Star Employees Don’t Automatically Become Star Managers

Last month in Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote about how the most productive employees don’t make the best managers.

Of the seven qualities they had listed in a previous article as being important for a top producer, only one, collaboration, overlapped with the qualities found in good managers.  They note that most of the seven qualities of a top producer are focused on individual effectiveness whereas a manager needs to be outwardly focused.

The top qualities they list for good managers (the article expounds on each in more detail) are,

  • Being open to feedback and personal change. ..
  • Supporting others’ development. ..
  • Being open to innovation. …
  • Communicating well. …
  • Having good interpersonal skills…
  • Supporting organizational changes…

When we further analyzed our data, we found that many of the most productive individuals were significantly less effective on these skills. Let’s be clear, these were not negatively correlated with productivity; they just didn’t go hand in hand with being highly productive. Some highly productive individuals possessed these traits and behaviors, and having these traits didn’t diminish their productivity.

But this helps explain why some highly productive people go on to be very successful managers and why others don’t. While the best leaders are highly productive people, the most highly productive people don’t always gravitate toward leading others.

All this is important to know because often people who are most productive are promoted to managerial positions on the belief the person can bring out the same productivity in others. But they don’t always do well in that role because it requires a different skillset to achieve success.

Instead of promoting an effective producer and hoping they will learn managerial skills, Zenger and Folkman suggest cultivating those skills while people are still an individual contributor. They say like anything, developing good managerial qualities takes time and businesses often expect good results pretty quickly after a promotion. They note that organizations which are good at identifying and promoting successful managers have often been providing training and opportunities over time.

New managers tend to be overwhelmed with their new responsibilities and often rely on the skills that made them successful individual contributors, rather than the skills needed to manage others. The time to help high-potential individuals develop these skills is before you promote them, not after.

All of this is obviously good advice for non-profit arts organizations. Except that it can be easy to fall into thinking that with so much turnover due to low wages and long working hours, the work you do developing an employee’s skills is just going to benefit another business.

While this may be true in the short term, I submit it is worth considering that the lack of internal training and cultivation may be partially contributing to the perceived dearth of quality candidates to succeed executive leadership. If employees don’t feel there the organization is interested in them assuming a greater role, that is one more incentive to leave.

It may be the result of the small sample size available to me or a trending bias of boards of directors doing the hiring, but over the last few years it has seemed that executive positions of many arts non-profits are being assumed by people with backgrounds in health care or corporate world. This seems to especially be the case with arts organizations of significance like arts councils in mid to large cities or serving well-populated regions.

It has left me wondering if this is the result of a lack of qualified candidates from arts disciplines, or as I suggest, a bias of those doing the hiring.

Probably The Only Time Comic Sans Is Appropriate In A Planning Document

Back in February CityLab covered an effort by residents of the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, MN to get people invested in contributing to the Small Area Plan for their neighborhood.  This was in part driven by the experience the Frogtown Neighborhood Association voted to refurbish an historic theater in town but the mayor choose to direct the money to a police shooting range because the theater wasn’t in the neighborhood’s small area plan.

Because Small Area Plans, like strategic plans tend to be dry documents that get put on a shelf never to be consulted, the Frogtown Neighborhood Association were determined to make their plan a living document with which people interacted. They did this by placing the plan and the feedback they received from hundreds of residents into the framework of a comic book.

What I admire about the document is that they create 8 characters who are experts on major areas of concern like land use, housing, transportation, education, arts, health and wellness, economic vitality and resource allocation.  They make each of these people representative of different demographic segments like long time residents, house owners, apartment renters, kids, married couples, single college grads, etc.

By doing so they put a face and connect expertise to different people in the neighborhood so it is more difficult to dismiss people as gentrifiers or cranky malcontents standing in the way of progress.

They reiterate their goal quite a few times across the book to employ design thinking to “Sculpt our community into a mixed income, arts, entrepreneurship and education centered urban village.”

Because it is a planning document it is still pretty text heavy, but this is an example of what is contained within the book.  As I sort of implied before, you could probably do worse than applying this approach to your strategic plan.


The Broadway Box Used To Be Such A Nice Neighborhood Til Those Non-Profits Moved In

Rob Meiksins had a piece on Non-Profit Quarterly that discussed what the non-profit Second Stage Theater’s recent ownership of the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway might portend in terms of economic and production models since Broadway theaters have long been commercial enterprises.

Second Stage Theater becomes the fourth non-profit currently producing in a Broadway stage. Meiksins wonders if this represents a growing trend that will break over 100 years of history for Broadway.

In addition to this being an interesting topic to ponder upon, I wanted to point the article out because Meiksins takes the time to explain the difference between Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, Regional Theater and Community Theater.  If you aren’t really familiar with the theater world, this can help you understand a little bit about these terms. Though there are further gradations, especially in regional theater, that even theater people can be confused about.

Meiksins goes into a bit of the history of how each of these classifications emerged from a desire to offer alternatives to the preceding structure. In some cases it was a matter of geography—development of significant institutions outside of NYC. In other cases it was a matter of pushing creative boundaries.

Often the differences between each category are economic. I was interested to read that non-profit theaters with revenues in excess of $5 million gain more than 50% of funds through earned ticket revenue while those with budgets below $5 million depend more heavily on donations.

The challenge for non-profit Second Stage Theater operating in a space classified as a Broadway house with the attendant higher union pay rates and staffing is,

….nonprofit theater companies like Second Stage have to rely much more heavily on ticket sales to offset the higher expenses they are incurring in these large, formerly commercial venues. Although they are far more accessible price-wise to the average theater-goer than a Broadway show, they are still far more expensive than the average Off-Broadway house. This is also reflected in the TCG report which indicates that larger theaters had a lower than average subscriber renewal rate: subscribers were not returning for another year at the same rate as they do for less expensive houses.

There is an implication that the additional presence of a non-profit entity producing within the “Broadway Box” may represent a shift away from the commercial content on Broadway toward quality fare with a more focused agenda. Another article mentioned that Second Stage summer 2018 production of Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee at the Helen Hayes Theater will mark the first time a play by an Asian-American woman has appeared on Broadway.

It may be difficult to imagine interest in the big splashy productions like The Lion King, Wicked and the upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ever waning to the point that additional Broadway venues are sold to non-profit companies. However, it bears remembering that the biggest hit in recent Broadway history, Hamilton, transferred to Broadway after being wholly funded and developed at the very non-profit Public Theater.

There are a number of other differences between typical Broadway productions and non-profit theater that aren’t covered in the article that can serve to illustrate how significant a trend toward non-profits might be.

For example, Broadway productions are typically funded by investors who theoretically have an opportunity to recoup their money if the show does well versus non-profit productions which are supported by donors and ticket revenue (as I am sure most readers are probably aware.)

There is also a continuity that exists from year to year and production to production in non-profits whereas, other than the person with the keys to the door, commercial Broadway theaters start from a blank slate when a new show moves in to the space.

Somewhat unspoken in all this, except in the title of the Non-Profit Quarterly article,  (Nonprofits On and Off Broadway: The Search for Enterprise Models), and some oblique references, is that there is a potential for a new hybrid business model to emerge from all this activity.

It wasn’t so long ago that the hot topic on arts blogs was basically “What’s so great about non-profit status?” There was quite a bit of discussion about alternative organizational structures and business models. While the conversation has largely settled down, the need for options hasn’t disappeared.

Can Your Organization Afford Empathy?

For about a month now I have been pondering a post Seth Godin made about the limits of empathy and how it might apply to customer relations in an performing arts setting.

In the context of a customer who wants a refund on a car purchase after a broken limb prevents them from driving, Godin writes,

But empathy doesn’t require you to reach into your pocket because the customer has rewritten the terms of the deal and is undermining the business you’ve built to serve others.

Instead, it means that you can see his pain and that you’re completely okay with this person not buying from you again. That through the mist of pain and percocet, it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t have the reserves to be empathic to you, that he can’t see it through your eyes. And you probably can’t force him to.

So empathy leads to, “I hear you, I see you, and if you need to walk away, we’ll understand. We hope you’ll see it the way we do one day, but right now, I can’t solve your problem.”

We have occasionally had situations where people feel we should give them a refund for a performance that has occurred due to situations where they chose not to attend. Some times it was because they decided it was too cold, it rained too hard or because their road hadn’t been cleared two days after it stopped snowing. None of this providing an impediment to hundreds of other people. Other times there are some strong indications that they want a refund because they decided they wanted to do something else.

I am not sure how often Godin’s scenario of people wanting a refund on a car because they broke an arm actually happens. The reality is, people do have the option of doing something other than participate in an arts and cultural activity and often exercise that option. We can’t necessarily be philosophical in the way we respond to requests for refunds in the face of this reality.

One alternative is to have so much business that you are okay if a person chooses not to buy from you again.

We are all experienced with this type of scenario. Drew McManus just experienced that this past week.

In the context of Godin’s post, Drew was trying to rewrite the terms of the deal –pay a penalty if you want to change or cancel. It’s right there in the reams of small print you acknowledge when you buy the ticket. In American Airlines’ mind, it would be undermining the business they have built to serve others if they just let anyone cancel or reschedule.

On the other hand, not to excuse these policies, this summer American Airlines wanted to give pilots and flight attendants a pay raise outside of contract negotiations in recognition for a difficult time employees faced during the merger with US Airways and Wall Street sent their stock plummeting.

““We are troubled by [American’s] wealth transfer of nearly $1 billion to its labor groups. In addition to raising fixed costs, American’s agreement with its labor stakeholders establishes a worrying precedent, in our view, both for American and the industry,” J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker wrote

So the fact that empathy is apt to be punished might be contributing to a cascade effect in corporate/organizational culture.

Perhaps one positive result of many arts organizations being small enough that they worry about losing customers even over ridiculous refund requests is that there is a tendency to treat constituents with a higher degree of empathy than they would receive elsewhere. Perhaps working on providing that can become something of a competitive advantage for some organizations.

There are no clear prescriptive answers to the type of refund requests I mentioned earlier. Each has to be addressed as they present themselves with the understanding that we may or may not damage our relationship with someone in the process.

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