactivity (lots of long services within a short period of time).
  • Existing knowledge of administrative issues (finance, governance, etc.).  In lieu of prior knowledge, any individual with a natural interest toward these issue and also possesses a short learning curve would be a good candidate.
  • Political savvy.
  • Currently maintain professional respect among the majority of their fellow musicians and managers.
  • Possess the fortitude to see a situation through past challenging times.

Each group of musicians will need to determine whether or not they want to allow the same individual to serve on multiple representative roles.  

Step 3 Electing representatives
Each orchestra should allow their entire membership to participate in the election process, in particular, smaller budget orchestra which do not maintain a core of 70 musicians or greater should not exclude the per service musicians.

Ideally, each group of musicians should dedicate a portion of one of their annual membership meetings to allow for nominating representatives and taking a vote (a voting system which allows for 100% participation is recommended).

Each committee representative should have at least two candidates; not so much from the point of view of identifying one individual who may be better suited than another so much as establishing someone to serve as a replacement if the primary representative is unable to follow through with their duties (wins a job elsewhere and leaves, medical or family emergencies, etc.).

The second representative should receive the same training and be involved in the coordination, review, and analysis efforts (detailed below) as much as possible.
Step 4 Develop a training program
Each representative should know exactly what is expected of them and how they need to go about fulfilling their duties before they ever participate in their first committee meeting.  They should understand that if they are allowed to actively participate in committee discussions they are still representatives for their fellow musicians and, as such, can not offer a definitive musician opinion on any specific item without first consulting with their fellow musicians.

Ideally, each representative should use the same template for taking notes and writing up a summary report which will be distributed to the other representatives and the musicians at large.  Having multiple pairs of eyes examining any given issue will allow less of an opportunity for something to slip by unnoticed.

Representatives need to know which pieces of information are critical in a report and then use a word processor template to create a formal, uniform written account of each committee meeting.

On a quarterly basis, each group of representatives should meet in order to compare notes and analyze the unprocessed information. The goal of this exercise is to identify existing or potential critical issues which deserve further scrutiny or immediate action.  This analysis should result in allowing the appropriate musician representatives (such as the orchestra or players committee) to approach management for further information or to express a collective opinion between committee meetings.

In order to achieve uniformity among representatives from year to year, the founding members need to create a written procedural guidebook capable of perpetuating this system of “real time” observation.

Step 5 Create a system of annual review
The most difficult stage in establishing this sort of system is simply getting it established.  Each group of orchestra musicians will encounter a host of unique variables which will influence how they proceed.

Nevertheless, it is important that each group of musicians take the time to create a written system of operating procedures and provide their representatives with the tools and training they need in order to make the program as effective as possible.

To this end, each group of representatives should meet at the end of each season to review their procedures and make changes in their written procedural guidebook.  The guidebook should be revised and edited as needed from year to year.

Of course, the real issue is establishing a system like this and getting it working past the first few seasons. 

Some orchestra musicians undoubtedly have a fundamental structure similar to this already in place but others do not.  In either case, the musicians should not be adverse to bringing in outside help in order to assist with the initial stages of understanding the benefits of such a system, electing representative, and establishing written documents and training routines.

Once a system is in place and running for a season or two the results will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the resulting contract negotiation.  As the system develops and matures, the musicians will begin to discover that some of the stress and anxiety involved with negotiations will be diminished.

In the end, the musicians will learn to harvest the resources among their own membership, build procedures aimed at obtaining and analyzing organizational information, and destroy the opportunity to act in bad faith.  The outcome will produce better management/musician relations, produce a win-win environment, and allow the organization to reach its maximum artistic potential while simultaneously fulfilling its mission objectives.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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