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Do You Underestimate The Customer’s Journey?

Inc Magazine recently had an article of 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask. As you might imagine, there was a lot in the list that have relevance to non-profit organizations.

Some deal with topics that continually arise in conversations about the arts like relevance; allowing a pursuit of funding to divert the organization from its mission; and what metrics are being used to define success.

1 How can we become the company that would put us out of business? -Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group

2 Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten? -Debra Kaye, innovation consultant and author

52. If our company went out of business tomorrow, would anyone who doesn’t get a paycheck here care? -Dan Pink

6. What trophy do we want on our mantle? – Marcy Massura, a digital marketer and brand strategist at MSL Group
Massura explains, “Not every business determines success the same way.Is growth most important to you? Profitability? Stability?”

7. Do we have bad profits? -Jonathan L. Byrnes, author and senior lecturer at MIT
Byrnes explains, “Some investments look attractive, but they also take the company’s capital and focus away from its main line of business.”

8. What counts that we are not counting? -Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and head of global hospitality for Airbnb
Conley explains, “In any business, we measure cash flow, profitability, and a few other key metrics. But what are the tangible and intangible assets that we have no means of measuring, but that truly differentiate our business? These may be things like the company’s reputation, employee engagement, and the brand’s emotional resonance with people inside and outside the business.”

Others focus on customers/audiences.

10. Are we paying enough attention to the partners our company depends on to succeed? -Ron Adner, author and professor at Tuck School of Business
Adner explains, “Even companies that execute well themselves are vulnerable to the missteps of suppliers, distributors, and others.”

17. Which customers can’t participate in our market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions? -Clayton Christensen, author, Harvard Business School professor, and co-founder of Innosight

21. Who, on the executive team or the board, has spoken to a customer recently? -James Champy, author and management expert

32. Do we underestimate the customer’s journey? -Matt Dixon, author and executive director of research at CEB
Dixon explains, “Often, companies don’t understand the entirety of the customer’s experience and how many channels may have already failed them. They don’t understand that the customer goes to the website first, pokes around but can’t find the answer to their question, and then tries to start up a chat with an agent, only to get frustrated by the delayed response. Only then do they go to the Contact Us tab and call. From the company’s perspective, the call is square one. The customer sees it as, you’ve already wasted 15 minutes of my time.”

62. Do we say “no” to customers for no reason? -Matt Dixon
You may have created your customer policies at a time when you lacked resources, technology wasn’t up-to-snuff, or low service levels were the industry norm. Have those circumstances changed? If so, your customer policies should change to

Number 17 needs no explanation. I actually was somewhat reassured by the fact that for-profit business faced the same challenges about education/skills, access and wealth that non-profit arts organizations do.

I was drawn to #32 because it is so easy to be unaware of all the hurdles a customer faces when dealing with you.

Number 62 also strongly grabbed my attention because it emphasizes the need to constantly revisit and revise your policy. It had particular significance to me because I recently discovered that a practice I assumed was due to technical limitations was erroneous, and was in fact just a matter of history and habit. As a result, we will be selling new subscriptions two weeks earlier this year than in the past.

Number 10 I read both as not giving customers what they need to have a successful experience, but related to partners and colleagues as well. Are you paying attention to the health of businesses you depend on as well as that of other arts organizations in the community? Even if they are doing fine, could more clearly communicating your needs to them lead to a more efficient outcome for both of you? Could mutually beneficial partnerships result, strengthening both organizations?

Some of the question were focused on strengthening your company internally in terms of thinking, planning and self/employee development.

3. If energy were free, what would we do differently? -Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
Hsieh explains, “This is a thought experiment to see how you would reconfigure the business if you had different resources available or knew that different resources would one day become available. Another question might be, what if storage was free? Or what if labor costs half as much or twice as much?”

9. In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return? -Robert Cialdini, author and professor emeritus of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University

16. If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently? -Adam Grant, author and professor at Wharton

22. Did my employees make progress today? -Teresa Amabile, author and Harvard Business School professor
Amabile explains, “Forward momentum in employees’ work has the greatest positive impact on their motivation.”

37. Am I failing differently each time? -David Kelley, founder, IDEO

The last one about embracing failure is a familiar topic of discussion even in the arts community today.

These last few (though there are many like them in the article) remind business leaders to be introspective of themselves and their companies. It is easy to overlook things like the change that made the biggest impact, or even attribute the impact to something else unless you stop and think about the true source. Certainly paying attention to progress of employees is one way small changes can manifest as big impacts over the course of a few months.

Perhaps the toughest of these last handful of questions is #16 because it challenges you set aside your ego in order to be a more effective leader.

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Care and Feeding of Arts Workers

There was a good example of the importance of good leadership and management in the context of orchestras in a recent post on The Drucker Exchange.

Although the post starts out using the example of basketball teams, it ends up citing Peter Drucker’s observation that as a knowledge based institution,

“A great orchestra is not composed of great instrumentalists but of adequate ones who produce at their peak,” he wrote in Managing in the Next Society. “When a new conductor is hired to turn around an orchestra that has suffered years of drifting and neglect, he cannot, as a rule, fire any but a few of the sloppiest of most superannuated players. He also cannot as a rule hire many new orchestra members. He has to make productive what he has inherited.”

The passage in Managing the Next Society that is quoted is preceded a few paragraphs earlier with “In a traditional workforce, the worker serves the system; in a knowledge workforce, the system must serve the worker.”

Orchestra musicians may not appreciate being characterized as “adequate,” but they all know that their ensemble thrives as a group, not on the specific talents of each individual. It is the music director or similar leader who often creates the environment which allows the whole to thrive.

This is much the case in arts administration staffs. There are very few superstars that multiple organizations engage in a bidding war to woo away. (Though I grant it might be helpful to have more exemplars people strive to be. Drew McManus can’t bear the adulation by himself.)

Most arts organizations are staffed by adequately skilled employees who are on the cusp of becoming great with the help of the right management of their talents and work environment. Some of that management is probably going to require better pay and professional development opportunities. It may also require scrutinizing organizational culture, shifting job responsibilities and revamping the physical work environment.

While the focus of all this seems to be on identifying good leaders and managers who will point the way to success, recall that Drucker points out that the workforce has to generally be left intact. They are the core resource of the organization with which the leader must work.

Knowledge workers aren’t like gold fish which will thrive if fed and put in a bigger, cleaner fish bowl. Dealing with them is far more complicated. It is by their will and agreement that success occurs.

A good leader or manager is merely one who perceives how to best structure the system to serve the workers. A leader shouldn’t conflate their ability with the value of the organization. Ultimately, audiences will come to see a bad orchestra before they come to see a music director in an empty room.

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Don’t Forget Leadership and Teamwork

I was helping out a local high school by conducting mock interviews with their students today. I enjoy doing this because the school does a great job preparing the students for the experience. I often don’t realize just how nervous the students are until the sweaty palm handshake as they depart. The last student I spoke to was applying for a position as a nurses aide and I was pleased to hear him talk about how his experience as the section leader in his band conferred leadership and conflict management skills. I made sure I complimented him on mentioning that and coached him about mentioning it in future interviews. (My interview partner who was not an arts person did so as well.)

It occurred to me that when I have read about the benefits of the arts recently, leadership and teamwork didn’t seem to figure largely in the lists. Given the recent push that education make someone employable, it is probably important that it be emphasized more.

I did a quick and, by no means exhaustive, survey of articles listing the benefits of arts education and found that my suspicion was generally true. Many talked about the cultivation of very desirable traits like intellectual and emotional development, flexibility of worldview, judgement, problem solving, expressiveness and ability to anticipate consequences.

In our desire to justify ourselves by identifying some distinctive advantages conferred only by the arts and creative expression, we seem to have forgotten some basic benefits a high school kid can cite. Speaking of which, while we are touting these benefits, it probably behooves us long term to make sure high school kids who are having these experiences can cite the benefits.

The intellectual and emotional development advantages frequently referenced are often individual achievements. Leadership and team work are assets in the social sphere and warrant inclusion. It may seem of little consequence now, but I suspect there is a fair chance that in the next 10 years technologically induced anti-social/introspective tendencies may be be deemed a crisis and these qualities will be highly prized.

This all being said, there are a lot of benefits to arts education and it is tough to list them all. If you are looking for a list to keep handy, here are some great ones. (A couple which list leadership and teamwork). Again, these are some I personally find helpful rather than an exhaustive list.

Americans for the Arts
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Artsblog post by Kristen Engebretsen

Feel free to add a few of your favs in the comments section.

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Arts And The Four Year Career

An article recently posted on the Fast Company website talks about how transitory people’s jobs, and increasingly, career paths, are.

“According to recent statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970s…Statistically, the shortening of the job cycle has been driven by two factors. The first is a marked decline in the “long job”–that is, the traditional 20-year capstone to a career. Simultaneously, there’s been an increase in “churning”– workers well into their thirties who have been at their current job for less than a year. “For some reason I don’t understand, employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to,” says Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton”

Given the idea that arts organizations need to be more nimble in the current fast changing environment and that corporate CEOs value creativity in leadership, it made me wonder if arts organizations might not be able to take advantage of this trend by creating mutually beneficial employment situations.

Essentially, if there is going to be a lot of employment churn, the arts might be able to benefit in both the short and long term by making sure a jaunt in the arts is included in a person’s itinerant career path.

Arts organizations experience a fair bit of turn over in their employees. (In fact, I will bet that is what you thought the title of the entry referenced.) It may be worthwhile to hire people without backgrounds specifically in the arts into positions. Since you are probably just as likely to have to replace a person with arts background as someone who doesn’t, you aren’t overly wasting time and resources by hiring and training someone without industry experience.

The potential benefit to the arts organization is introducing some new ideas and practices to the organization. The employee gets a broader experience to add to their hodgepodge resume which may make them more marketable. (Needless to say, the work environment must be such that it accepts the former and confers the latter.)

Of course, as the article mentions, the trick is to separate those who are really driven in their pursuits from the dilettantes. Arts organizations in general aren’t particularly well skilled in those type of human resource practices. It would be worthwhile to have someone on the board with the ability to provide those services in some form, even if you have no intention of ever hiring a person without an arts background.

In the long term it could be helpful if businesses started to identify arts organizations as a good training ground for the skills they seek in employees to the point where it was as de rigueur on a resume as extra curricular activities are on a college application. It also wouldn’t hurt if the experience engendered an appreciation in the arts in the transitory employee that they will carry on to positions creating business or government policy.

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