Fixing Industrial Strength Unhappiness

There’s a terrific, if not sobering, report in the 1/13/2013 edition of The Chronicle of Philanthropy by Jennifer C. Berkshire (h/t Thomas Cott) which reports that more than half of VP level Development professionals would like to quit.

One in four nonprofit leaders is so disappointed in fundraising at his or her organization that the last person in the job was fired, according to a new national study to be released this week. And milder frustration is rampant: One in three executives is at best lukewarm about the person now holding the top development job.

Adaptistration Guy 041It’s no secret that development is one of the most demanding positions in the orchestra field today and Berkshire’s report does an excellent job at examining the degree of frustration as well as its source. In short, much of the unhappiness stems from conflict and/or poor communication in one form or another with the CEO and board members.

Although there are always two sides to every story, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to begin identifying workplace satisfaction troubles before they become so crushing that half of the field’s fundraisers want to quit?

And what if there were an opportunity to do exactly that along with consulting support and it didn’t cost you or your organization a dime? Would you jump on the opportunity?

You might think the no-brainer answer here would be “YES!” but you might be surprised to learn that interest in improving workplace satisfaction is a low priority in the field. In fact, workplace satisfaction would have to work its way up to be considered a low priority since far more often than not, CEOs and executive committee members spurn it as they would a rabid dog.

Berkshire’s article is timely in that over the last month, Adaptistration has teamed up with workplace satisfaction toolmaker TINYpulse to provide three free months of workplace satisfaction tools and consulting support for one professional orchestra’s administrative and musician employees.

A simple application was published on 12/18/2012 and open to any and all professional orchestras open to three simple ideas:

  1. Sincerity. Have a genuine desire to identify and implement improvements capable of bringing about positive change. As TINYpulse says on their website, don’t try their service unless you’re committed to change, share, and act on what you learn.
  2. Commitment. Be willing to invest the necessary time resources to work with myself and TINYpulse in order to properly design, implement, and measure TINYpulse metrics.
  3. Transparency. Be willing to allow your peers access to the process via a series of articles here at Adaptistration.

Guess How Many Applications Have Been Submitted

Zero. That’s right, not a single application.

Although this may not be surprising to some, it should still be enormously disappointing. When directly encouraging executives and board members to apply, there always seems to be a critical reason for putting off any efforts geared to measuring and improving workplace satisfaction; even efforts that are completely subsidized.

  • Discredit: “Measuring workplace satisfaction is nothing more than giving employees an opportunity to complain.”
  • Deflect: “We’re focusing on [insert annual administrative task here] right now, maybe another time.”
  • Deny: “Yes, our morale is low but there must certainly be other groups out there who need this more than us.”

And my personal favorite for most ironic:

  • Dulcify: “We just instituted pay cuts so now isn’t a good time. Perhaps later, after we give folks a raise.”

If Not Now, When? If Not You, Who?

If the above reasons seem silly to you, that’s a good thing; it means you’re proactive and willing to improve an area of this field that has been disregarded, to our collective detriment, for decades.

Consequently, if you’re a CEO or board member and the above reasons seem silly, it’s doubly good and you should talk to your fellow leadership team about applying.

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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4 thoughts on “Fixing Industrial Strength Unhappiness

  1. Great article Drew and this sentiment seems to line up with my own personal experiences.

    When my horn playing became relegated to part-time and got a day job, the thought of a cultivated work environment quite frankly blew my mind.

    At first I was taken aback and I was suspicious of employee programs dedicated towards improving workplace satisfaction. Having been bred over 20 years in the classical music trade, I was not accustomed to such a thing. I had more-or-less wired myself for mistrust, and the idea of transparency seemed very foreign indeed.

    If only symphony orchestras had similar, transparent missions for their interior culture and vision, such as where I work now:

    Rio Salado Research and Planning

    (Thanks for giving us a little hope with TINYpulse.)

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