RSS

Author Archives: Amy Wratchford

About Amy Wratchford

I'm the Managing Director of the American Shakespeare Center; a passionate theatre artist, manager, and marketer, wife, and mother to Kurt & Maggie.

Acknowledging and Dismantling White Supremacy Culture in the Workplace

I was introduced to the document “White Supremacy Culture in the Workplace” at the 2016 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) annual conference in Washington, DC.  The document, I learned, is being used as a foundation for the equity, diversity, and inclusion work TCG is conducting.  Throughout this post when I refer to “white supremacy culture” it is through the lens of this document.

My first response upon reading the document was shock.  Not only did every item listed in the document show up in the way we conducted business at our organization, they were embedded in the DNA of how we function.  My next response was rationalization: “why would we not strive for perfection?”, “of course there is a sense of urgency, we have to move fast, there is so much to do!”  

I was deeply concerned about how our modus operandi was so perfectly aligned with the document and deeply uneasy and unsure about how to even begin the conversation internally.  So, I put the document, my concern, and my uneasiness aside…for a year.  I completely recognize the privilege inherent in my ability to put it aside for a year.  But, that is what I did.

My reintroduction came at the 2017 TCG annual conference in Portland.  I saw a session called “White Supremacy Culture in the Workplace and How to Dismantle It” in the schedule and committed to attending.  The organizers provided the link to the document in the session overview and I read it again.

The session was pragmatic and effective, using facilitator and attendee experiences as case studies and discussing ways to address each situation.  I felt the urgency and necessity of tackling these issues and also the enormity of the problem…there is a reason they call it systemic racism.  It isn’t necessarily racially biased hiring practices, it is how we do or do not allow other voices a true place at the table and true participation in decisions.

I reached out to Tirzah Tyler, one of the session’s facilitators, for help.  I expressed the shame and overwhelment I felt recognizing how deeply white supremacy culture was embedded in the culture of the organization I help lead.  Tirzah looked at me with compassion and a bit of surprise and said, “that is true of most organizations.”  This both soothed and depressed me.  Our organization wasn’t alone in shutting down dialogue through our very work practices, but we have a tremendous amount of work to do as an industry and a society.

I pushed the industry and society piece aside for the moment and focused on our organization.  How to start this conversation?  There was no quick fix, but we couldn’t make any progress if we didn’t start talking and acknowledging the problems.

First, I had to come to grips with my own issues with the phrase “white supremacy.”  That phrase evokes visions of hooded men with torches.  That’s not me.  That’s not our organization.  How could I go back to Virginia, distribute this document, and say to our predominantly white employees that we are perpetuating white supremacy culture in our organization?  Those are some loaded words right there.  How do we compassionately, yet unflinchingly, unpack the issues embedded in those words?  It took me a year to own this reality.  How to bring all our employees along this path more deliberately and quickly while not shocking/scaring/shaming them into not wanting to walk out onto the path in the first place?  How to best work through our white fragility?  We firmly believe Shakespeare’s work is for everyone; how do we cultivate a more mindful and inclusive culture that invites the diverse perspectives we welcome in the Playhouse?

I chose a side door.  Another 2017 TCG session mentioned the Harvard Implicit Bias Tests.  I thought if we could start getting our heads wrapped around bias in general we could make our way to dismantling white supremacy culture in our workplace.  I wanted to discuss the way we individually look at the world and how those perspectives could be coloring the way we interact and, therefore, limiting our ability to have true dialogue and  uncover the best ideas.  I’ve always loved self-examination and sociological imagination.  Learning how the my history affects my present actions; how the way I interface with the world affects the way people respond to me; bringing unconscious motivations to the light so that I can choose my approach and not let my assumptions control me.  I, naively as it turns out, believed everyone loves to do this.  I thought we could work through some of the tests and that those discussions would organically dovetail into an examination of our workplace culture and the “White Supremacy Culture…” document.

We have a full administrative staff meeting each month.  All full-time employees within our Finance, Marketing, Tour Operations, Education, Box Office, and Development departments attend.  I decided this was the easiest place to start.  After an overview of my experience at the TCG conference, I expressed my desire for a more self-aware and inclusive workplace.  I announced we would be working through the majority of the Implicit Bias Tests together and the group decided to start with the “Male/Female, Home/Career” test…it seemed the least fraught.  The consensus in the room was that we wanted to get more comfortable with the language around bias and how to talk about it before tackling the issues of racial bias.

This became much more complicated than I expected.  Turns out, not everyone approaches this stuff with the same enthusiasm I do, shocking, I know.  Some folks fundamentally don’t feel it is appropriate and/or useful to discuss these personal beliefs/perspectives in a work environment.  I could (and may) write a whole post about this process and how Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability is helping us, but that will have to wait.  I started to believe that it was going to take much longer to get to the topic of our workplace culture.  Then the rally and violence in Charlottesville happened.

I want to, and we will, continue to unpack and work through the issues coming to the surface within the administrative staff meetings.  However, knowing the horrifying events 40 minutes down the road from us were motivated by extreme belief in white supremacy, I could no longer allow my personal squeamishness with the phrase to keep us from talking about our corporate culture, not just with the administrative staff, but with the whole company.  

We’ve wanted to establish quarterly full-company meetings for some time.  Our touring troupe happens to be back in town for a couple of days in October.  With the support of our co-founder and Director of Mission and our Associate Artistic Director, we are using this opportunity to start the conversation.

I don’t know how it is going to go.  The Implicit Bias Test process has driven home the fact that there are as many reactions and approaches to this work as there are people in the room.  It won’t be easy.  It will be uncomfortable at times (often).  It will take a lot of trust from every single person in the company.  But, this work is no longer optional, it is essential to our ability to be the best organization we can  be.

We are experiencing one of Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping points.”  This isn’t just about history or statues or names on buildings; we have to look deeper.  It is about how we interact as individuals; how we run our organizations; how we welcome, value, and embrace other perspectives; how we allow those perspectives to inform and change our own; how we become better because of those changes; better people, better organizations, a better society.  These are not “them” issues, these are “us” issues.  It is time to take responsibility and make changes.

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Retreating, Year 2: the rhythm of solitude

IMG_8976

Glenn Falls, NC

This week, my second annual personal retreat, has been one of contemplation and discovery. I discovered it only took me one full day to let go of the need to check for texts and phone calls were consider  opening my email (vast improvement over last year).  By Tuesday morning I (mostly) let go of the outside world. Which was handy because the rain kept me inside with my books and notebooks all day.

I brought a number of books with me this year. I started the trip listening to the audiobook of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods in the car. After five hours I’d lost count of the number of women he described as “fat “or “stupid “or both. That not being the energy I wanted for this week, I turned it off.

The book I keep coming back to this trip is May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude.  It has been a decade or more since I read it last. The timing is fortuitous. Being alone for four days (not counting travel days) in a row doesn’t come often, this is the second time in my life, last year’s retreat being the first. This year was very different, however. First, I am healthy.  The stomach bug last year inhibited my ability to enjoy my solitude in the beginning.  Second, I was not prepping for a finance committee meeting immediately upon my return (learned my lesson there!).  The end result is that I’ve had for full days with no one in my living space but me and no priorities outside myself. For the first time in my adult life, I found a new rhythm. Thanks to May Sarton, I’m calling at the rhythm of my solitude.

It is a gentle book that sits under my skin with surprising revelations. It is also a very different book for me now. I believe my son had just been born when I read it the first time. Now, married for 15 years with two children (10 & 12), Sarton’s contemplation of the vastly different path for a woman as an artist when she chooses a married or solitary life strikes particular chords. Can one still be an artist and have a family? If so, how?

The frame in which she writes also hits the ear differently today. This journal was written in the early 70s, against the backdrop of Nixon’s presidency and Women’s Lib. Sarton quotes women writing to her saying that they envy her solitude, her space. She quite rightly states that women are not simply seeking a room of one’s own, but time of one’s own. Without time, the room isn’t much good to us…indeed, it mocks us.

When reading Sarton’s book, I can’t help but think of my dear friend Heather. She, like Sarton, is a poet and she, like Sarton, has chosen a solitary life. In the past couple of years, Heather has reinvested herself into her poetry and it is beautiful to watch. Is this renewed artistry a direct outcome of her choice to bring her marriage to a close? Is it the demands of our families/spouses that keep us from our art, or our assumption that they are mutually exclusive?

I am not a poet. I love to write, but as you see here, I can barely get a blog post written more than a couple of times a year. I do subscribe to Seth Godin’s premise that we can all create art at work, regardless of the type of work we do and I see that in my own life. When we are at our best there is an art to the marketing, the budgeting, the inspiring of donors. I love that. I particularly love that at the ASC. My work fulfills me in so many ways, which is why  you will often hear me say this is my last job. Is that enough?

I am happy in my marriage. I love my husband dearly, we’ and we have fun together. I adore the blessing of participating in my children’s lives; I even suspect we will survive puberty which is currently knocking at the door. Is that enough?

Must we always want more? More love, more space, more art, more solitude, more togetherness, more joy, more time, more contemplation?

I appreciate may Sarton’s steadfast, yet gentle, refusal to be the archetype by which others try to define her. The “man on the hill,” as she says. Separate, above it all, detached from passion. How can anyone truly live detached from passion, especially a poet? She created and lived the life that suited her, whether it fit a preconceived model or not.

We’ve come a long way from the assumption that women abdicate their jobs and/or personal drives when they get married. However, I don’t think we’ve solved the puzzle. Perhaps because we keep looking at the same models and trying to tweak them here and there. What would happen if we threw out all our assumptions and each person/group or family looked at their own lives and loves and art and created a model that works for them? Would we end up in the same place? Can we truly throw out our assumptions? It would take putting our personal and communal joy outfront and that is a scary proposition.

What I know is that this week I found a new rhythm. I guess the next step is to see how I can flow back and forth between the rhythms of my relationships and the rhythm of my solitude. I need both; I think we all do.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Show Me the Money: Nonprofit Theatre and the New Overtime Rules

After reading through the official Department of Labor’s brief on the new overtime rules and the non-profit sector yesterday, I made the mistake of tweeting my first thought. I don’t call it a mistake because I said something I regret or because some people had a knee jerk response but rather because 140 characters is not nearly enough to truly examine all the implications this new rule brings. It isn’t a matter of “just pay them more” or “just let them go home after 40 hours.” It is, like most things in life, much more complex than that, much more complex than a couple of tweets can handle.

Let’s start with a broad view of the current “normal” for work. I haven’t worked a 40-hour week since I was paid hourly a couple decades ago. I don’t know anyone who works a 40-hour week most weeks, much less all weeks. This isn’t just in nonprofit theatre, this is in most industries today. I’m not sure that a 40-hour week has ever been the norm in nonprofit theatre.  Think about it, working from 9:00am to 6:30pm Monday-Friday (or 10a-6p Tuesday-Sunday) would put you at 47.5 (or 48) hours.  At the ASC we try to compensate for this by having a very flexible paid time off policy with no set limit on the number of days a full-time employee can take off in any given year.  We know we all work harder during portions of the year so we try to make sure to balance it by taking the time we need in our slightly less crazy times of year.  The new overtime rule does not take any of this into account.  It simply demands that we completely change our business model by December 1, 2016.

That’s my next issue: the time frame for compliance.  For most rules issued by the Federal government we see a “ramping up” period of at least a couple of years.  Not so for these new rules.  They double the salary at which overtime exemptions come into play and says that they go into effect six and half months from the date of the announcement.  The move from the previous threshold of $455/week ($23,660/year) to $913/week ($47,476/year) is tremendous and not easy to make up.

If we continued to operate as we do now, assuming that our (as of Dec 1) non-exempt employees currently average 48 hours/week, paying for eight hours of overtime per week would add over $20,000 to our MONTHLY payroll.  Almost $250,000 per year.  To put this in perspective, that is equal to 8% of our total budget.  We have worked extremely hard over the past six years to get into the black and stay there, to pay off a sizeable amount of debt, and to start investing again in our people and our programs.  Our success in these areas is due to very careful budgeting.  We currently project being able to grow our expense budget by 2.6% next fiscal year if we want to stay in the black.  This is not something we can turn on a dime.

The next answer I hear is “make your employees stop working after 40 hours.”  Again, this is not something that can be reversed in a blink.  We all have more work than we have time to do it in already.  That is one of the reasons we are currently examining the costs and benefits of all our programming.  Can we get the programs down to a level that can be sustained on 40 hours a week and still make the revenue to pay for those people and programs?  I currently have no idea.  Again, I’m not saying that it is not a worthy goal or that every single employee doesn’t deserve every single penny that this new rule requires.  I’m saying that a fundamental business model change, an industry-wide cultural shift, takes longer than 6.5 months to figure out how to fund.

I’m even more concerned with smaller organizations.  Sure, this rule doesn’t apply to companies with under $500,000 in business revenue (not including contributions), but what about those with $525,000 in revenue?  Many of which have executive leaders that are suddenly non-exempt.  How can they continue to function?  Some of these are organizations that are scraping by with 2-4 employees doing all the work.  This could very well put them out of business.

We need to improve wages and honor the time put in by everyone.  However, this rule is too big an increase and too quick a turnaround.  I’m very concerned we are about to see the next wave of nonprofit theatre closures (to say nothing about other small businesses).  Is job loss better than incremental wage improvement?  I think not.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Arts management

 

Tags: , , ,

Did they just say that? Embedded Sexism in Daily Life [Amended 3/31/17]

 

A number of weeks ago this post got me thinking about my time waiting tables throughout my high school and college career.  Yep, there were times that it sucked because of the sexual harassment some men felt was their right as a paying customer of the restaurant.  I’m delighted this particular pub owner publicly said, “enough.”  I’m also delighted his rant was shared so many times; more visibility is better when it comes to these things.

However, the post also got me thinking about the less blatant sexism that is around us and tolerated (or celebrated) every day.  It is time to shed some light there too; start another, possibly more complicated, conversation.

Exhibit One:  Last month, on the first “shorts weather” day of the spring, I was walking away from an Earth Day celebration downtown, one kiddo holding each hand.  A guy passing us in his truck slowed way down, made eye contact with me, let his eyes drop to my toes and then back up, smiled, and then picked up speed.

Exhibit Two:  A few weeks ago a talented artisan presented a program at a local civic club on the gorgeous Native American flutes he carves by hand.  He mentioned that originally they were used in courtship.  A male voice from the back yells, “hey, can you carve one for me?  I need a wife!”  Another voice responds, “How much for one that will get me a pretty wife?”  A third, “You can’t afford that!”  General laughter.

Exhibit Three:  Just days ago, sharing a picnic with a group of friends.  A couple of them started talking about teenage boys they knew and how only one had a girlfriend.  “How’d he get a girlfriend?” “Oh, you know [insert name of school] girls.”

Exhibit Four [Added 3/31/17]:  At a large annual business organization dinner during a tribute “roast” of the outgoing female CEO, one presenter remembers the CEO’s first visit to the local youth animal market show years ago.  Apparently the CEO was wearing tight jeans and a colleague of the presenter nudged him and said, “If I was a judge, I’d give the blue ribbon to THAT!”  The presenter then proceeded to hand the CEO a blue ribbon.

None of these instances are earth-shattering.  None of them caused me permanent psychological damage or extended grief.  And I can hear the cry from a certain sector already saying that this is all ‘political correctness’ B.S.  However, each and every one of them points to a bigger, foundational problem in our society.  Female objectification is not just a problem of pop culture or the mass media, it is with us constantly.  I used to brush these things off as generational…that’s the way “those” men were raised, the younger generations know better.  My experience at the picnic, for one, shows that is not true.

The beliefs underlying these situation, unconscious as some may be, have real consequences.  They affect who we hire, who we elect, how we raise our children…

I want to raise my daughter knowing to her core that she does not exist to provide an attractive resting place for the male gaze.  I want to raise my son knowing to his core that the girls and women in his life are equals and should be treated as such.  In order to do this fully, I (we, women & men) need to stop giving a pass on these seemingly small slights.  The uncomfortable silent acknowledgements across the lunch table with other women aren’t enough.

It is not about shaming, it is about educating.  It starts with individual conversations, in the moment, so that we all start to open our eyes to the effect our words have on others.  I absolutely recognize how charged this approach can seem.  We all want to be accepted, part of the ‘club’.  And when it feels systemic, we look at it as a problem too big for any one person to conquer.  A few years back I did pull a civic club President aside and suggest that, since his club included a strong contingent of women, perhaps he should not tell sexist jokes from the podium.  It was challenging for me, and I know I blushed to the tips of my ears, but I did it and he changed his behavior.  I’m disappointed with myself for not saying anything over these past weeks when the examples have been piling up.  But, there is a new chance every day.  [Added 3/31/17]  I have written a letter to the president of the business organization expressing my dismay and strongly suggesting that, with a new female CEO coming in at the end of the month, we no longer sanction that kind of behavior.

I also recommend a wide distribution of the Women’s Media Center’s Name It Change It Media Guide for gender neutral coverage of women candidates and politicians. (really, this isn’t just for journalists, it highlights all sorts of sexist language that is used in and outside of the media).  So much of this issue is a result of pure ignorance, not malice.  But we need to shine a light on that ignorance in order to change it.  One person at a time can change the tide.

Please comment below if you have found ways to shift this ignorance to wisdom and understanding.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 10, 2016 in feminist theory

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Treating Yourself to a Retreat

Today I head back to my regular life.  For the past five days I’ve been on my own little retreat, hidden away in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  All by myself.

On top of Siler Bald on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

On top of Siler Bald on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

When I first started talking about this plan I received a lot of responses like, “wow, you are so brave!,” “gosh, I wish I could do that,” “good for you for being selfish!”  I could write a whole post about how and why self care became “brave” but this note is to a different purpose.  This post is about “selfishness,” specifically how this brand of selfishness is the only way I plan to function from here on out, and a suggestion that you might want to try it too.

I planned this trip not long after my mom passed away last fall.  I felt overwhelmed and my caretaker gene was completely burnt out.  I knew I needed a break.  A break from everyone and everything…anything that “needed” me whether in reality or only in my perception.  Fast-forward four months and I was in a different emotional place when I actually took the trip than when I booked it.  The blessing of this is that I realized that I (you) shouldn’t wait until I (you) break or come close to it before I (you) do what I (you) need to rejuvenate myself (yourself).

This being the first time I’ve taken this kind of trip, there were a number of parameters that I set up for what I wanted.  Although I made these parameters up as I went along, most of them turned out to be pieces I want to keep for future retreats:

  1. Just me
  2. A location unconnected to my regular life
  3. A kitchen so I could be self-sufficient 
  4. At least five days
  5. Access to outdoor physical activities

The length of time turned out to be quite important.  I had originally thought I should only go away for three days…there’s always another deadline at work…I don’t want to force single parenthood on my husband for too long.  However, once I found the place and realized it would take me six hours to get there, I decided I could take more time.  Six days to be exact, including travel days.

Now, this may change as I retreat more often than once every 41 years, but it took me three days just to get past all the distractions that vied for my attention.  Granted, the first 36 hours were more or less given up to the stomach bug my darling daughter shared with me as I left, but even so, it took me longer than I anticipated to truly relax into a place where I could breathe deeper and focus on the things I wanted to dig into during my time away.  I turned off all notifications on my phone as soon as I got to the cabin, but it took another day to not continuously feel the pull of “should I check my email?”  Even after I got closer to conquering the digital distractions, there was so much “busy work” that I kept feeling like I needed to do rather than sit down and read or write or crochet.  The need to do has powerful momentum but it is awfully hard to find clarity while doing all the time.

It took a six mile hike on Friday to Siler Bald (location of the photo) and a four mile hike up Scaly Mountain on Saturday to help me settle.  This turned out to be important too…being physically active, but in a different way than usual, broke me out of routine and released a lot of the antsy energy that I’d been holding onto for…ummmm…the last fifteen years?  OK, maybe I didn’t release that much, but it was a really good start.  So much so that when I woke up on Sunday all I wanted to do was finish the book I was reading (Rhythm by Patrick Thean…hat tip to Jill Robinson at TRG Arts) and organize my thoughts for our next four Department Head Meetings (sorry, team…actually, I’m not sorry, I CAN’T WAIT to get back!).

Yes, I said Sunday.  My last day away.  It wasn’t until then that I was ready to really dig into the stuff that I had planned to do throughout the trip.  Even if I do get better at letting go of the distractions faster and easier (and I certainly hope I do!) I will continue to take this type of break every year for at least five days.  My body, my brain, and my spirit needed refreshing and this is one thing I can’t rush or make more efficient.  There is a different rhythm in the woods and I desperately needed it…not to go all Thoreau on you, but it is true.

This is all to say that maybe once a year you deserve to just be you, on your own, answering to no one, breathing deeper, and taking hikes.  I am going back rejuvenated and refreshed and excited to join life again.  I can’t recommend it more highly

.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 22, 2016 in leadership

 

Tags: , , ,

Artists and Administrators: we really are all on the same team

I’m not sure why Mike Daisey’s article from February 7, 2008 has been making the social media rounds again, but I’m reminded enough of the ire I felt when I first read it in 2008 (and saw his production of “How Theatre Failed America” during NPAC in Denver that same year) that I am back here blogging again.

I’m not going to spill a lot of ink on the article itself or Mr. Daisey’s specific arguments because (1) it was written 6 years ago, before the “Great Recession” hit that autumn and changed much of the landscape, and (2) I feel Mr. Daisey makes so many leaps of ill-focused logic and presumptions that it is a waste of breath to enumerate all the flaws in his argument.

I do worry, however, about the perception that the resurfacing of the article may encourage: that (1) “large” organizations (broad and ranging definition depending on who is speaking) do not care about the art or the artists and (2) arts administrators are evil delusionary autocrats deliberately seeking to cheat artists (“they are a dime a dozen”) and fill their own pockets in the name of supporting the edifice of “the institution.”  Granted, I am an arts administrator, so it would make sense that I would take offense to this…no one, not even the most universally reviled criminals would probably paint themselves as a villain.  However, I have spent almost two decades in the non-profit theatre industry and I have yet to encounter one single person who was deliberately trying to find ways to cheat or devalue artists for their own gain.  The sooner we all stop demonizing each other, the sooner we will start to realize there are numerous theatres existing right now that are trying to do what’s right by all their employees and the communities they serve.  When we do that, we can start talking about what works in various communities, why it works, and how these strategies can be modified and replicated in other communities that haven’t found their model yet.

The first, and most important, thing to note is that we really are all on the same team.  The vast majority of us, artist or administrator, came to this industry through a love of theatre.  We have a deep, burning need to share that love with our communities, to help them know how much more beautifully rich our lives are with theatre in them.  That love is why we put in the umpteen extra hours, work for significantly less pay that we would find in the corporate sector, and (for me, anyway) stay awake at night trying to find more ways to make our employees’ lives better.  In the years since Mr. Daisey wrote the aforementioned article, the answer to that last issue has rarely included increased salaries.  We’ve all spent the last six years finding our balance and learning to be better stewards of the public’s funds (we are, after all, by definition of “non-profit corporation”, in the public trust).  We know that our people are the backbone of our organization and, there is no question, most of our theatres rode out the recession on the backs of our people, artists and staff alike.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my career and I hear echoed in the conversations of my peers:

  • Your mission, vision, and values must be your guiding light.
  • Great employees (artists and admin) are the only way any organization survives, much less thrives
  • All great employees should be valued, regardless of title or union affiliation
  • Respect is the Golden Rule.  Why on earth would anyone put up with everything else related to working in non-profit theatre if they weren’t at the very least respected for their unique contribution?
  • When there is a choice, you should always prioritize people (we will give raises rather than getting a color copier until all our employees are paid fairly)
  • Sometimes it does come down to “we have to fix the air conditioner” and there is no other choice.
  • It is almost never a question of black and white; so many factors go into every decision (budget, casting, marketing, staffing) it is always a matter of degrees, timing, and competing priorities.
  • Transparency should be the law of the land.  Without accurate information folks are free to jump to whatever conclusions pop into their brains, just as Mr. Daisey did.
  • You have to bring in more revenue before you expand the budget.
  • Breakeven is never good enough.  We’ve allowed ourselves (often encouraged by funders) to believe that if we aren’t “re-investing” every penny we make this year into this year’s expenses then we are not using our funds wisely (and we don’t need their funding).  We must eradicate this thinking.  It is only by establishing cash reserves (not endowments) that we can take the artistic and programmatic risks we all want to support.
  • It should not be a question of “if” but “when.”  Just because you can’t fulfill the organizations wildest dreams (or even more pedestrian ones) tomorrow doesn’t mean you give up and condemn “the administration” for killing your dreams.  It does mean you need to plan out how to take all the steps needed between where you are and where you want to be.  We’ve all been so busy making sure our checks didn’t bounce, it has been hard to lift our eyes to the horizon and even think about dreams.  I’m encouraged by the fact that I am hearing more and more conversations about strategic planning and mapping out strategies to move our organizations to the next level (including the next level of support for our people).

I honestly believe that most often the fault lies not in administrators’ motivations, nor even in the specific budgetary priorities of an organization, but rather in a severe lack of transparency.  Without transparency, there can be no appropriate oversight.  Without transparency, you lose vital opportunities.  Without transparency, there can be no trust.

Articles like Mike Daisey’s encourage and support a culture of fear in an industry where our best work can only be created in a safe environment.  We, as administrators, must lead the way to reverse this culture of fear and the surest way to do this is by sharing what you know and all the plans.  By doing so, we invite in every person in the organization to be part of the solution.  We are better together.  In fact, we can only exist as a team.  Let’s stop fighting and start working towards a better artistic world for us all.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Arts management, risk-taking, theatre

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Hire for Human Connection: Lessons from Trader Joe’s

Trader JoesI recently read this post about one woman’s emotional connection to the guys who work at Trader Joe’s.  Yes, the end made me cry, but the piece also reminded me of all the reasons I love Trader Joe’s.  Sure, they have good gluten-free spaghetti for 80% less than Kroger, but it is more than that.  Much more.  As the author of that post highlights, every time I walk into a Trader Joe’s I feel seen.  I feel like I am a human being recognized by other human beings.  I feel like I’m welcomed and appreciated and acknowledged.  All of this simply from eye contact, a smile, and a hello?  Yep, that’s the magic of Trader Joe’s.

I can’t say that I get that same feeling when I walk into most theatre lobbies and offices.  Why is that?  What does Trader Joe’s have that our theatres don’t?  They are just as busy (or more so) as we are but they create a completely different atmosphere.

I went to the source: a friend who works at my customer service Mecca.  I asked, “What is it?  How do they train you?  What materials do they give you?  How do you create this amazing environment in what could just be a crowded grocery store?”

His answer?  “It is really about the hiring process.”

Really?  Just hiring?  No sample scripts?  No role playing?  No complicated brainwashing?

Really.  They put the most energy into what Jim Collins calls “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.”  Each potential hire is interviewed by 3 or 4 people.  They are looking for innate qualities of kindness and human connection, not lines on a resume.  They don’t do much training at all.  As my friend said, “it is hard to teach someone to be warm and friendly.”  The fit is the thing.

I’ve read that so many times over the years but too often we hire for one of three reasons:

  1. They are our friends
  2. They are the person available and we don’t want a hole in the organization
  3. They have tactical experience, regardless of “soft” skills

Not everyone is the right fit for every organization and it takes discipline to hire for fit and not for “we think they can do the job.”  It takes fortitude (and everyone pitching in) to keep a position open until you find that right person.  And it takes courage to make a change if you make the wrong hire.  But, just as with the good-to-great companies in Jim Collins’ book, that is the essential first step to becoming a great organization.  You can have the clearest vision for the company possible, but if you don’t have the right people in the right seats, you aren’t going to achieve that vision.  Compromising on who you hire is the first step to mediocrity.

We also need to work on the other thing my friend mentioned about Trader Joe’s:  they take care of their people.  Yes, that means good pay, 401(k), vacation time, holidays off.  Even more than those, he says Management is encouraged to care for the “whole employee.”  They treat each other with as much respect and humanity as they treat their customers.

Theatres are (can be) community-building, inside and out.  The relationship that can form betwixt and between audience members and artists is beautiful.  What Trader Joe’s shows us is that this human connection isn’t the sole purview of the theatrical production.  We can build community from the very first contact of someone walking into the box office, the classroom, or the administrative offices.  We can build it among ourselves within our offices, conference rooms, and rehearsal halls.  In order to do that you have to bring your humanity to work and welcome the humanity of those who enter our potentially magical spaces.  Connection is a vital thing to our well-being.  Let’s not wait for the show to make that connection.  It starts with us.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,