Quick Takes: A Sustainable Business Model…How is it Possible?

It seems that a huge focus in the Symphony world is to create the ideal business model for success.  Thousands of hours and millions of dollars are spent on conferences, consultant fees,  marketing schemes etc… and yet the secret ingredient, is neither a secret, not does it cost anything.  The best business model without it will fail, yet the worst business model with it might actually succeed!…….


As musicians we can’t make music without it!  A Nascar driver can’t win a race without communicating with their pit crew, and example after example of success in all its forms  includes effective communication.  For any business model, communication is the glue that makes it “stick”, or the liquid that binds all the ingredients that make the soup.  It is the most important constant, and the many problems that have arisen over the past few years in orchestras with the lack of message control and the open vitriol proves that not only are groups within an organization not on the same page, they are writing different books!

I try to find examples in the business world of how successful communication makes all the difference.  A new bank opened up in town a few years back and naturally we called on them for sponsorship.  The president gave us a tour, and it struck me that this was a very different bank in that it seemed that there were few barriers/counters  and that there were many more employees than in my bank for instance.  I suddenly realized, most of them were not employees, they were customers who were given their own station, and the tellers were roving the floor asking if they needed help, or even something to drink!  The president’s office was strategically placed so that anyone could pop in to see him, desks arranged so people could see each other, glass everywhere, sofas….this wasn’t just a bank, it was as he put it a, “financial communication center!”  It has been wildly successful.  We designed the Symphony office here in Springfield with a similar mindset, most of the walls are glass, so even when on the phone to each other the staff can also see each other.  Drew McManus posted about it here with pictures.

This is a tangible example of how to promote communication within an organization, but what about the intangibles?  From top to bottom, does an organization have good Communication Practices?  We hear all the time about good Business Practices which I assume would include communication, but it in itself  is so important that the breakdown of any business, or internal strife, is seemingly always related to communication problems.

When reading about deficits, it is always financial deficits, yet communication deficits can ultimately lead to those financial problems!  The intangibles could include a part of the long range plan being dedicated to a communication plan such as building relationships between orchestra, staff, board, audience and community.  If those groups represent the major arteries, we all know what happens when arteries become blocked!

Another component is to develop the ability for the different groups within an organization to find a way to agree to disagree.  The word resolution might sound positive, but a resolution is not always positive.  To find a way to have disagreements without losing sight of the fact that everyone is on the same team is so important, and also healthy, giving truthful meaning to the words “all ideas will be considered”.

We pay a lot of attention to nurturing donors, subscribers and stakeholders.  Communication also needs nurturing, it is not something that is bought or had, and should never be viewed as a past accomplishment but always as a work in progress, much like the attention orchestras give to constantly improving the artistic product.   The ultimate payoff is that it will create an atmosphere of trust.  The deficit of communication and trust if it exists in an organization is potentially the most catastrophic deficit of all!

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