Are We There Yet?

My Arts Journal blog neighbor, Andrew Taylor, posted a fascinating blog yesterday about using indicators, in the form of a “dashboard” to monitor your success. But how does an organization, or even individuals, select the indicators they should use…

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that was wondering this as Bill Harris, the systems dynamics expert I’ve been working with throughout 2006, sent me an email detailing his thoughts on this concept:

“One interesting question to ask along the lines of dashboards is how you know the likely implications of the indicators you pick. In our model, musicians picked economic survival and (relative) prosperity, and they used teaching as a key lever to keep the indicator in the green zone.”

The model Bill is referring to is something the two of us developed to help explore methods to improve the sustainability of the classical music business using systems thinking. You can find links to that model and read more about the project here.

Ultimately, all of this is really dancing around issues of mission and purpose and whether or not organization, such as orchestras, are selecting the proper indicators to use when monitoring the organizations health and success. As such, the board of directors may have very different ideas about what constitutes success when compared with the music director or the musicians, not to mention the administrators.

Furthermore, which group of stakeholders will ultimately determine the point when an orchestra has reached a destination? All of this makes me wonder how many groups out there this season are falling victim to the old saying “We’re making great time, but we’ve got no where to go”.

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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