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.

Wherein I Compare Creative Placemaking To Spaghetti Sauce

I don’t remember how I came across it, but a few weeks ago I bookmarked an interview Michael Rohd, a faculty member at Arizona State University, conducted with Roberto Bedoya, City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Manager; Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of ArtPlace America; and Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, a professor at Arizona State University.

They were discussing the process of creative placemaking and how it should be applied in the future in order to acknowledge and honor the needs and concerns of the communities impacted by creative placemaking efforts.

The prologue to the interview mentions the term creative placemaking has been criticized for:

1) suggesting that the people and cultures rooted in a place had not already made it; 2) initially lacking a clear statement of values regarding who was meant to benefit from the community development of which the arts and culture were a part.

In response, people have started using the term creative placekeeping instead. I have heard this come up at a number of conferences I have attended. However, Bedoya notes that while there are legitimate concerns about gentrification and displacement– or replacement, especially in the eyes of communities of color, there is a need to be cautious with the term placekeeping as well.

The trap around place-keeping is sentimentality — “I want the old days” — and it’s not thoughtful. What are we trying to keep, and how, so it stays fresh and new? I think the future of creative placemaking is people not as intensely problematizing it, but trying to figure out the actions associated with placemaking or keeping, to create agency and a notion of civic commitment.

I found this idea of examining how to bring freshness to the elements we are trying to “keep” very intriguing. If you fear the loss of front stoops/porches in your neighborhood, what it is that will be lost? Is it the safe place for kids to play away from the streets? It is the socialization found in waving to neighbors as they pass or inviting them to mount the steps to chat? Is there a way to maintain that somewhere or someway else?

Though as I continued to play my example out in my head, I would think it would almost be preferable that porches and stoops replace a central gathering place that is being repurposed than to lose the stoops and send everyone to gather in a central place.

Another section I that caught my attention was Bennett’s comments about the scope of vision needed for implementing placemaking/placekeeping plans so that it encompasses all potential benefits and consequences. (my emphasis)

How do you figure out if your actions contributed toward healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities? Professor Andrew Taylor at American University reminded me that the first rule of systems thinking is that there is no such thing as side effects, there are only effects. If you are experiencing something as a side effect, it means you haven’t drawn the boundaries of your system widely enough. Many people say, “I’m making an economic development play, and there is an unfortunate side effect that people are displaced or replaced,” to borrow from Roberto. We need to draw the boundaries of our system wide enough that we understand that those are not unrelated or accidental, but part of one system.

At first I thought about how difficult it is to anticipate all the effects a plan might have. But as I considered longer, I realized if you are paying attention to what is happening in other communities that are implementing similar efforts, it isn’t difficult to become aware of the potential positive and negative impacts. Using the term “side effect” in these instances seems like an attempt to minimize the importance of these problems. Acknowledging it as an effect of a plan is to take responsibility for the problems it may cause.

If someone tells you one of the side effects of eating spaghetti sauce is a 80% chance you will have a sleepless night of heartburn, that really isn’t a small issue to you. If that is something you face, you consume the marinara sauce fully aware that any difficulty sleeping is a consequence of your decision and no one else. Likewise, if you are serving spaghetti and offer no other options, you should be aware that it is possible your choice will cause discomfort for some guests.

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.

 

Data You Need To Believe Over Your Gut

I so frequently tell my readers that Collen Dilenschneider has made an awesome post on her blog that it makes it difficult to convey the increased urgency to read one of her pieces when she has made an even awesomer post.

Despite this impediment, believe me when I say she recently made a post that is even more awesome than her usually awesome posts. Last week she wrote about how research results often contradict our gut feelings about a situation, despite being true. She confesses that as much as she deals with data every day, there are some instances where she asks the experts to revisit it just to be sure.

She goes on to list five data points that even she and her co-workers really wanted to believe were untrue.

Let me just say, I have seen some of this data before but part of what makes her post so great is this “contradicts our gut” framework she employs. As much as I read and write about arts administration, there are a fair number of instances where I raise mental walls against information I come across. It is useful to be constantly reminded that we need to take a deep breath and open our minds.

1) Local audiences have negatively skewed perceptions of the organizations in their area 

IMPACTS tracked 118 visitor-serving organizations and found that on average, people living within 25 miles of the organization indicate value-for-cost perceptions that are 14% less than those of regional visitors living between 25 and 101-150 miles away. In other words, locals believe their experience is less worthy of the admission cost they paid compared to the perceptions of those living further away. Interestingly, locals paid 20% less for admission, on average, than non-local visitors thanks to local discounts and promotions! They are also much less satisfied with their experiences than non-local visitors.

Even if this is influenced by a sense of sunk cost where long distance visitors arrive with a firmer conviction than local residents they will enjoy an experience given that they have already invested so much more time and money in planning and execution, it is important to recognize this dynamic is operating for different visitor segments.

2) An average visitor attends a cultural organization type only once every 27 months – and the average member returns to take advantage of free admission only once per year.

The average person who visits an art museum will not visit another for 28 months, on average. The average person who visits a history museum will not visit another for 32 months, on average. In total, the average visitation cycle for organization types that we monitor is 27 months. Here’s more on that data and what it means.

[…]

Subscription-based organizations such as theaters and symphonies: You’ve got it a bit better. Your members visit twice each year, on average.

I had actually written about this idea around 8 years ago. In the research presented at that time, it wasn’t that people felt they had enough of the organization and were going to wait a few years to go again, it was that people were so emotionally connected with the organization, they would swear they had just been there within the last year when it had been about two or more years.

Don’t immediately delete people from your mailing list if they don’t buy tickets to return, give it 3-5 years before you decide they are disengaged. (This assumes annual/semi-annual mailings vs. more frequent ones.)

3) Millennials are not “aging into” caring about arts and culture

Oooh, pay attention to this one!

This isn’t surprising to me and we have so much on this we’re getting into a “ridiculous” data volume category here, but this shocks other folks, so it’s making this list!

Millennials are not “aging into” caring about arts and culture as a natural function of getting older. Millennials also are not “aging into” other things some entities are banking on, like the belief that dolphins should be kept in captivity.

[…]

Millennials are a very important group for cultural organizations to engage. The take-away of these findings is critical: “Let’s just wait for people to think we’re important” is a failing engagement strategy.

Here is another point to be particularly mindful of–

4) On average, attendance goes back to baseline 5 years after a major expansion (but operation costs tend to be increased forever).

In a nutshell, attendance decreases in the years prior to a major building project as folks defer their visits until after the expansion opens. When an expansion opens, attendance certainly increases – 19.6% compared to the ten years prior! But that increase gradually decreases until attendance levels retreat to the baseline of the ten years prior after only 5 years. And the increased building space also means more staff members, more programming, more electricity, and more ongoing maintenance.

[…]

If you’re fundraising for or undertaking a major building expansion, make sure that you are clear on your goals and objectives – and that your expectations for long-term attendance and ongoing maintenance are grounded in reality.

And finally… (note the distinction she makes between mobile web and mobile apps)

5) Mobile applications do not significantly increase visitor satisfaction

Interestingly, people who use social media onsite in a way that relates to their visit report 7% greater visitor satisfaction scores than people who do not use social media in relation to their visit. Mobile web users experience a 6% bump in satisfaction. Even though all three of these methods (mobile applications, social media, and mobile web) take place on a mobile phone during a cultural organization visit, social media and the web significantly contribute to the visitor experience. Mobile applications do not reliably do this. One explanation for this may be that social media and mobile web “meet audiences where they are” and are examples of onsite technology facilitating the experience. Mobile applications, on the other hand, can be examples of technological intervention in which a visitor must interrupt the experience to figure out how to engage with the technology, or download it in the first place.

As much as I have quoted here, it is only about 1/3 of the data and rationale she presents in her post so check it out in order to get a more complete picture of things.

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