Strike Day +1

The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) officially went on strike yesterday and the event was covered in all of the local traditional media outlets. Among those, Mark Stryker at the Detroit Free Press published what has to be one of the most useful articles about the dynamic impact of work stoppages I’ve ever seen. It focuses on the very same topic we examined here last week: trust…

Stryker’s piece is particularly interesting because it adds a unique component from Robert Mnookin, head of the Program of Negotiation at Harvard Law School. That name should be familiar to some in this business since Mnookin is the same professional who worked with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to get past their strike in 1996.

The article reports Mnookin suggesting an approach that focuses on having both sides understand different perspectives.

“Of course, everyone will have a narrative about the past, but there’s always a narrative on the other side, and helping parties understand there are different perspectives can be constructive. The challenge is to get beyond posturing.”

What’s interesting is how that approach might apply to both sides in the DSO standoff. For the executive management and board, it might concern a need to expand the comparative frame of reference.

“This staff and board have been consistently direct, honest and transparent with our musicians,” she said. “I think the players often simply don’t like what we tell them.”  – Anne Parsons, DSO President and CEO.

This perspective pops up quite often in labor disputes but it fails to realize that transparency is only the beginning of a more comprehensive process to examine the circumstances which led to the current results. This is a difficult and often painful process so it’s no surprise that it’s one most boards and executives are happy to overlook.

But if the goal is to maintain (or rebuild) enough trust to see positions from different perspectives, the parties involved have to respect one another. And one of the best ways to initiate that respect is to conduct a thorough and independent institutional analysis.

On the musicians’ side, it is a realization that perhaps the concept of artistic excellence can be influenced as much by workplace satisfaction as salary and benefits.

“The bottom line for us is, we want the artistic quality of the orchestra to stay the same or get better,” said Haden McKay, an orchestra cellist and the players’ spokesman. “The cuts are so deep, it’s really going to damage the quality of the orchestra long term.” [source: 10/4/2010 New York Times article written by Dan Wakin]

At the heart of differences between musician and management proposals is whether or not the agreement contains restoration, or a return to previous levels of overall compensation and artistic activity. Although orchestra musicians traditionally associate a competitive recruitment status, and therefore artistic quality, with the quantifiable benchmarks of salary, benefits, and number of weeks per season there is a real need for groups to determine what other quantifiable items can be added to that list which sincerely impact competitive advantage and workplace satisfaction.

Ultimately, the situation in Detroit isn’t as simple as “here is where management is wrong and here is where the players are wrong.” Moreover, attempts to boil it down to equal shortcomings and virtues deny the complexities and history involved; nonetheless, Mnookin is right on the money when he was quoted as saying “When parties don’t trust or believe each other, effective negotiations become much more difficult.”

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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1 thought on “Strike Day +1”

  1. Drew,

    You and Mnookin have hit the nail on the head. The parties involved have to get beyond posturing and positions. I have a list of top ten negotiation tips that I always remind myself of every time I get into a negotiation situation (it’s actually what I mostly do for a living – but if you think about, we all negotiate something numerous times throughout the day – whether its with a spouse, a child, the boss, a car salesman – well you get the picture). Here’s a list of my top ten negotiation tips that have been helpful to me…

    1. Know yourself and own your power.
    2. Do your homework.
    3. Separate the people from the problem.
    4. Build trust.
    5. Distinguish between interests and positions.
    6. Consider your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement)
    7. Silence is golden.
    8. Pursue Fairness.
    9. Only one person can get angry at a time.
    10. Congratulate the other side after agreement is reached.

    Even if this doesn’t help the Detroit situation, perhaps we can all use them to help us in our daily lives.

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