What Should I Talk About?

Now that I am back living in the lower 48, I have begun thinking a little more seriously about possibly presenting at some of the national or regional conferences. I had actually thought about it a bit when I was in Hawaii, but distance limited my opportunity to attend many conferences and hampered collaboration opportunities.

That gave me the idea to ask my readers–what do you think I should do a session on? This is actually a double duty question because I am also essentially asking what topic would you want me to write blog entries on to.

I understand that many people can’t attend conferences so I would ultimately be planning on posting whatever I talked about on the blog. And readers might see bits and pieces of what I was working on emerge on the blog as my research brought me in contact with new information.

Rather than to ask what topics I should blog about, I wanted to frame in the context of what do you want to know about so badly that you would seriously consider undertaking the expense of travel, hotel, food, etc to attend a conference where someone was talking about it?

I also suspect I take for granted people’s familiarity with many topics I come across in my daily reading. The reality might be that people are desperate for information. So even if I didn’t do a conference session on it, your feedback will help determine topics I blog about in the future.

Just as examples of conferences sessions to get you started, Arts Presenters is looking for session proposals on Catalyzing Communities around the arts, Making the Case for the Arts and The Art of Transition. That last one seems like it could encompass everything from leadership transition to changing your organizational approach to programming and marketing.

I just found out that I probably will be attending APAP conference this year. Though I am not sure I would get a proposal together by the deadline next Thursday so I am not necessarily looking for a topic that would fit that conference.

I figure I can either lead or contribute to a conversation about:

-contract negotiations, submitting offers, reading contract riders
-closely partnering with multiple arts presenters to organize a tour as a consortium
-partnering with artists to create performance works reflecting stories/values of indigenous cultures

Of course, I can talk about many other topics like marketing, social media, presenting in higher education environments (and bureaucracies) but I feel like a lot of other conference presenters can and have done so before. Though I am certainly happy to produce blog posts on these topics

I feel what I have listed are areas in which I have more specialized knowledge than many others. It is also likely that I am forgetting some too. If there is a subject area which you have come to value my expertise, let me know.


Info You Can Use: Generating Interview Questions

I have only been at my new job for six weeks and already they have me on a search committee. Some may groan at the thought, but the position being hired will likely impact my area pretty significantly so I was actually relieved when I was asked to serve.

We had our first committee meeting today which was preceded by a training session on interviewing. In addition to reminding us about the usual forbidden subjects of age, race, religion, martial status, etc, the human resource director talked a little about a new approach the university was using with searches.

It is a little difficult to explain clearly here, but essentially it starts with the committee prioritizing the most important areas of the job (e.g. leadership, communication, experience, strategic vision, collegiality etc).

This would help us determine what questions should be asked at what stage of the process. If leadership and experience are top priorities and were going to make or break a candidate for us, we would ask questions that related to those areas during the phone interview phase rather than exploring collegiality.

At later stages we might have more questions touching on leadership and experience since they are high priorities, add in questions dealing with middling priorities to help us expand our impression of the candidates, but choose to only ask a few questions on low priority items or omit them altogether.

What really impressed me about this approach is that it keeps the early interview rounds focused and theoretically dictates how long latter phases of the interview process actually need to be.

Instead of saying, we should have the candidate meet with Bob because it just seems like a good idea, looking at the prioritization you may realize there isn’t any reason for an official meeting with Bob. If there is, a low prioritization might point to a 20 minute meeting or a meal alongside others rather than an hour long one on one meeting in Bob’s office.

Now, notice I say theoretically. Politics may dictate the candidates meet with Bob even in the absence of a compelling reason. That could be detrimental to the search. The HR director mentioned that searches often fail because highly qualified candidates can identify weak processes like undue focus in irrelevant areas.

There was one slide in the HR director’s presentation that I immediately knew I wanted to feature here on the blog. After the committee had finished its discussions, I ran down to the human resource office to ask her permission to share it with you.

It is a general template for the interview questions.  Clicking on the image will open a new window so you can refer to it and my commentary on it without having to back arrow.

Interview Guide Template. Used with permission. © Shawnee State University
Interview Guide Template.
Used with permission. © Shawnee State University

The bullet points on the left under “Leadership” note general activities the university has identified that person possessing leadership qualities will have/need to engage in.

The italicized text in the center is how these qualities are specifically exhibited in relation to this job. (This being an example document, they are exceedingly general.) Under that are the questions that are derived from this.

The Situation/Obstacle/Action/Results at the bottom allow the committee member to make notes about how the candidate’s answer touched upon these different phases during the situation being described.

What I really like about this format is that it places the elements from which the questions emerged on the same page with the question. There are always going to be answers you never anticipated when you envisioned the qualities of the person fulfilling the job. It is easy to become confused about whether the response illustrates that they are qualified or not.

But if you gaze down and see the answer being given touches upon all the qualities that comprise the foundation of the question, you can feel more confident about their qualifications.

I am looking forward to continuing in this process. I may end up with a different impression later on, though the search chair has used it in a few searches before and speaks highly of it.

Giving, Rather Than Sacrificing

I was thinking last week about the growing sentiment that non-profit organizations should resist the impulse to do “more with less.” The idea being that it gives funders, boards, government entities and the public an unrealistic view of what the real costs of programs actually are and is likely to cause burnout among employees.

The quality of all programs will probably suffer in an effort to make up for the loss of funding to one, as well.

Although it would really hurt organizational pride and morale, the suggestion is to eliminate the program rather than stretching and stressing yourself even more trying to maintain it. That way, at least the consequences of low funding are unambiguous.

A cynical thought crept into my mind that some organization of younger workers unfettered by concerns of good pay and work-life balance might come along and belie your insistence that the program couldn’t be supported, by happily suffering through its execution.

But soon I got to thinking, why not let them? Not that you should welcome an under-captialized organization with unrealistic expectations, but if there was someone qualified who thought they could do a better job, maybe your organization should hand over your files to them.

I started to wonder if many non-profits had really ever thought of this. Most organizations are aware of people doing similar work in their region, whether they are viewed as competitors or providing parallel services. If you are being faced with having to eliminate a program, but are conflicted and a little guilty thinking about all those whom you serve losing something they valued, perhaps it is best to give your program materials to a group that possesses better resources or sees that program as one of their core competencies.

Once you no longer view each other as competitors, there may be room for constructive partnerships. For example, a performance venue who is seeing their K12 school show program flounder due to decreasing availability of bus money might direct their clients to a group that performs in schools, but doesn’t have their own facility.

The traveling group may benefit from the additional contact list, as well as costumes and props that the venue will no longer be using. In return, however, the traveling group may still do an occasional school show for the venue or may produce a series of weekend family matinees at the venue, allowing the venue to continue offering family programming without having to bankroll the development.

Or perhaps both groups wanted to do an after school program, but neither had all the resources they needed to pull it off. Yet as partners, they do.

By the end of my musing, I started to think that trying to do more with less and hold on all your programs might not only be harmful to your organization, it might also impede constructive partnerships.

Instead of looking around at other groups as competitors for the same pie, which granted is increasingly becoming the case, it may be more productive to evaluate what other people are doing as well, if not better than you, with an eye to possibly having to cede that to them.

Times when things are going well are probably best to consider these issues because it also allows the time to evaluate potential partnership options while free of financial panic.

Perhaps you will decide to transition things away before a critical decision ever needs to be made, when your program still remains vibrant and is a worthwhile addition to another company.

No organization should be in a mode of constantly contemplating its demise. I know many elderly start mentally ear marking who will get what when they die, if they haven’t already started actively giving things away. I don’t think that is a healthy way for a non-profit to operate.

It should know where its strengths lay, what its core functions are and what things occupy a more secondary role. Strive for excellence in everything and shine in the community, but be consistently clear about what the priorities of the organization are.

Boards and staff members are likely to have strong emotional attachments to the work that your organization is doing, and probably rightfully so. An open and ongoing conversation about what another organization is doing well can help to motivate your organization to step their game up and do a little better.

But having an open conversation about the organizational priorities as well as what other organizations are doing well may ease the decision to cede/transition a program away if the staff and board has regularly acknowledged the worthiness of another organization to do the work that is being set aside.

Being Goldilocks

My hair like Jesus wore it
Hallelujah I adore it
Hallelujah Mary loved her son
Why don’t my mother love me?

These lyrics from the eponymous song of the musical Hair has always struck me as a great expression of the conflict an artist faces.

On one hand, you have to dress and appear professionally enough that you gain the confidence of potential employers, donors and granters.

On the other hand, you have to possess enough of an artistic aura, either in dress or behavior, that people will believe you are an artist. Appear too conventional and you cast doubt on your artistic abilities.

Working on a university campus, I been feeling a little tug of this conflict. It wasn’t a big problem in Hawaii where even bank presidents wear aloha shirts, albeit tasteful $200 silk aloha shirts.

But now I look out across campus seeing administrators running around in dresses, suit jackets and ties (not simultaneously) and I am reminded of these cultural expectations.

Because at the same time, I am out walking down the street every day to get lunch and how I dress as the director of the performing arts center contributes to the perception of what sort of people are welcome as audience members.

Probably nothing to be done to relieve folks in the arts world of this Goldilocks requirement of avoiding extremes.

So don’t neglect to wave those golden locks!