Fine Line Between Collaboration And Exploitation

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic this past July about how the Navy was working on crewing ships with a few generalists who would handle many jobs rather than many experts focusing on a narrower range of functions.

At first, when they were talking about everyone being cross-trained to fill a number of different functions, I started thinking it was a good example for a post about eliminating siloed job functions in arts organizations. Basically the idea that everyone has some role in promoting shows, interacting with audiences and donors, etc., rather operating as if these things were solely marketing, front of house and development department jobs.

But as I looked at some of the examples they were providing, I realized there was a pretty thin line between eliminating silos and trying to get fewer employees to juggle more responsibility.

The article mentions Zappos

…famously did away with job titles a few years back, employees are encouraged to take on multiple roles by joining “circles” that tackle different responsibilities.

Which sounded to me like an attempt to cross-train people and eliminate silos. But in the same paragraph used the example of SkyWest airlines:

…looking for “cross utilized agents” capable of ticketing, marshaling and servicing aircraft, and handling luggage.

Which sounds more like trying to hire one person to do four jobs. Granted, Zappos may be doing the exact same thing and just found better framing language to describe it.

This is not to say there isn’t some validity for this to increasingly become a model for employment in the future, whether it feels collaborative or exploitative. The article notes that automation is causing the list of what skills are important for future employees to acquire to be revised at increasingly shorter intervals.

Testing conducted by the Navy seemed to indicate that people who were able to quickly notice a change in situation and re-prioritize tasks were better suited for their plan to crew ships with generalists than people who contentiously completed their tasks.

This group, Hambrick found, was high in “conscientiousness”—a trait that’s normally an overwhelming predictor of positive job performance. We like conscientious people because they can be trusted to show up early, double-check the math, fill the gap in the presentation, … What struck Hambrick as counterintuitive and interesting was that conscientiousness here seemed to correlate with poor performance.


The people who did best tended to score high on “openness to new experience”—a personality trait that is normally not a major job-performance predictor and that, in certain contexts, roughly translates to “distractibility.” To borrow the management expert Peter Drucker’s formulation, people with this trait are less focused on doing things right, and more likely to wonder whether they’re doing the right things.

High in fluid intelligence, low in experience, not terribly conscientious, open to potential distraction—this is not the classic profile of a winning job candidate. But what if it is the profile of the winning job candidate of the future? If that’s the case, some important implications would arise.

The concept that short attention spans and lack of follow through are a winning combination for employability may depress a lot of readers. You may be interested to learn that quite a bit of stuff broke down on Navy ships that were crewed in this manner, requiring repairs by civilian contractors or adding about 20 people to the ship crews.

However, this doesn’t mean that the idea is unworkable. There is a good chance the concept will become viable with a revised design of the ship operating environments and crew training.

What is interesting about the article is that it presents adaptability and contentiousness as complementary skillsets, at least for the moment. Which is good because our mental capacity to juggle distinct streams of information and make decisions diminishes as we age.

IMPORTANT: Changes To Music Licensing May Impact Any Performance At Your Venue

Some important information about changes to music performance rights came to my attention today and I wanted to share it with readers.

Apparently the consent decrees under which ASCAP & BMI operate are up for review by the Department of Justice. The public comment phase is ending on Friday, August 9.  You can find out more about the consent decrees on the MIC Coalition website.

Basically, because ASCAP & BMI operate akin to monopolies, they and other performing rights organizations (PRO) are limited as to what they are able to do when licensing performing rights. They want these limits loosened. You can provide feedback to the Department of Justice here.

Even with these limits, dealing with these companies is often confusing and criteria seems inconsistent. Many have felt they were forced into purchasing broader licenses than they needed.

Today I received a huge flurry of emails urging myself and others to oppose the loosening. I was confused about why there was this sudden urgency when the public comment phase opened at the start of June. I started to wonder if there was an effort to create a huge sense of urgency by rallying support at a late date. Especially since there were initially few details provided about why one should voice their opposition.

Come to find out, the reason is that a large number of organizations across the country received revised licensing agreements from BMI this week containing some alarming changes. There is some suspicion they timed the mailing to hit toward the end of the public comment phase.

Here is a page of the agreement that is causing the biggest uproar.

In section 1 (g), terminology has been changed from “Gross Ticket Revenue” to “Gross Revenue.”  According to the new definition, in addition to ticket sales, calculation of a fee will now be based upon revenue from sales on the secondary ticket market, service charges, handling charges, VIP packages, advertising revenue, box suites, sponsorships, merchandise, concessions and parking.

So essentially, if you have a sponsor for your show; sell VIP packages, merchandise, food, and charge for parking, all that gets factored in to what you pay BMI rather than just ticket sales as was the case in the past.

From what I am told, the definition of “licensee” has been expanded to include a wider range of activities.

For events without an admission charge, the definition of what is included in the fee calculation has been expanded from a flat fee based on seating capacity to one based on entertainment expenses like room, board and transportation costs for the artist.

There are other problematic issues which are a little difficult to explain in a blog post and might not apply widely to many venues. I suspect there are problems that people have yet to discover.  If you do any sort of licensing with folks like BMI and ASCAP or if you have been trying to fly under the radar, you want to pay attention to this.

If you don’t think this applies to you at all, but you have live music performance, you may find that it does. That band that plays at your museum during First Fridays is probably subject to music licensing.

With more opportunities for revenue available, especially if the strictures of the consent decrees are loosened, there is more incentive find the places that have been trying to slide under the radar.

If you have concerns, check out the MIC Coalition website to learn more or provide feedback to the DOJ.  Also –read any new licensing agreements you get very, very carefully.


What Is Your Arts Employees Rights Policy?

Barry Hessenius recently wrote a post about Arts Employees Rights. Given the amount of conversation and news stories about sexual harassment and other unwelcome activities throughout the creative industries, this seems a very timely subject. I see the topic appearing with increasing frequency on the schedule of arts and culture conference panels.

In addition to issues of safety, Hessenius discusses the need to examine pretty much every category heading of an employee manual. It occurred to me that while I have seen many of these topics discussed separately in posts, I can’t recall many “this is everything that should be in your employee handbook” posts.

I don’t know that we should necessarily take it for granted that every arts organization has an formal employee handbook much less that people have a complete sense of what should be included in the document.

Since equal compensation is a focus of broad conversation these days, it is no surprise that concept straddles a number of his category headings. (Which include Safety, Support, Equality, Compensation & Benefits, Termination, and Career Trajectory.)

He asks many of the difficult questions facing non-profits (this is only a smidge):

Should that minimum wage for full time employees be a living wage – defined as sufficient enough to cover minimal living expenses of room, food, transportation, et. al. for the cost of living of a given area?  (So someone working in Silicon Valley or New York City would need greater revenue that someone living in Fresno or Buffalo).  But can small and mid-sized arts organizations afford such a suggested requirement?  What would have to change to make that a reality?   Should all arts organization employees be provided a minimal level of health insurance?  Is that affordable?  What about retirement benefits or contributions by the employer?  Is that possible?

These are difficult questions for many arts organizations. The better you treat your employees, the fewer you may be able to employ, especially in the face of declining philanthropy.

You may recall about three years ago the Department of Labor was preparing to implement rules that would raise the salary criteria for non-exempt employees, meaning that many, many more non-profit employees would have been eligible for overtime pay than before.

I wrote about an Atlantic article that noted that this placed many non-profits in a strange position ‘“…between the values that many nonprofits hold and the way they treat their own staffs.”

Basically, non-profits work hard advocating for better pay and working conditions for people in general, but find themselves opposing that for their staffs due to lack of funding for operations.

More recently, the CEO of a Goodwill in Illinois tried to shame the governor into vetoing a minimum wage hike by laying off people with disabilities the organization employed, blaming it on the increased costs.

Hessenius acknowledges providing people with appropriate compensation is difficult, but challenges arts organizations not to discard it as a topic of serious discussion. It is easy to say the revenue stream will never support our ideals about compensation so it is futile to even discuss the question. He says there is a need for a conversation about how compensation fit holistically into the organization policy and philosophy on  employee rights.


This Is Not The World We Planned For

When the topic of strategic plans is discussed, there is often an admonishment actively reference the planning documents throughout the plan period rather than drop it on the shelf until it is time to create a new strategic plan.  The organization is supposed to be measuring itself and its success against the plan.

I recently read a piece on Medium that suggested an organization should scrap parts, if not the entire plan, and create a new one if the operating environment has changed so much that assumptions upon which the plan is based are no longer valid.

Laura Weidman Powers, writes that when she was CEO of Code2040, the organization sat down during the early part of 2016 and underwent a pretty comprehensive process to develop a strategic plan.

And then Donald Trump was elected president. Our core communities (Black and Latinx people) were and felt threatened and silenced as white supremacists were emboldened. Tech companies who had been publicly pro-diversity in the Obama years clamped up. And as the winds continued to shift, my heart sank.

We had created a beautiful, functional, coherent, inclusive, actionable strategic plan — for a world we no longer lived in.

She writes that they knew there would be a need to make some course corrections throughout the life of the strategic plan, but had no sense that things would change so quickly and radically and moot most of their strategic plan.

In hindsight, she says she would have made sure that the assumptions upon which the plan was based were specified in the plan. If those environmental factors no longer existed, it would be time to scrap the plan and start over again. She is careful to specify that constantly challenging a strategic plan can lead to organizational paralysis. At the same time, if the ground beneath your feet is no longer stable, efforts to make progress become increasingly futile.

If I were doing it again, I would have had a section up front that enumerated the 2–3 key assumptions that needed to hold true for this plan to be valid. I would have kept an eye on those and empowered anyone on the team to throw up a flag if they thought they had evidence that the assumptions were no longer holding. Outside of that, our goal would have been to execute against the strategy as written.

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