Dear SPCO Board Members,
I am writing to thank you for your service to the SPCO and the community. As a thirty-year SPCO patron, I am also writing to express concern at the recent contract negotiations as described in Evelina Chao’s Pioneer Press article.
In previous generations, orchestra boards and managers focused on building something great: a vibrant, strong orchestra that would endure beyond the present era and leave a legacy to enrich the community. This was true even during economic times much graver than ours. Sadly, your focus now is on dismantling the orchestral greatness that previous generations have built.
Your job is to protect and to serve the orchestra. I believe you fully capable of doing that. With the talent, ingenuity, and experience represented on the current SPCO board, you are more than able to steer this outstanding orchestra into financial stability and even higher level artistic excellence.
Surely, this current budget issue is a solvable problem. Surely, you are capable of solving it without making financial concessions where they never should be made–on the backs of the musicians (who have already extensively conceded personal salaries to help you meet budgets) and at the expense of this orchestra’s size and exceptional quality.
Many of the SPCO musicians could have chosen ensemble or solo careers in larger, highly competitive cities such as Berlin, New York, Vienna, etc. Yet they chose to work here, in your company, because they value the Midwest and living in the Twin Cities. How lucky we are to enjoy talent of such caliber right here in Minnesota! And these musicians, some of whom have dedicated their entire, multi-decade professional careers to the SPCO, deserve our community patronage and your best stewardship.
Please give them the best you’ve got.
If this orchestra’s quality and size are dismantled, the community will lose. I, and many other current and future orchestra patrons, will lose. These incredibly talented musicians will lose, after years of dedicated service, which is not what they deserve. And you will lose, too.
I don’t believe that you intend your legacy to be the destruction of a cultural treasure that took decades to build. Yet this will be the unfortunate byproduct of a misguided managerial decision. As business people, you are probably familiar with the Abilene Principle. It’s even more aptly described as the Abilene Paradox.
As you likely remember, the Abilene Paradox is enacted when a management group becomes entrenched in making a decision that is not the best decision. As more members of the group agree to the decision despite their reservations, the firmer it becomes. At a certain point, no one in the group dares say, “You know, actually, I think we should choose a different course.” Even though everyone in the management group has unspoken doubts, the suboptimal decision becomes policy and a defining condition of the company and employees.
Thus the paradox: although the decision defies logic or reason, the management group chooses it, and everyone must live with the consequences.
You may recall instances of the Abilene Paradox in companies where you have worked. Perhaps you have even been part of a management group enacting such a paradox. It’s not a fun place to be. As the unwise decision is being made, one is often deeply uneasy. But that discomfort is nothing compared to the consequences one must deal with as a manager after making such a decision. The discomfort is only the beginning of what can be years of problems and regret.
Leaders make mistakes–it’s often how those in managerial roles learn. Mistakes need not be a big deal. They can be an opportunity to revise, rethink, replan, make things better for the company and the employees. But mistakes become catastrophic when they are endorsed and solidified into policy rather than stopped and questioned.
Please stop to question your current plan about the SPCO contract. You are endorsing a policy that does not make artistic or financial sense: if you strip the artistic quality of the orchestra, you will not be able to support future fundraising, and this will create a cycle of decreasing funds and diminished product. Some of you must be feeling concerns about this plan, or have doubted if this is really the best course. You are wise to have those doubts–listen to them.
You absolutely still can make this right. But you must speak out about finding a different way out of this challenge before it is too late.
The mark of truly great leaders is the ability to look at a suboptimal plan and say, “We explored this, and now we realize it is not the best option. Based on what we have learned, we are going to choose something better.” You still have the opportunity to be great leaders in this situation, to restore the orchestra’s trust and the community’s support, and to leave a legacy that would make you and the community proud.
Thank you again for your time, support, and service to the SPCO.
Saint Paul, MN