A Rebuttal to Jon Campbell and Richard Davis [repost]

[Note:  This is a repost from a something I wrote on 11/29/12.  Obviously, much new information has come out, so some of what I’ve written here has been superseded. But, I think there are still some valid points.]

The Orchestra’s leadership posted an op-ed (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/181275831.html) that set my teeth on edge and needs rebutting. I’ll try to be succinct, but there is much to go thru.

“…The orchestra’s musicians had not offered a single counterproposal. The orchestra board had planned for the possibility of a lockout in case the musicians decided to run out the clock on their contract.”

This is a true statement on the face of it; but understand for many observers your proposal was so ridiculous, far-ranging and unnecessary that it doesn’t merit discussion. It is the equivalent of proposing to pay $5 for a new car, and demanding a counter-offer from the salesman. You are correct that they haven’t made a counteroffer, but are being deliberately misleading as to why.

And biding for time may not make you happy, but it is a standard part of negotiations, and you too were manipulating timelines. Comments like these are unhelpful.

“…we were obligated to make the decision to hold musicians accountable for a counterproposal…”

This is patronizing, paternalistic language. You were not “obligated” to do anything. You chose from a range of options you felt would serve your interests the best and help to bring about your strategic vision of the Orchestra. There was no duress. It is not your duty to hold musicians accountable, as you are not their nanny or schoolmaster. They are partners in negotiation. And, they are your product. Are you suggesting that this entire lock-out, with its significant economic impact for many other parties, is to teach them a lesson? To make them compliant? Reverse this: would they be free to strike to force you to be accountable for your decisions? Can you not see how this language rankles?

“Since then, the musicians have been busy with publicity stunts and attempts to discredit their greatest supporters and most generous donors.”

So when you unilaterally release information to the press, it’s a negotiating tactic, and when the musicians do, it’s a publicity stunt? And careful–the board includes some of the orchestra’s greatest and most generous donors. But not all. And some have publicly challenged your behavior. Sweeping generalizations that are demonstrably false do not add to your credibility.

“…amid 1,200 pages of documents…”

This number gets bandied about often. Did you give them 1,200 pages of useful documents? Why did you not include this year’s budget? Some believe you did a data dump in the hopes that no one would bother looking through everything. That may not be the case, but surely you see why, in light of other issues, some might at least wonder if this was true.

“…it is that they feigned surprise at the revelation of our financial situation.”

Here’s your major point—that you DID give them dire financial information. Unfortunately, after this week you have no credibility in this area. There is proof that you wildly shaded info to meet the demands of whatever conversation you were having at the moment. If you needed to show financial strength, you drew excessively from the endowment to show financial strength. But you immediately pivoted to argue that taking these excessive draws shows just how dire the situation was, and the need to slash salaries. You showed scary statistics of layoffs—which included Orchestra Hall staff such as facilities workers and cleaners who were let go because the building was closed for renovation. Let me be blunt, we only have your word that you told musicians about how dire it was. I don’t know if you did, and I don’t know what information you told them. I just plain don’t believe you, and I don’t begrudge them for not believing you either (either then or now).

“The musicians also knew that the rest of the organization had taken salary, benefit and staff cuts and that we had trimmed other expenses as much as we could without destroying this institution.”

Possibly. The unfortunate reality, however, is much of this occurred after the well had been poisoned, and was widely seen as a negotiating tactic because of how it was handled. Maybe that’s unfair. But again, when you break your credibility in some areas, you tend to lose it everywhere else, too. Plus, you use the phrase “destroying this institution” in an objective way, as if certain actions would, beyond dispute, cause irreparable harm. But everything here is subjective. Executive compensation levels were reduced only 7%. Would asking for more trims in that area truly destroy the institution, when the CEO makes twice as much as the highest paid player who he’s demanding take a 40% cut? Also in the area of objectivity, you were actively trying to transform the orchestra into your own vision of it, not a universally agreed upon version… so actions you might see as being destructive are not viewed that way by other stakeholders, and actions you see as being life-saving could be viewed by others as destructive. That’s why there are negotiations among stakeholders.

“Our minutes in their entirety reflect the deliberations of a board…”

Yes, they do reflect these things. And I’m sure from your perspective they form a solid account of the heroic efforts to right the ship. With respect, everyone is the hero in their own story. But the documents also show some very disturbing trends. Including, a willingness to say anything to anybody to achieve your immediate end, along with a recognition that such actions were controversial and needed to be managed delicately. I think they also reveal something else—a top-down restructuring of the orchestra to turn it into a very different kind of organization. You think this is an entirely necessary business reset, and I’m sure from your CEO and financial backgrounds this transformation is an inherently good thing. But it is clear that not everyone in the orchestra’s family was in agreement. Thus there is a sense of paternalism that your vision of the organization is the only one that is real, viable, and workable. IF you had brought along the musicians to help create a new kind of organization, with a new business model, the minutes would be very different, and the actions of the musicians would also be very different. It feels like you came up with your own model based on the for-profit sector, bulldozed it through, and were disingenuous about its particulars to everyone outside the boardroom.

“While we have been clear that we seek savings of $5 million annually, the approach we use to reduce these costs can be adjusted through the course of good-faith negotiations.”

My rebuttal is already over-long. Simply put, if your base line is the musicians have to take $5 million in compensation cuts, what is there to negotiate? And why do you continue to demand that the musicians to present a counter proposal if you’ve already drawn a line in the sand?

“Our hope is that some of the energy that musicians are putting into these activities will be diverted to helping the Minnesota Orchestra find a solution to a serious financial problem and to giving our audiences the season of music they deserve.”

Again, you’ve come up with your version of a solution, imposed it, and have been disingenuous about it. You’ve demanded the musicians respond to your solution, and shut down the entire organization when they did not comply. It is therefore surprising that you express “hope” that they “help” you. “Help” is something you usually ask for, not demand.

You in your position are indeed tasked with running the organization, of setting its long-term strategies, it priorities, mission and vision. You are within your rights to make hard decisions and change direction. But what you’re advocating goes beyond a new strategic direction or roadmap for the future You are fundamentally changing the character of organization, its product, and its relationship with its many and varied stakeholders—particularly the key relationships with the musicians who are the product. Such a thorough reset is not something that can be achieved top down. Or communicated weakly. A transformation of this scale need significant buy-in and lots of ground work laid. What we have here feels like the recent meltdown with Netflix, where a leader with a small base of support made sweeping changes that radically changed the nature of his product and how users used it. On paper, and surrounded by like-minded supporters, this new model made perfect business sense. But nevertheless it crashed the company.

A final thought. The new movie Lincoln has made quite a stir, in large part showing how the president was willing to engage in all sorts of shady behavior to achieve a great and noble goal. It is the ultimate “ends justifying the means” story. I’m sure this is how you see yourselves and your goal of recreating the organization. Please consider that while this can be true, not all means are worth the cost, and not all ends are worth achieving.



3 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to Jon Campbell and Richard Davis [repost]

  1. Pingback: An Odd Response from the Orchestra | Mask of the Flower Prince

  2. Pingback: Happy Birthday to Mask of the Flower Prince! | Mask of the Flower Prince

  3. Pingback: Interview with Scott Chamberlain: Part 1 | Song of the Lark

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