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Process Knows Its Limits

A post on Drucker Exchange, When Process Is a Prison, got me thinking about ticket office operations. I am sure the content of the entry could be applied to a hundred things that happen every day in arts organizations, but that is what bubbled to the top in my mind.

“Procedures can only work where judgment is no longer required, that is, in the repetitive situation for whose handling the judgment has already been supplied and tested,” Drucker wrote in The Practice of Management. “In fact, it is the test of a good procedure that it quickly identifies the situations that, even in the most routine of processes, do not fit the pattern but require special handling and decision based on judgment.”

I pretty much started the trajectory of my arts management career in the box office a couple decades ago. Since then the rules governing exchanges, returns and other transactions have seemed to move from matters of policy and procedure to matters of judgement. These days having a ticket office manager you can trust to make good judgments on behalf of the organization is as, if not more, important than their technical ability to troubleshoot the computer system you are using to sell your tickets.

Granted, box office operations are probably technically more a matter of policy than procedure, but Drucker’s general sentiment applies.

The ticket office has always been viewed as the first place of contact with customers where good manners and efficient processing of orders is prized. But now customer service interactions are almost more important than the product being sold, given customer expectations and their ability to almost instantly report their disappointment to 1000 of their closest friends.

Consistently providing good service doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone equally because everyone views their situation as special and may expect you to have some degree of awareness of those circumstances. This is why customer relationship management (CRM) software is viewed as so important by businesses at large (though you wouldn’t know it when you call your cable or cell phone provider). Many arts organizations don’t have the resources to support sophisticated CRM software so human judgment and good note keeping becomes all the more important for them.

Perhaps my perception of the change is based on the fact that I have gradually moved into a position of generating the policy rather than enforcing it and I am a big softy. But I suspect there are many others who will confirm that things have changed from the 70s and 80s when it was “No Refunds, No Exchanges, No Exceptions” for non-subscribers. Now it is more akin to “No Refunds, No Exchanges, Except for the Exceptions.”

As Drucker is quoted, the best procedure recognizes those times that are exceptions to the procedure. I think that some times changing environment requires you to recognize that it is no longer useful to maintain set policies and procedures in favor of general guidelines and good judgment.

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Quirky Little Trick For Monetizing Creativity

A post yesterday on the Drucker Exchange blog caught my eye instantly. How could it not when it started (my emphasis),

The story is told that when Peter Drucker was asked how to become a better manager, he replied: “Learn how to play the violin.”

This was, apparently, Drucker’s way of saying that the best managers and knowledge workers are excellent critical thinkers, creative and open to learning new things—just a few of the attributes that, according to a recent article in Time, seem to be in increasingly short supply among recent college graduates.

…The magazine cited several surveys showing that large and growing numbers of job applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” or are weak when it comes to “communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.”

The article goes on to cite Peter Drucker saying that lack of social skills shouldn’t be the biggest disqualifier for a position because you are hiring them for their brains, not to act as a social director. It goes on to quote Drucker encouraging companies to hire someone based on the strengths they bring where the company is lacking rather than trying to hire to the job description.

But the entry later quotes a talk Drucker gave where he says the employee needs to be responsible for managing themselves. (this link isn’t the talk, but an article Drucker wrote on the topic.)

“For the first time in human history, we will have to take responsibility for managing ourselves,” Drucker declared during a 1999 talk he gave in Los Angeles. “This is probably a much bigger change than any technology, this change in the human condition. Nobody teaches it—no school, no college—and it will probably be another hundred years before anybody does teach it. In the meantime, the achievers . . . will have to learn to manage themselves, to build on their strengths, to build on their values.”

Drucker may be right that these skills are not taught directly in schools, but some part of them are required in the practical activities of performing arts classes. Teamwork, goal setting, communication, vision, deadlines, it is all there and is ultimately tested when the curtain goes up. All these things can be learned in a classroom or by participating in activities of your local theatre/dance/music ensemble.

(Though certainly recognition of and building your own strengths and values is always going to be something you have to develop on your own.)

There is a question of whether performing arts students are being properly prepared to perform and work in the new modes of expression and communication that will emerge in the future. Because we don’t know what those modes will be, the question is really more about instilling flexibility and creativity of thinking as well as a degree of entrepreneurship.

But is it enough? We keep seeing articles like the one in Time magazine cited on The Drucker Exchange or whenever people reference the IBM study where CEO valued creativity as crucial to ensure the future of their companies.

And yet an ever increasing number of standardized tests are administered every year despite the fact that the only standardized test you are regularly required to pass as an adult is your tax return. And they have software and people that will help you out by soliciting information from you.

The arts aren’t the sole source of creativity in the world, and the CEOs in the IBM study weren’t specifically looking for creativity as it manifests in the arts, but it seems like there is a huge unmet need out there and maybe arts people need to sit down and figure out how package it for Fortune 500 companies if they are so desperate for it.

It probably can’t be done in the same fashion as in college art classes. Drucker is right when he suggests that there is no formal way to teach soft skills. You can’t put together a 40 hour course on being creative and issue certificates confident at having instilled the ability in your pupils.

And yet, people commit acts of creativity every day. Some times with as much effort as it takes the grass to grow, other times with much angst, but with the knowledge and confidence that they are capable of it.

But it seems that finding a method to monetize effectively teaching/instilling creativity is about the only way these days to convince people not to dismiss liberal arts as a pursuit and that there is a Way of learning that does not embrace standardize testing.

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Passion vs. Engagement

The Drucker Exchange quotes an article in Bloomberg Businessweek claiming “truly passionate U.S. employees” make up “a scant 11% of the workforce.”

My first reaction was to wonder if the arts had a higher percentage of passionate employees than most sectors. The Drucker Institute piece mentions the responsibility of the employee to essentially manage their own careers because companies won’t do it for you.

But it also mentions the need for companies to provide an environment which allow passionate people to thrive. This has been a frequent topic recently in respect to the work-life balance employees at arts organizations seek in addition to their desire to make a difference.

“And yet, for all this, Drucker also recognized that it wasn’t simply a matter of employees seizing responsibility. It’s up to their employers to provide the systems and processes and culture for them to be able to do so. Heavy-handed, top-down organizations—those that “rest on command authority,” in Drucker’s words—don’t create the right dynamics for passion.”

When I looked at the Bloomberg article, I was intrigued by the distinction they made between a passion and engagement.

What’s the difference between passion and engagement? Employee engagement is typically used by organizations to figure out if workers buy into the company’s goals, if they like working for their manager, if they find the company sensitive to work/life balance issues, etc. That serves companies well when they want to scale and have workers “engaged” in the task necessary to expand their particular corporate silo.

The passionate worker—the metaphor Deloitte employs is “the passion of the explorer”—are those who view new challenges as opportunities to learn additional skills. That attitude becomes essential, the consulting firm maintains, because the typical work skill will be outdated within five years. “These people are driven to develop new skills at an ever rapid pace and are thrilled by it,” Hagel says. “Passionate people are the most agile.”

Once you think about it, engagement is a different aspect of employment from passion. You can feel engaged by your company and the environment and opportunities you find in your work, but not necessarily be passionate about advancing your skills and knowledge.

An engaged person could advance within the company by performing excellently, but not necessarily advance the company the way a passionate person will.

But a passionate person may not necessarily advance in the company hierarchy. Bloomberg cites the Andon Cord on the Toyota assembly line which any line worker can pull to stop the line and gather the workers when there is a problem.

Like Toyota though, a company needs to create an environment and culture in which passion is valued.

The end of the Bloomberg article notes that those in marketing and management were more passionate than those in accounting and customer service, as were those making more than $150,000.

However, the Toyota example shows that it can be cultivated at all levels of an organization. (And, one hopes, at arts salaries.)

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Your Personal Board of Directors

The Drucker Exchange has an animated interpretation of a speech Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last) delivered in 2009. The speech is titled “Ten To-Dos For Young People” but I am pretty sure it is good advice for people of any age.

The first thing Collins suggests is getting a personal board of directors where the members are chosen not for their accomplishments but for their character. These people don’t necessarily need to know they are on your board of directors.

This struck me as an oft overlooked aspect of personal development. We are often told to find mentors and network to advance our careers, seldom does the character of these mentors and the necessity of moral and value guidance get mentioned.

People in the arts often need this type of guidance because establishing a career is so difficult and subject to so many conflicting pressures. It is not only a matter of whether you appear nude in an “art film” to pay the rent but also the question of whether you are a sell out if you faced with an opportunity for commercial success. Are you a bad person for choosing either of these paths? Professional mentors may not provide the same advice as personal mentors.

He also proposed examining yourself as objectively and dispassionately as a scientist would a bug. Just as a scientist doesn’t make judgments about how the bug would be better bug if it only worked harder or learned more, you should just look at yourself as you are at this moment and simply catalog the features you and others observe.

I thought this was especially apt advice for people in the arts since so much self evaluation is derived from qualitative, often emotionally based criteria. Detachment can be difficult to achieve, but the results can be both valuable and comforting.

Although I have often heard the advice to perform objective self-evaluation and had it compared to a scientific approach, I found it helpful to be reminded that a scientist doesn’t generally wish the insects they are observing were as fast as cheetahs and intelligent as dolphins. They hunker down and try to discover what the bug can teach us about the world.

I also liked Collins advice to look at your statement to question ratio and see how you can double it. He says he was once told that he was spending a lot of time trying to be interesting and that perhaps he should shift his effort toward being interested.

Now I will say that while there is that stereotype of the self-impressed artistic type who makes statements about the “true meaning” of something, I think this is part of the learning process. Often these statements are just an attempt to test one’s view of the world.

I think everyone is allowed to be an unsufferable egoist for while to work themselves out. The problem arises if you don’t realize this is a method of learning and not the default mode of social interaction.

Collins advice is apt both personally and professionally as a method of teaching yourself how to learn from everyone you meet. I think this dovetails well with my post last week about the importance of asking audiences and the community about their experience with the arts rather than telling people what their experience will or should be.

Finally, (and if you have been counting, you know I have covered fewer than 10 points–watch the video it is only 4:30 minutes long and a cartoon for goodness sakes), Collins advice is to find something that you have so much passion for you are willing to endure the pain.

If you are involved with the arts, you have probably already made this decision. Even if Collins wasn’t thinking specifically about the arts when he said this, the animation team was and depicted this point with a ballerina dancing and then massaging her feet.

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