As we all know, last September was the onset of the stock market slump which ultimately led to the current economic downturn. Endowments shrank, pension funds dwindled, and at all but a few right-minded organizations, panic driven decision making guided 2009/10 season planning. Well, that season is upon us and for what it is worth, we can brace for impact…
But don’t expect the landscape to be littered with institutional collapse in the form of grand crashes punctuated by gargantuan fireballs. Quite the opposite. Outside of a few exceptions, you’ll feel some tremors and hear muffled sounds in the distance but that’s about it. The panic driven planning for 2009/10 all but guarantees that outcome.
Why? Because too many organizations planned for this season without incorporating enough flexibility into their operations. Think of it like a season-long self fulfilling prophecy, “things will be bad so we had better plan for the worst.”
Okay, to a point I’ll certainly advocate a better-safe-than-sorry approach but the really smart managers, even those who might also be excessively cautious, realize that they need to be on the lookout for signs that things might not be as bad as anticipated. They’ll also be wary of “good news” reports coming from peer groups that cut so much out of their budget and set their goals so low, it is all but impossible to miss.
Consequently, the one word that should be on every manager’s mind this season is flexibility. Not flexibility as it typically applies to labor concess…er…relations but flexibility with regard to making last minute improvements to artistic and other mission based program activities.
The Bottom Line
If your season consists of C-grade soloists and masterworks concerts stuffed full of whatever you have in the library that doesn’t require extra players or additional rehearsals then it is safe to say that you’ve cut back on artistic programming as much as you can (if not too much already). It is easy to stay isolated behind a wall of economic paranoia and reduced operational activity but good managers will remain vigilant against this sort of apathy and work to bring about opportunities to get back on track.
On the upside, if revenue performance surpasses expectations then there’s plenty of room to beef up artistic and mission based program activity in the midst of the season. Just because it isn’t in the season brochure doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Will that require more work and last minute operational activity? Sure, but it’s worth it.
In order to help promote that sort of flexibility, a few things will need to take place:
- Increased institutional transparency. Yes, we talk about this all the time but it is needed now more than ever. Everyone is going to have to open up the books for candid examination. If things are doing better than expected, can some of that revenue be redirected toward restored programmatic activity during the 2009/10 season?
- It will be a hectic season for guest artists. Soloists and other guest artists (especially those who were cut on short notice) need to be willing to work on very short notice (and a flexible fee schedule) in anticipation of improved revenue performance at some orchestras.
- Anticipate a longer than normal planning process for 2010/11. Unless your orchestra is in a good enough financial position to institute traditional levels of artistic planning, plan for making some decisions later than normal.
- Increase communication. Tear down as many silos as possible between departments and use increased transparency to help everyone be more efficient; the more key employees know about revenue performance, the better.
If your business plan consists of “let’s wait and see what happens” without also putting into place frequent review periods accompanied by firm revenue performance benchmarks, then you’re kidding yourself and everyone around you. You should expect 2010/11 to be pretty much the same as 2009/10. Fortunately, you don’t need to allow post traumatic collapse disorder ruin your career, remain vigilant and take advantage of every opportunity to reinstate what was lost.