The Cost Of Fear And Hubris

Last week, the Kennedy Center’s executive leadership decided to set aside established stakeholder relationships and strike out on its own by unilaterally declaring that most employees would be laid off or furloughed within a week’s time. Health care would be terminated one month following the official layoff date if the shutdowns continued. Fast forward to today and it’s a very different story.

When announcing the cuts at the very end of March, Kennedy Center president, Deborah Rutter, emphasized all union employees (musicians, stagehands, etc.) were included and these cuts would be implemented in one week’s time.

Rutter doubled down on that position during a March 30 teleconference call attended by approximately 200 administrative staff. On more than one occasion during the call, she made clear that union employees would be equally shouldering these cuts.

That came as a shock to the unionized musician employees, who reached out well before the announcement to say they were ready and willing to offer concessions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the musicians filed a grievance and long story short, the Kennedy Center ended up in what is likely the same place they would have if they simply sat down with their unions in the first place. According to an article by Peggy McGlone in the 4/8/2020 edition of the Washington Post, the deal provides immediate concessions and goes so far as to modify the existing master agreement one year in order to accommodate additional financial reductions.

What’s unknown at this point in time is how the new concessions will impact the non-union employee layoffs and furloughs.

It isn’t difficult to think that the Kennedy Center could have arrived at a far more equitable place for allocating concessions if it had opted to include stakeholders at every step of the process as opposed to the heavy-handed approach it ultimately used.

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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