Regulated Institutional Transparency Part 2

Yesterday’s article presented the concept of Regulated Institutional Transparency, which allows orchestral stakeholders to monitor the artistic, administrative, and governing components of its organization on a continuing basis by means of standardized methods…


Regulated Institutional Transparency was one component of a larger program I presented to orchestra musicians attending the 2005 ICSOM convention in San Diego, CA last week. On a fundamental level, it establishes straightforward operating procedures for musicians to gather, disseminate, and analyze organizational data they gather during administrative and board committee meetings.

Why bother?
The past few years of collective bargaining negotiations have demonstrated that the relationship between managers and musicians is approaching a historic low. In order to alleviate some of the anxiety, many orchestras have adopted programs which provide for more input in the governance process. They hired consultants to come in and help establish a dialogue between musicians, managers, and board members and design plans of action with the hope that the added inclusion of musicians would bring the stakeholders together in a positive light.

In order to establish a field for this newfound trust to grow, orchestra musicians have had to abandon some of their historical behavior patterns connected to having their workplace relationships dictated by their collective bargaining agreement. Musicians have been encouraged to take an active role in artistic planning decisions as well as assuming other administrative responsibilities. Although some organizations are still working with these programs, others have experienced some spectacular disappointments with their experiments, most notably in St. Louis and Baltimore.

Unfortunately, when those relationships break down, it inevitably comes down to one side claiming the legal authority over the other to make the final decision and in each of those cases that decision making body has been the executive board. This isn’t a surprise given the fact that the legal authority to make decisions for their respective organizations and to serve the public trust are granted to the board. It’s the historic nonprofit governance model this country has used for over a century and there’s no indication that those laws will change any time soon.

As such, when the old governance model asserts itself onto many of these newer ideas it tends to leave an organization in a darker place than where it began with musicians feeling angry for allowing themselves to participate in a program which only reinforced negative historic attitudes toward managers and board members.

All too often, people are looking for ways to abandon a system simply because it appears to be ineffective when they should be looking for ways to use the current system better. Consequentially, instead of looking to change the components of how stakeholders interact while leaving the legal authority of the governance model in tact, many in the business should find ways to use the existing system of governance in ways which are capable of producing positive results.

Why Regulated Institutional Transparency will work
More than half a century ago, in order to combat many of the abusive problems which resulted from a system of governance which granted all decision making authority to one small constituency, musicians realized there is strength in cooperation so they sought to establish themselves as a self represented collective bargaining unit. In 1962, orchestra musicians won the right to represent themselves when the Federal judicial system declared that orchestras over a certain size budget would be declared interstate commerce and therefore subject to the National Labor Relations Act.

Orchestra musicians quickly organized themselves to maximize the impact of their legally guaranteed avenue of participation; the collective bargaining agreement presided over by the National Labor Relations Board. Musicians and board members began to agree on contract language which regulated particular issues within the orchestra which had been off limits before that time.

Over time, musicians became a much more integral part of charting their organizations path. As such, they began to discover that they had a very real need to pay closer attention to what goes on within the ensemble besides what happens on the rehearsal stage.

For better and for worse, that system has served the business up to our current time. Regrettably, many in the business, managers and musicians, have forgotten just how effective a collective bargaining agreement really is with regard to improving and maintaining relations between stakeholders.

Regulated Institutional Transparency uses the existing framework of governance tempered by a well written collective bargaining agreement to require greater involvement from all parties without also exposing them to unnecessary risk (and the ensuing destructive fallout).

If musicians falter on their part and don’t maintain continual involvement in observing organizational behavior and analyzing institutional data then they will likely discover that their options to alter what they perceive as a dangerous course of action or defend against abrupt confrontation will be few if any.

Managers and board members will discover that allowing the musicians contractually mandated access to a continual stream of organizational information will have the capability to identify positive efforts and offer their support toward institutional goals.

In the end, this program won’t eliminate disagreements, furthermore, there will always be negotiations and both sides will continue using the services of legal counsel. But it will foster an environment capable of creating the necessary conditions for a positive culture to flourish within the entire organization. In short, it relies on maximizing the benefits of the current form of governance which all nonprofits utilize.

In this case, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, everyone simply needs to make the wheel work better.

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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