At The NJSO, Is It The Chicken Or The Egg?

An article in the 2/8/06 edition of the New Jersey Star-Ledger by Willa J. Conrad reports that after more than eight months searching, the New Jersey Symphony Board is having trouble identifying a finalist for the position of president & CEO. The article goes on to report that the organization believes one of the contributing factors to this problem is the lack of a well thought out, long term strategic plan…

Last week, I published an extensive examination of the long term strategic plan designed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and concluded that one of the critical components for determining whether or not the plan will be successful is the capability of the executive leadership. In Dallas’ case, the strategic plan was designed in large part by their president & CEO, so it’s easy to understand why the same individual would have more of a vested interest in the plan than if it was something foisted upon him without any input.

As such, I was initially puzzled by the NJSO’s position that in order to attract an acceptable candidate they need to design a strategic plan. My reaction was that any executive capable of sincerely leading the organization out of its financial hole would want to put together their own plan. Developing a plan and hiring someone to “implement” it would tend to attract candidates who fall into the operation oriented category of executive managers. These folks tend to make excellent general managers but not such great executive leaders. More often that not, they turn into overpaid “yes-men” who aren’t worth the Lexus’ they drive.

The article does report that the organization realized that candidates may have been scared off due to the severity of their financial situation as well as a lack of cohesive vision among internal executive managers. If developing a strategic plan serves to unite their vision then I could see how using it might help attract a capable executive leader. At the same time, it could also spark some fierce infighting among current managers and the last think the NJSO needs right now are more holes in executive leadership positions.

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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