Jargon Ahoy!

One of the more interesting byproducts of the League convention last week was the level of frustration among some managers over whether or not recent rounds of reductions in expenditures were temporary or fixed. According to most attendees I spoke with, there was a strong aversion to words like “restoration” and “temporary;” in fact, serious efforts were underway to begin crafting new jargon to avoid those terms…

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Brace yourself for new economy newspeak.

Along those lines was the question “What do you call a temporary reduction in pay when you aren’t certain that it will be temporary?” Well, traditional nomenclature would call it a good old fashioned pay cut but that’s too harsh for what I like to call “new economy newspeak.”

Back in January, I published an article that outlines recommended steps toward approaching the difficult conversations related to concessionary bargaining. One of the key components was related to the process of Strategic Foresight:

RESTORATION: a closely related component of concessionary strategic planning is forecasting when the organization will return to previous levels of artistic expenditures (or at the very least, why that was rejected by all parties after consideration).

Since publishing that article I received a few notes from orchestra executives and managers railing against the notion that the idea of restoration is considered a recommend practice so much as recommended.

But here’s where the issue becomes murky. When I talk to executives about why they have issues with including restoration as an important component in concessionary bargaining, it always circles around to the old notion of structural deficits (which is really just more jargon for setting artificial limitations). The danger here is that some executives are allowing sudden, difficult changes in revenue streams to impact long term decision making processes before finding out what the “new economy” really is (or if it even exists).

Perhaps even more concerning are executives using current economic conditions to justify flawed structural deficit arguments. In these times, one of the most damaging activities an orchestra can carry out is to embrace diminished business models without first determining that the problems aren’t the result of an ineffective board and/or executive leadership. Unfortunately, that’s not something many institutional leaders have the courage to explore so the next time you read about an orchestra that wants to re-evaluate business models, core operations, or some similar terminology check to make sure they’ve done the hard work first.

If not, ask why…

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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