TikTok As A New Employee Training Manual?

Daniel Pink made a tweet today that I immediately bookmarked so I could go back to it.

I hadn’t noticed at the time that this was year-end summary type article that reviewed the best advice entrepreneurs had given in 2020. There are a lot of interesting bits of insights covered here, some of which are more applicable to arts organizations than others.

The “What Would Your Replacement Do?” question referenced in Pink’s tweet was one of those with broad application. It refers to a mental exercise Upstart co-founder Dave Girouard would use to keep himself from getting too complacent:

…what would happen if tomorrow my board got together and fired me,” says Girouard….And if they bring her in and she starts at Upstart — what would she do differently than what I’m doing? I think about that for a while, and then I tell myself, ‘Why the hell aren’t you doing those things?’ It’s just this weird game I play to get myself to recognize that while I’m doing some things okay, I can be lulled into a place of feeling good about myself when I’m probably not doing some other things very well.”

The first bit of advice on the list caught my eye because it was a list of 40 questions to ask on interviews. The list is obviously written for the commercial sector and pretty heavily geared for start-ups there were still quite a number that would easily suit non-profit arts.

Things like: “What’s something that would only happen here but wouldn’t at other organizations?”, “When you’ve done your best work here, what about the culture has enabled you to do that?”, “What would 1:1’s be like with my direct manager? What types of topics would we discuss?”, “What is the title of the most senior underrepresented person at the company?”

“If I asked your investors what they’re worried about, what would they say?” –this one caught my attention because I immediately thought to replace “investors” with “board” which got me thinking about how well the organization might be communicating issues with the board and if the board was paying attention.

An article about Job To Be Done (JTBD) also caught my attention based on the statement: “People don’t simply buy products or services, they ‘hire’ them to make progress in specific circumstances.” This is often the case with people and arts and cultural experiences. People value the experiences across multiple dimensions.

Sunita Mohanty, who was interviewed for the article said she often uses the following prompt in relation to product development.

Which she says translates into the following: “Peloton JTBD: When I need an option to workout, but I can’t go to my favorite studio, help me to get a convenient and inspiring indoor workout, so I can feel my best for myself and my family.”

Off the top of my head, the way this might translate for an arts situation might be: “When I am seeking opportunities to spend time connecting with my family and friends, but I have trouble identifying places we feel completely welcomed, help us see ourselves and our stories so we feel acknowledged and valued in the broader community.

There is a lot of really valuable advice about hiring, evaluation, office culture, and diversity and inclusion listed in the article. As tempted as I am to cover them all, I don’t want to make this post super long. Many of the ideas intersect with other posts I have made or other articles that are out there.

But one idea that never came to my attention before was use of asynchronous video tools as a form of communication and new hire training.

In the early days of building Drift, I was using WhatsApp all the time. It was easy to record and send videos quickly. And so I started to communicate to my senior leadership team mostly asynchronously through video and audio messages,” says Cancel. “If we have a problem, we’d make a quick video on what we sucked at, how we fixed it, the results, and what we learned.
But Cancel has also noticed other benefits. “It allowed me to really think through what I was saying, versus just getting in a room with someone or having a back and forth in text messaging or a phone call,” he says. “It was the sharing aspect that really made it an effective tool for us — all of a sudden we had old videos on different topics that we could share with people who were starting their journey at Drift in their onboarding process…getting everyone focused, and helping folks understand why we were making decisions, giving us an ability to be transparent in a way that we couldn’t before.”

Given that so many people feel comfortable making videos of every little move they make, this struck me as a pretty viable practice in arts organizations and one that might even inform creative works.

Going Corporate

Drew McManus came out with a really strong entry in his Shop Talk podcast today. He talks about transitioning from a non-profit arts career to a commercial career with guests Marc van Bree and Ceci Dadisman, who shifted from orchestra/opera to companies which handle e-commerce shipping and real estate, respectively.

Some of what they say is a little hard to hear. Van Bree and Dadisman talk about the lack of investment/mentoring in employee skill and professional development in non-profits and the low tolerance/preoccupation with failure and mistakes. While this can definitely be attributable to lack of resources and the recording could support a plea to funders to allow money to be used in this area, the guests suggest there are fundamental practices non-profits are failing at that no expensive CRM can fix.

While he was reluctant to use the word “regret,” van Bree said he wonders how much further along in his career he would be if he had started in the commercial sector rather than non-profit.

As the conversation moves on the guests, acknowledge that a corporate environment can be extremely toxic and pretty callous, especially when it comes time to “right-sizing” the employee base. Van Bree makes the observation that work culture follows results, not the other way around. Ping-pong tables and free beer won’t yield great results, but great results can create a positive work culture that doesn’t need ping pong tables to feel fulfilling–a situation which is not exclusive to either commercial or non-profit environment.

The conversation turns toward the difference between an entity focused on creating value vs. generating profits. In the commercial world the latter can manifest in a company whose focus is to look so good on paper they get bought out. Things can go to hell quickly if the company isn’t bought out–and can go to hell immediately after the buy out when that impetus is removed.

Near the end Drew asks what his guests felt they brought from the non-profit world that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Both mentioned that having a broad skillset, both theoretical and practical, and vocabulary that allowed them to speak the language of other departments was something that their colleagues who had been on a more narrowly focused track didn’t possess. (Though Van Bree says knowing how to fix everything and being tempted into doing it may have gotten him in trouble a couple times.) Van Bree said that having to interact with so many different non-profit stakeholders from audience to board members provided him with a very broad range of social skills and savvy.

There is a lot of really poignant reflections and observations made so it is worth paying close attention as you watch/listen. Especially if you are a sci-fi/fantasy fan and understand the Star Trek and Lord of the Rings metaphors at the end which are particularly spot on.

One quibble I did have with the guests comments. After Van Bree wonders about his career path had he started in a commercial career, he suggests that had he gone into non-profits in his 60s after a commercial career it would have been an atypical career arc. I actually think it is all too frequent a path and may be the cause of some of the non-profit arts world’s current woes. So many times we see someone appointed to the top executive position of an arts organization having come from health care, energy sector or other corporate environment.

Dadisman and van Bree said they face some skepticism transitioning to commercial jobs about whether they had the capacity to work at that level, but there doesn’t seem to be the same barriers for people going straight to the executive suite of a non-profit without much prior experience in the field.

I am increasingly beginning to believe that may be adversely impacting the artistic missions of many organizations.  While protecting monied interests from being offended has always been a factor, in these times when the importance of equity and inclusion has been brought front and center, I have observed two separate executives violate their most publicly stated core value about equity in the face of very mildly controversial content (i.e. akin to child perceiving parents divorce is their fault when the facts may be otherwise). Even when this lack of consistency has been pointed out, they stick to their decisions and then continue to publicly announce their core value about equity without any sense of irony. I feel like this comes from a very corporate focused cover your ass and keep repeating slogan mentality.


Two Shows, Three Trucks

I was talking with an agent for some Broadway show tours this week in order to get a sense of what things might look like for productions in Fall 2021/Spring 2022.  I was intrigued to learn that they were considering sending out two shows in repertory.

What that means is the same cast and crew rehearse so they are capable of mounting two different shows. This was once a common practice in theatre, and is still not terribly uncommon, especially among Shakespeare festivals.

I have seen some smaller touring productions offer this option, but never heard of it on the scale of a Broadway touring show. Given that you can do so much with projections these days, they can cut down on built set pieces to allow the tour to go out with the same number of trucks a Broadway tour of a single show would.

I am not sure if this is the right solution, but this is the first group I have spoken with that seems to acknowledged that times have changed and touring productions need to adopt new approaches.

This offers an opportunity to be more responsive when it comes to routing a show. Usually the tour of Show A will have one schedule and tour of Show B will have another schedule. It doesn’t help either me or the production company if Show A is touring near me but I want to see Show B.  The repertory approach means they can send one tour out and perform one show 150 miles away and then another show in my venue.  Since they are only sending one tour out with one set of cast and crew, there is a potential to save money vs. sending the two shows out separately.

If they were particularly well-organized and a venue had the space to shift and store things, they could feasibly do one show one night and the other show the next night and have the labor costs involved in doing so be economical for the venue.

How this might impact the quality of the show and the production values people expect, I don’t know. It is absolutely possible to execute a high quality experience with the investment of enough attention.

I suspect the first year or so of post-Covid touring will be an environment that will see even tours of single productions stumbling to find their footing and how well they handle that will be the biggest factor in the success and quality of their product.

Maybe They Could Increase Residency By Offering A Pastry Of The Month Subscripton?

A little bit of amplification of my local community today. Next City ran an article on the Mill Hill artist village that is developing in one of Macon’s original neighborhoods, Ft. Hawkins. The project is a partnership between Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, Macon Arts Alliance and the Historic Macon Foundation which has developed renovated houses once used by mill workers into artist housing.

They also turned the auditorium building that once served the mill community into an activity space which includes a large industrial kitchen which is being used by a baking collective, but is also available for hourly rental on a more casual basis.

The industrial kitchen was installed as a result of interviews done with the local community when the project had barely been conceived. People had mentioned their mode of creative expression was related to food and that they were running businesses out of their home kitchens.

When the project first began, the people behind what would become Mill Hill worked with the local Roving Listeners group. They went door to door in 2015 for six months, getting stories from people. This included talking with people at Davis Homes, a 184-unit public housing development down the street from Mill Hill.

“We weren’t even talking about a forthcoming project,” Olive says. “It’s pretty common for development projects to go in and say, ‘We’re going to do this planning effort. We’re going to have community meetings. We’re going to do this.’ And it’s all sort of framed around ‘because we’re going to do this project in the future.’ And really, with the Roving Listeners phase, it wasn’t through any lens. It was just knocking on people’s doors.”

They recorded people’s stories and compiled some of them along with photos in a book called “Heard on the East Side,” distributing it to residents. They also referred back to those conversations when creating the Mill Hill master plan, which was completed in 2018.

Currently, there isn’t a lot of occupancy in the artist village. Of the seven houses that have been restored, only one has been purchased by a private individual. One the Arts Alliance owns for use by its artist-in-residence. As those interviewed for the article indicated, there hasn’t been a lot of marketing done to make people aware of the spaces. As a result, they haven’t reached a critical mass of interest.

I will confess to possibly contributing to that. When I was looking to buy a house around this time last year, I was seriously considering some of those houses but the fact listings indicated they had been on the market for over a year raised concerns about how easy it would be to resell a house if I decided to move.

However, one of the great benefits those houses have is that they are located right next to a pedestrian and maintenance gate into the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. It is basically a private entrance into an historic site with miles of walking & biking trails which also hooks up to an expanding community trail.  I used that entrance a number of times when I was living in Macon’s downtown. Even when the historical park is closed, you can pick up the community trail about 1/4 mile away.

I should also mention that the houses are pretty nice with a lot of open space making them well suited for studio use.

While the houses might not be occupied, the former auditorium space gets used a lot for events, classes and meetings of all sorts. The kitchen the bakers used is HUGE and well-equipped. The best events are those which show off the talents of those bakers.

So overall the project definitely has potential for great growth and is something worth watching.

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