Making Stronger Connections Through Sincerity

During a particularly long flight on United Airlines back in March, I took a moment to flip through the in-flight magazine and found an article that challenged the conventional wisdom behind traditional methods for networking…

Overall, I think the article’s author, Srikumar S. Rao, did an excellent job at outlining an irregular method for building relationships: don’t try.

I advocate a different method. The best way to form a network is not to try," writes Rao. "Don’t try to form a network or create one or build one. Instead, allow a network to spring up around you. And such a network will inevitably form around you if you conscientiously follow certain steps.

Take a moment to read the entire article and you’ll get a much stronger sense of what Rao is advocating. In general, he’s defining the value of networking by redefining the initial stages as to how relationships are approached and subsequently cultivated. Perhaps the best bullet-point piece of advice Rao offers is this:

"Your intent is key. Offer help because you believe in what they are doing, not to add them to your Rolodex."

Of particular note is how Rao’s method can be effectively implemented by orchestra managers from the executive level right down through entry level staffers. Best of all, each individual can use this method to build stronger personal connections as well as connections of the organization.

Without consciously realizing it, Rao’s networking method is something I’ve always practiced and I can attest to the fact that it has resulted in creating an unusually diverse, yet ardent, network of connections. Moreover, these connections continually evolve into opportunities to bring people together with mutually beneficial results who would otherwise never have met.

Perhaps the best part of building relationships in this way is the level of trust between individuals. Once you and your colleagues develop a strong bond of trust – both of you know the other isn’t a hollow shill or self serving pariah – you can begin building connections which become mutually beneficial for individuals and the organizations they serve.

There has never been a better time for the orchestra business to hear this message. Over the past few years, it seems there is a sense of panicked urgency to "professionalize" the business as silver-bullet solutions and high priced convention seminars appear to dominate the professional development landscape. The result is that too many efforts to develop an audience, attract board members, and build labor relations seem to be rooted more in mass-market speak than sincerity.

Besides, it certainly wouldn’t hurt this business to take a step back from the "what can you do for us?" sense of entitlement that has become all too common.

Rao

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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9 thoughts on “Making Stronger Connections Through Sincerity

  1. Drew, your posting made me think of two separate threads today.

    First, your suggestions seem related to the word-of-mouth approach explored in my TAFTO contribution (http://adaptistration.com/2007/04/tafto_2007_cont_22.html). There’s perhaps something similar about Rao’s approach to networking and getting people to care enough about an organization to spread the word through word-of-mouth contact. In both cases, it seems as if you get what you think you really want not by focusing on that as a goal but by going after something else that has intrinsic worth to them and to you. The initial goal becomes a side effect of a larger, bigger, and more valuable effort.

    Second, I read a blog posting yesterday pointing through a few chains of links to various quotations by Peter Block, a well-known organization development consultant (http://odresource.blogspot.com/2007/01/engaging-community.html). There are a number of his sayings that make me think, and a number of them may apply in the orchestral situations you mention, all prompted by your statement about “panicked urgency” and “‘professionalize’.” For example, in Block’s The Answer to How Is Yes, he quotes AT&T’s Jim Walker who, when asked what you do when you find yourself in a hole, said, “The first thing you do is stop digging.” Perhaps the closest link is his question four from that book: change the questions “How do you get those people to change?” to “What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with?” As he says elsewhere (http://www.clt.astate.edu/dwcox/Quotations.htm), “The wish for leadership is an escape from responsibility.”

    Scary? Yes. Easy? No. Right? You have to decide that.

  2. It seems to me that there’s also a direct correlation to Jim Collins’s description of “Level 5 Leadershp” from his book _Good To Great_. I’m far from expert on the subject, but as far as I can tell the core of Level 5 Leadership is working selflessly to help the people around you and the organizations you’re a part of or believe in do better rather than seeking personal glory. The result is that you build up a great organization around you that in fact can ultimately benefit you as well. As Bill says, “The initial goal becomes a side effect of a larger, bigger, and more valuable effort.”

    Collins also has interesting things to say about the drive to “professionalize” oranizations in the social sector: “We must reject the idea–well-intentioned, but dead wrong–that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business.’ Most businesses–like most of anything else in life–fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great. When you compare great companies with good ones, many widely practiced business norms turn out to correlate with mediocrity, not greatness.”

  3. Interesting points Galen. My take on the part of Collins’ book you referred to has more to do with relationships within an organization and Rao’s piece struck me as having more to do with individual relationships between people who do not work together. Nevertheless, I think those are all good perspectives.

    I’m glad you mentioned the point about how organizations in the social sector conduct business. I’m posting something tomorrow along those lines.

  4. Galen, good connection. For those who may not have seen it, it sounds as if you’re referring to Jim Collins’s monograph _Good to Great and the Social Sectors_, published in 2005 and subtitled “Why Business Thinking Is Not The Answer.”

  5. I agree with you on the intended scope of what Collins is talking about in his book–what I find interesting is that it seems that the principles he’s talking about are transferrable to this other arena.

    Or, to look at it from the other direction, the act of networking is the creation of a sort of virtual organization, and the usual flaw in its design is that all of the individuals are trying to use the organization for self-aggrandizement. But by recognizing our network of contacts as a virtual organization and approaching that organization from the Level 5 perspective we can make the network function better for everybody. Arguably, thinking of networking contacts as “people who do not work together” limits the potential for what those networks can do.

  6. Galen, it seems to me that organizations sometimes fail to maintain that level 5 perspective is when people panic. I think organizations face a challenge when they think they’ve been trying to make the network function well and perceive they’re not getting anything back fast enough to keep them afloat. Desperate people and organizations can become possessive.

    >From when I worked at Hewlett-Packard Company, I recall Dave Packard’s focus on profits, not as an end in themselves, but as a means to achieve the other ends they had. One of those other ends included “making a contribution”: doing things that made a difference in the world. Their goal was to add enough extra value so that customers would gladly pay a bit extra for their products, and that enabled them to get the profits to do the other things they wanted to do.

    I’m not about to suggest (especially on Drew’s site!) that orchestras raise ticket prices, but I wonder how we continue to decide to add value effectively to the network when we also perceive we’re in trouble. I’ve got an idea, and it involves “shifting loop dominance,” but this is already getting too long. Thoughts?

  7. Bill — Clearly you’re right about people and organizations in panic-mode slipping into bad or sub-optimal business pracices. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself any number of times, and it’s a hard trap to get out of.

    Your followup question is terribly important, but I’m afraid I don’t really have any smart ideas that are direct answers to it at the moment. One thing I would suggest, though, is that much of the time orchestras need to worry not so much about adding “enough extra value so that customers would gladly pay a bit extra” but rather about doing a better job leveraging the value that they already have. It’s also important to recognize that the most significan way in which people “pay a bit extra” is not in increased ticket prices but in charitable giving, which in many ways serves as a means by which a core group of patrons voluntarily pays higher prices. From my perspective one potentially smart strategy is to actually lower ticket prices in order to make the existing “product” easily available to a larger number of people, and then try to leverage the larger customer base into additional revenue from other sources — more patrons means a larger donor prospect pool, it also makes you a more attractive advertising venue, and there are probably many other revenue sources that I’m not thinking of.

  8. Galen, I think we’re largely in agreement on this. By shifting to lower ticket prices and potentially making the “product” more attractive to a larger group, one might make other feedback loops dominate the behavior of the “system,” and that might help orchestras get more income overall.

    I’m not sure that’s true, but it sounds attractive. That is one of the things you can test, much as I tested the idea of TAFTO in the computer model I did for the recent TAFTO series (http://adaptistration.com/2007/04/tafto_2007_cont_22.html). Such a model doesn’t provide conclusive proof, but good data, good models, and good simulation can add insight and reduce the risk of being wrong. It would be an interesting exercise.

  9. Drew-

    Thank you for posting this article. I have forwarded it to many friends and it’s amazing, the responses. It seems that many people share the thoughts contained in the article and find it distressing when they come upon those who are making connections for the sake of “connecting”.

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