Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Part 2 - It all Comes to a Head

In the fall of 2011 it had become more and more clear that discontent was brewing in the midst of our continued efforts for the show to go on. In December, my friend and co-improviser Mary Thompson-Hunt was embarking on a thesis project for her Masters degree. She was assigned to do a project involving leadership and she approached me with an idea to utilize her knowledge and experience of improvisation and love of SAK. She asked me what were some of my thoughts towards leadership and asked about how I lead and run SAK. That conversation led to a question about what does SAK need most right now and my answer was - More audience. For her thesis and project she chose to center on that topic. Her project was entitled: An Assessment of Improving Audience Attendance at SAK. I let her know that as part of that question, I'd be interested to know both from the perspective of our audiences and the perspective of those who work and perform at SAK what we should do or need to do to build more audience. Mary administered an extensive survey covering that topic and several others.

Again, this exercise revealed more levels of discontent, unhappiness, disenfranchisement and lack of creative fulfillment. I fancy myself as someone who can work well to bring joy and inspiration to groups, but it was clear there was a growing gap between the leadership of SAK (for which I was ultimately responsible) and those who were tasked with making the funny happen on a daily and weekly basis.

In addition to that I received around that time an anonymous email. It was sent from a generic not-identifiable google email address, obviously made for the express purpose of writing to me in an untraceable fashion, which basically said "I'm not a fan of your leadership style," and included a link to a video tagged with "I think you should watch this..." It was a tongue in cheek talk about leadership entitled: "How to de-motivate your people."

Although I took umbrage over some of the viewpoints, thinking I do a lot of what the speaker was suggesting as the "right" way(s) to lead, I did recognize that I was, by many of my choices, inhibiting creative freedom, innovation and joy for many of those on my team.

So my choice was to grab the bull by the horns and dig deeper into the discontent.  This was like the Arab Spring - an Improv Spring if you will.  People were looking for change and advancement and opportunities for growth and joyous fulfillment.  How can you not want them to have that.  I chose not to crack the whip and crack down on the protests, however.  I chose to have lunch.

During a lunch with my friend and awesome associate Bob Kodzis, I spoke of my desire to find out more about what was missing or standing in the way of our forward progression. I shared with Bob the results of Mary's survey findings and he suggested a gathering of several focus groups made up of the different clusters at SAK - our Ensemble, Front of House, Lab Rats, Gen S, Staff, Leadership, etc. Thankfully Bob offered to facilitate those meetings which asked some deeply probing questions including: What do you love about SAK? What needs improvement at SAK? Who do you consider the Most Trusted? The Most Admired?  What needs to change?

From these meetings we were able to distinguish where some of the most toxic areas of discontent were centered.

There were a lot of questions and concerns about how the company was run as well as concerns about artistic stagnation. There was a great desire for more transparency in choices and policies made and instituted and an even greater desire for artistic and creative innovation and as individuals to be more a part of that process and decision making.

In fact, those sentiments were so strong that if left unattended, there would undoubtedly have been a large chunk of the SAK performing family uprooting and seeking creative fulfillment elsewhere.

Something HAD to be done about it, and fast!

End of Part 2

Next Post: Part 3 - Explosion, Reflection, Epiphany