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Fostering Change in Your Organization
Episode 69

Fostering Change in Your Organization

Live Panel from Digital Marketing Boot Camp

This episode is hosted by Jennifer Zaslow.

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At Digital Marketing Boot Camp for the Arts 2019, we hosted a panel called Fostering Change in Your Organization. You may work in an organization that fears change or does not evolve as quickly as you would like. This session asked, "How can you enact change and develop a culture that embraces innovation?"

Jennifer Zaslow: Anyone know the term VUCA? Oh, hmm. VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It’s a term coined by the American military after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then appropriated by the corporate world to kind of describe what it’s like to do business in the digital age. It’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Things are moving so fast, it’s hard to keep up with them. So, I think that applies to all of us in the arts, as well. We heard Michael Kaiser say, “We can’t just do what we did yesterday.” Change is inevitable and it’s also uncomfortable, so how will we handle it? How will you handle it? We have a fantastic panel here today and our goal is for you to come away with some not only profiles in courage from these people, but also actionable strategies on how to create change. So, I’m just gonna remind you guys, please, to tell everyone who you are and what your role is and what your organization is. So, as Erik kind of already set us up, I often hear from colleagues and clients, “I’m sold on the need for change, but I can’t get buy-in from the board, my boss, my team. What can I do?” Can you tell us about some opportunities, some examples of times you’ve tried to create change and overcome resistance?

Terri Freeman: Okay, I’ll start. (laughter) Hi, I’m Terri Freeman. I’m president of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee at the Lorraine Motel, which was the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So, that is what my day job is. I’ve been at the museum for five years and the museum was founded in 1991 and one of the big … well, no, not one … Our only major fundraising event has been the same since 1991. (laughter) And so, I got there in 2014, actually about a month prior to the event. And it is a fabulous event. It’s called the Freedom Award and they honor icons of the movement, those that are still living, as well as what we call “new movement makers,” people doing the work around the issues of civil and human rights. And it was a ceremony, an award ceremony, in one location and then, everybody would walk over to another location and have a chicken dinner. And I was like, “I can’t.” (laughter) “I just cannot do this.” First off, by the time you finish with the award ceremony, it’s like 9:30! Who wants to eat dinner at 9:30 at night, right? So, me and my new self decided, “We’re going to change this freedom award,” right? Well, you would have thought I was saying that I, myself, was gonna get rid of the National Civil Rights Museum. (laughter) So, but I was determined because I knew, I had talked to people in the community who attended the event, who would say to me quietly, “If you can change that event, I’ll give you more money.” (laughter) So, I got word of the fact that our convention center, actually, was going to be renovated and I thought, “That’s it. I don’t need to know dates,” and I went to the board and said, “Look, we can’t risk the potential of having an event in the middle of a build-out of the convention center, so we need to move the location and in order to move the location, we don’t have another place big enough to have a dinner. So, we’re going to have a reception at the front end and then move people into the ceremony.” Well, they were like, “We don’t like this, but we’re going to go ahead and let you do this.” I could no more change that event back to a dinner now than the man in the moon. So, it was incredibly successful. It was painful. I had an earful constantly, but I actually did kind of say, “I’m going to have to go with the whole ‘forgiveness versus permission,’” because the event was just too staid, too dated, didn’t have any vibrancy to it. And it’s interesting because now there are more people in the city who are having events that are more on the style of the event that we are having. So, that was kind of … I jumped into it thinking, “This was not going to be hard,” but was a little harder than I anticipated. But it turned out to be very successful and we’ve raised more money since then.

Jennifer Zaslow: So, I’m hearing, when it comes to the obstacles and the resistance you heard from the board, you-

Terri Freeman: It’s, “We always did it this way, 1991 to 2016.”

Jennifer Zaslow: And you pressed, you just pressed ahead.

Terri Freeman: Yeah. (laughter) I could maybe not be sitting here today. (laughter)

Jennifer Zaslow: Okay. Okay. Yeah. So, a little risk involved. Yeah. Who else?

Andrew Haines: I guess I can go next. Yeah, so, I’m Andrew Haines, Director of Marketing and Communications at Seattle Rep. We used to be Seattle Repertory Theatre. Part of our changes, we changed our name. We’ve changed a lot of things in the last couple of years. It’s interesting because I did … I’ve been there for four years and I came in at a time of change. We had recently seen major turnover in our leadership with our Managing Director and Artistic Director at the same time, so there was a lot of transition. But when I arrived, one of the things that was most apparent was that we were in desperate need of a new website. Richie, who oversees our website is in the audience today and I remember sitting down with Richie and he gave me an earful of information that was actually very useful. So, I immediately started talking to our Managing Director about, you know, “Can we do this? Should we do this?” You know, well, there wasn’t a question in my mind and he was on board, which was great. So, I had buy-in from him but presenting it to the board was a little bit more of a challenge because, as many of you know, a website is extremely expensive and we didn’t need to just make some minor changes or adapt the website; we needed to start over. It was time to build from scratch. We didn’t have a mobile-first or mobile-responsive website. Richie was our CMS system. (laughter) We jokingly say that Richie was a CMS. Thank you, Richie. You know, I mean, truly, like, any change, he had to go in and make those changes. We didn’t have a CMS. So, I mean, we really had to start over. But when we talked to the board about it, because it was expensive, they really were apprehensive and they didn’t understand why we needed a new website. They said, “Well, didn’t we just get one?” And it’s like, “Well, actually, we didn’t.” But you know, and it’s also, this is evolving technology. And at the same time, we also knew we needed to do a rebrand that would coincide with that and when we brought up the idea of a rebrand and that was also met with resistance. And so, in hearing those responses, what I learned is that I really needed to build a case and it was almost like creating a campaign to make this change happen. I was really lucky that, again, that the Managing Director was on board and I didn’t have to persuade him. Also, that, you know, the staff, everybody was on board in that regard. It was really about convincing the board to “okay” and sign off on this major price tag and that it was okay for us to do that. And, you know, of course, the biggest question that I, that I got was, “What’s the ROI? What are we going to … Tell us what the metrics are. Tell us all the measurements and then, maybe, we’ll say yes to it.” But it was about a three-year process and, in earnest, probably about two to two-and-a-half years. So, I built the case. You know, I also, you know, I had to learn … there were different areas of resistance. So, you know, like, one board member, this was what they were fixated on and then maybe another board member was thinking about this. So, I would have to have one-on-one meetings with them and really kind of explain it. Again, I would go to Richie a lot and say, “How do I qualify this?” (laughs) you know, “What can you, what kind of information can you give me to make this happen?” Ultimately, we got there. You know, long story short, we were able to really, kind of, to get to that place. One of the things that I will say that was really helpful was that I had Erik come out and Erik came out to talk primarily about, you know, digital marketing, but I said to him, because he knew we were in the process of trying to get approval for a website and we’ve been talking to, you know, to Jane and to folks at Capacity a lot about it and they had also said, you know, like when I arrived at, they were like, “You need a new website.” (laughter) There are things we can’t do. And so, I’m like, “Yeah, okay.” So, when Erik came out, I said, “Hey, I want you to come out and talk to our board about digital marketing so that they really have a good understanding of it. But can you also just talk a little bit about the website and, you know, why it would be important? To just kind of put that in there a little bit.” I mean, he did it so well that, you know, after the presentation, for months, people would come to me and say, “We love that website guy. We love that guy that came to talk about the website,” (laughter) and it’s like … and I’m like, “Well yeah, there was more to- I mean, yes. That was great.” (laughter) So, then, I knew that they were on board with the website. So long story short, yes. We just launched our website at the end of August. Please, It’s fantastic. We’re very pleased with it. And now, we’re doing all kinds of metrics and analytics that we couldn’t do before. So, it’s very exciting.

Jennifer Zaslow: So, I’m hearing—this is what I do as a coach. (laughter) I, like, recap what people say—yeah, so I’m hearing that you made your case, that you took, like, a very specific approach.

Andrew Haines: Yeah.

Jennifer Zaslow: You, like a marketer, you knew your audience and you did a lot of thin slices, right?

Andrew Haines: Yeah.

Jennifer Zaslow: You knew who had what objection and you try to meet them with whatever information would overturn that objection.

Andrew Haines: Yeah.

Jennifer Zaslow: I would also ask you, I mean … right, so here’s Erik and you were able to bring in expert. Did you feel intimidated by or concerned about your own standing by bringing in an expert when, theoretically, you’re the expert?

Andrew Haines: Um, not, no. I mean, for me, personally, no. I mean, I actually feel like, the more people, the better and the more experts that can come in and build a case … because I, again, this is not … I mean, a process such as this doesn’t you … it’s not one person, right? And I will say, you know, like, we … I mean, it … I had heard from- I mean, I heard from Capacity, I’ve heard from Richie and other members of the staff that we needed this new website. I started to do my research and learn what we needed to do. And then, when we were launching into it, it was also talking to a variety of people and doing our research, so we made sure that we went with the right agency. You know, we didn’t, you know, we really were thoughtful about it and you can’t do that on your own. And it’s like … and we also, I mean, like we had an amazing team on staff that was able to work with the agency. We were, it was a very collaborative effort. And that was actually … in choosing a website agency, that was paramount for us because we are a very collaborative organization. We wanted to be a part of that process. We didn’t want to be told what to do. We wanted to be a part of that conversation. So, no, I mean, it’s a long answer to your question, but it’s, yeah.

Jennifer Zaslow: Good. A lot of people are writing. Yeah. So, I mean, that’s not an easy thing to do. You know, often, when we’re embedded in an organization, we feel, “Well, we’re the experts and people should, you know, take our word for it,” except that often they don’t. So, it does take a measure of humility to be able to do that. And it served you. Yeah.

Andrew Haines: Thanks.

Jennifer Zaslow: What about you, Lynette?

Lynette Shy: I’m Lynette Shy. I’m the Marketing Director at BalletMet. We’re in Columbus, Ohio. We are, obviously, a ballet company. We’re about six-and-a-half million dollars and we put on six different shows a year. We have an academy and we have an education and outreach program. So, I think my … I’m going to go way back. I’ve been at BalletMet for nine years now and I took over the department about six years ago and when I took over the department, we had a $0 digital budget.

Andrew Haines: Hm.

Lynette Shy: I had direct mail campaigns—which I know are still effective, but they are extremely expensive. So, when I started looking at my budget, I started following the money and that’s where I went first. One of the biggest expenses I had was a subscription campaign, trade mailing, that they did it because they had always done it at BalletMet, but it costs $40,000 for us to send out these trades. And there was no data telling me how many subscriptions I was getting off of these trades. So, that was the first thing that I did, is I started following the path. It took a lot of collaboration. It took a lot of work with other departments. But and behold, we found out we sold four. Four subscriptions for $400 for a $40,000 campaign. (laughter) So, when you do that, you can very easily go to your boss and say, “We just spent $39,900-and-whatever and we basically wasted all this money and we just threw it out the window. So, that, for me, was a very effective way (laughter) of proving that that wasn’t going to work. So, we’ve now, you know, fast-forward some years and we’re almost all digital now. I do have to prove it, still to this day. I always have board members that are, “I didn’t see the ad in the Columbus Dispatch.” That’s our town newspaper. And so, I did, one year I ran an ad for … we were doing a version of the wizard of Oz and I bought a half-page ad in our newspaper. It cost me $5,000 and I put a code for 50% off tickets and I sold seven. (laughs) So, again, I was able to go to that board member and tell them, “Obviously, it’s a lot cheaper for us to do this kind of advertising digitally where I can show you, you know, look at the ROI on this and it’s super, super high,” and that’s basically … I always follow the data,

Jennifer Zaslow: Follow the data. Right, right. So, because I think the devil is in the details for, you know, a lot of people out here, I’m curious about process. What, when you’ve tried to—and you’ve spoken to this a little bit—when you’ve tried to move change forward, what kind of processes are you using? How are you communicating? You know often, you know, these days in tech we talk about an “iterative process” or “move fast and break things.” What are the processes that you guys have used?

Andrew Haines: Sure, I can start. (laughter) You know, it’s interesting. I mean, this is kind of … this is not a direct answer to the question, but I was thinking a little bit more about … when you were talking, too … I think for me it’s about … I realized with the website, for instance, that there was resistance, but I also had to put myself in the place of the board member and not just say, “Oh, they just don’t want to do it,” and “Oh, bad board member,” because that’s not the case. They’re actually coming at it from a fiduciary responsibility, right? They’re thinking about the money that it costs. And so, I had to kind of turn my head around and not say, “It’s us versus them,” or that they’re against me. It’s really more about trying to understand their perspective and why their perspective is what it is, so that I can then have a dialogue and conversation about that and come at it from their perspective and angle. And I think that’s the case with anything that … when you’re trying to create change. I mean, change can be scary and there’s a lot of fear around change, but change is inevitable. And so, the, I mean, you know, it’s often said, “The only consistent is change,” you know? And so, you have to be able to think about, “Well, why is it scary?” or, “Why is it fearful?” You know, for one board member, it might be, “Well, you know, maybe this is going to put us in debt,” right? Or, you know, whatever it might be or whatever the situation might be. So, for me, I think it’s … I always start with, “Why is there resistance and why are you opposed to this?” so that we can have a dialogue about it.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah, yeah. Terri.

Terri Freeman: I was just going to say that change … the only way you’re going to effect change, really, is to communicate the change and everybody has to be a part of that. And I have learned over time that sometimes, we communicate very well to certain levels with regard to whatever the change is going to be and I think, when it comes to the board, since they’re a big part of my constituency as President of the organization, you know, I try to almost over-communicate in a lot of ways to get them on board. We have just recently gone through a strategic plan for the next three years and one of the big goals that came out of it was that we needed to have a board that was a 21st-century board for a museum that you want to remain relevant. We are a museum of history and culture. Interestingly, if you’ve come to the museum, the pictures you see in the museum are not that different, unfortunately, than some of the pictures that we’ve seen in the news over the past several years. So, there is a natural relevance, but you’ve got to want to do things a little differently than we did in 1991. So, I think there is a bit of a … in trying to create the change with the board, it’s interesting how many board members will say, “Yes, you’re right. We need to change this board. They need to go.” (laughter) And I’m thinking, “Well, no, we need to be a little bit more holistically looking at this,” but I do think that sometimes, it’s about how often and how much you communicated and I actually think it is important to bring in people who are third parties who can say what you know is the right thing and they’ll be heard differently than you will. So, for me, it’s always kind of about, “Who’s the expert that I can bring in who is going to verify or add some more credibility to what I have to say with regard to changes?” But process for me, with regard to any change, from the smallest to the largest, is really about communicating and communicating it throughout the entire organization, from the board level to security at the front door.

Jennifer Zaslow: And can I just probe that, too? Because, you know, what I heard from some of you out here … you’re leading an organization. So, you’re talking both about communicating to your board and trying to change opinion up. How do you communicate, cascade, that communication throughout the organization? One of the things I’ve experienced myself and I think people in the room have experienced is feeling in the dark about what the leaders’ plans are or what the vision is. What’s your perspective on that and how have you done it?

Terri Freeman: Well, first of all, everyone in the organization knows when board meetings occur everyone knows who the board members are, and we have monthly staff meetings. So, following the board meetings, I recap what took place at the board. Now, they don’t always need all the gory details, but they need to know the things that are important to them. So, it took us about eight months to go through the strategic planning process, which the staff was a part of, but they also knew that all of that stuff had to go up, right? And then come back down. So, we made a point of dedicating staff meeting time specifically to talking about, “This is where the board is on these areas. These are the things that were in congruence on. These are the things where there are some difference of opinion on and just making sure that they understand that. That said, when you are far-removed from the board and they become “The Board,” the big scary board, right? There are some things that you’ll never really understand fully when the board makes a decision about something that doesn’t seem like it makes any sense to you at all. Sometimes, you can’t bridge that difference. And sometimes, what I have to say to the staff is, “I need you to trust me a little bit and know that I have your best interest at heart, but it’s not about you. It’s about the organization. And sometimes what is good for the organization is not always good for every individual in the organization.” So, they’re just … I try to be very real with the staff. I also try to be very real with the board so that there is some understanding that the communication that they’re hearing from me is not totally different based the audience that I’m talking to.

Jennifer Zaslow: Thank you. You want to weigh in, Lynette?

Lynette Shy: On process?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah, sure. Communication, process.

Lynette Shy: I think one of the things that maybe is a little different for me is, I don’t have quite the budget to bring experts in all the time, so I had to become the expert. And so, I do that through coming to Boot Camp and watching webinars and trying to stay on the forefront of everything that’s going on in the industry from a marketing standpoint and in the industry from an art standpoint. And then, quite like you, I build a case. So, I might be … if you could see my brain, I think everybody would be scared (laughter) cause I might have, like, 50—and I’m not even kidding—different things that I’m working on all at the same time, but I’m laying groundwork based on different things all at once. So, I might be talking to a board member about this one. I might pull a slide presentation from a Boot Camp presentation a couple of years ago and put it into something that’s going to senior management. I might do, like … I do all these different things, so I’m constantly marketing to them.

Andrew Haines: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Lynette Shy: Doing what we do to them, too. So …

Jennifer Zaslow: Lots of success stories. What about when things went wrong? Sometimes, we try to change things, we try to get buy-in, it doesn’t work. I’m curious, has anyone up here ever had a fail?

Panelists: Yes. Yup. Yeah. (laughter)

Terri Freeman: And this was prior to working at the museum. I was President of the community foundation in Washington, D.C., and I was in that role for eighteen years and at one point I made the decision that we … the structure needed to be modified some because it was just too many people, frankly, reporting to me and me trying to carry on everything. So, I made the decision that one of the individuals, really, really good. When you talk about process? Oh, my god, just fabulous around process! Give her something to do, her mind just thought in a different way than mine did and I knew I was going to get the exact right product. So, put her in the role of COO. And so, I now had the CFO, the COO, reporting to me and then my program folks and my development folks and others reported up through the COO. Oh, my god. It was the worst failure ever. (laughter) I mean, just … No, really, really horrible. (laughter) To the point where I had really good people who worked for me saying, “I’m going to leave. I cannot do this.” This … They were like, “Yeah, she’s really good with process but she didn’t know how to treat people,” but she managed up very, very well. So, what I was seeing and what they were seeing were totally different and I started really being observant because I was concerned I was going to be losing some really, really good people and I had to unwind my decision. It was not easy to do. There were … I had a long relationship with that individual, but literally, she was destroying the organization. And so, I had to make a very unpopular decision. She was very popular with board members. It was … it created the most stress that I think I have ever had to work under and I think what I learned from that situation was that I acted too quickly. I should have taken more time to really figure out, what are the stress points, Terri, that are creating this situation where you’re feeling like you’re not managing well? It wasn’t just to automatically decide, “Oh, well everybody else has a COO, so I need a COO.” And so, I learned a really important lesson. I also … I think I also really kind of fine-tuned my ability to deliver some really difficult information, not just … and to receive it, as well, because I got all sorts of blowback from my, from my board. But it was a hard lesson learned. Never do that again.

Jennifer Zaslow: So, maybe go more slowly.

Terri Freeman: Definitely, definitely. I’ve been told you should hire slowly and fire quickly. (laughter)

Jennifer Zaslow: Other stories of … ?

Andrew Haines: Well, I would just say that, I don’t know if I have a story per se, but I would just say that for me, I think that when you don’t have a success or when you have a failure, I almost … I’ve always … I said this in preparation for this, I think I’ve learned more from failure than I have from success. And so, I always want to embrace failure because you’re going to learn and I don’t think you can move forward without that failure and you can learn how to do it better the next time. And, like, really to your point of the things you had to learn and you couldn’t just say, “Well, I just, I feel like I need the COO because other people have it.” I mean, it’s, you know, for me, it’s really about having to add to it. We’re always learning and we’re always getting new information.

Jennifer Zaslow: Is failure a necessary part of change?

Andrew Haines: I think so.

Terri Freeman: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jennifer Zaslow: How do you create an environment in which it’s okay to fail and make a mistake? Lynette? Or anyone?

Lynette Shy: I mean, I think it depends … My team, I hope, feels very safe making decisions and pushing boundaries and bringing ideas that are out of the norm to me, so I want them to know that they are very, very safe making those decisions. It might be a little bit different for me taking them up the ladder, so I think it’s, do your homework and do your best to have the data to support what you’re trying to do to make the changes. And sometimes, just take the leap.

Jennifer Zaslow: I’m hearing from you that you feel that on your team, you can create that environment. And I think that’s worth saying. You’re not yet the CEO of your organization, right? But that you can create a subculture inside … not that your culture isn’t like that, but whatever your culture is, you also have the power to create a subculture that is safe enough where people can make mistakes.

Lynette Shy: Yeah, for sure.

Terri Freeman: I think you also can institutionalize it. we have in our plan, our operational plan, an objective that says, “Give yourself time to be bold and creative.” Well, bold and creative, if it’s truly bold and creative, will probably fail a couple of times, right? Things don’t get created always at the first time out and it really does give people the room and the space to be thoughtful and think about, “What are the things that we might want to do?” or suggest new programs or think of different ways of having our audiences curate exhibits around issues that are presenting themselves in the news from one moment to the next. And knowing that unless they are taking some ridiculous type of risk that puts the organization in jeopardy, that they’re not going to be … there’s no punitive measures that are going to be taken. And I think that that’s institutionalizing the idea of flexibility and having an environment that at least tolerates a certain level of risk is really important. And one of the things that I do is I do insulate my folks from the board because, again, when you don’t know them, it becomes this scary thing. And I say to them all the time, “You all don’t worry about the board. I got that. You all do your job,” and then if I need to come back and tell you that we gotta modify or adjust something, then we’ll do that. But, you know, nothing really good was ever created by being safe.

Andrew Haines: That’s right.

Terri Freeman: And for some of the things and the issues in which I find myself working in, community issues around justice and poverty, if we don’t make some bold and creative decisions around this, nothing is going to ever change. And that’s the type of environment I try to foster.

Andrew Haines: I think that, again, like, you have to take risk and you can’t move forward if you don’t take that risk and sometimes it’s not going to succeed, but at least you tried and at least you put it out there. You know, again, I mean, I guess an example would be there was a … we recently did a social media campaign that we thought would do really well and it didn’t. And, you know, Alison, who’s here, who’s our Social Media Manager, you know, was … you know, we talked about this campaign with Angela, our Creative Director who was also here. Hello everyone. (laughter) I like to call everybody out. We have a great team. But, you know, like, we thought this campaign was going to take off and it was … and it didn’t, but at least we tried something, right? At least we put it out there and we didn’t just say, “Oh, well, you know.” I mean, like, and we learn from … I mean, and, you know, there were, you know, Alison sent me an email wrapping it up saying, “We’re going to end this campaign. Here are the lessons that I’ve learned from doing this. Next time, if we try something …” And I think that that’s really important. I, you know, I once had a boss who was very innovative and was like, “Let’s just try whatever and not be afraid of the risk,” and, you know, as a marketer, for me, I think it’s also some of the fear comes out of the language that we use. So, I don’t like to think about it as failure. I really like to think about it as learning. And I don’t, I also don’t necessarily like the word “change.” I like to think of it as “innovation” because change has a connotation to it of, “Oh, things are changing and that’s not good.” And so, you know, and even, like, with our rebrand, when we were doing our rebrand, we knew that there was, there’s so much wrapped around … you know, it’s interesting what Michael Kaiser was talking about this morning in marketing the institution because that’s exactly what the approach we were taking with our rebrand. And we were trying, we were tying together, actually, our programming and our institution and that was a major step for us and we knew that there were going to be board members that were going to have a challenge with this. And I wish I could’ve come up with this, but I, on my marketing committee for our board, we were talking about this with the marketing committee. And I’m lucky that my committee is … they’re all marketers, so they’re always on board. So, we were talking about how to talk about the rebrand and the … not being this big, scary thing with the trustees. And one of our committee members said, “Well, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. We’re not … when it’s … we’re not revolting, right?” You know, and so, and I was like, “Well, that’s brilliant.” So, we now use that term all the time. And so I think it’s really about, it’s getting back down to the terminology. You’ve got to try things. You’ve got to set it up so that it seems safe and it doesn’t seem like you’re … it’s this big, scary thing.

Lynette Shy: One more thing I’m going to chime in.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah.

Lynette Shy: You have to be prepared to pivot. So, we talked about this, too. We are constantly changing and we’re not afraid of it as a team because we know that we’re going to have to. So, I say, “Pivot, pivot, pivot. Always be on the lookout.” If something’s not working, we switch it up. If … you know, it’s just constant.

Jennifer Zaslow: I’d love to hear from you guys. I’m a little early on questions, but I love questions. So, could we maybe … Sorry, I’m throwing a wrench into the … Yeah, here’s one here in the middle.

Audience Member: Thank you all. That was incredibly helpful. I think most of us in this room are in this business because we’re super passionate about whatever we do, so what advice do you have for not taking failure or change or success too personally?

Terri Freeman: How can you not take it personally? (laughter)

Audience Member: I know, it’s always personal, right?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes!

Terri Freeman: You know, I mean, really, because you want it to work, right? You had this great idea. It was the right thing. You knew it was the right thing. I think you just have to recognize that not every one is going to work, but some of them are and I think what we have to really do is take some time to evaluate all of the steps that led up to whatever the final product was, to find out, “Okay, something happened here. What happened? Why didn’t this work? Was it an external issue? Was it an internal issue?” I think we have to kind of be objective, but I think it’s not realistic. Human beings are fragile people. We’re fragile, right? We’re very fragile and so, of course our ego is going to hurt a little when it doesn’t work out. But I guarantee you what you’ll do is you’ll take that experience and then you apply it to something else and something else will work.

Lynette Shy: I’m going to chime in and say, celebrate your wins too. I mean, in this lifestyle—I’m saying lifestyle because we are passionate about what we do, so we work all the time and the work never ends, right?—celebrate when it goes well. Celebrate when you make goal, celebrate when your campaign does what it wants to do. I think, I know for us, a lot of times we’re like, “Yay!” and then we move on. So, like really more, you know, celebrate more of the “yays.”

Andrew Haines: I would also add that I take it personally when I haven’t done something and we don’t succeed, you know? So, for me, I would rather fail trying then than not trying at all. And … because I would hate to go to my Managing Director or to our board and say, “This show, we didn’t sell, we didn’t meet our goal and I also didn’t take any risks and I didn’t try anything.” At least I can go and say, “Here are the five things we tried. None of them worked, but we …” but I’m going to take it more personally and feel like I didn’t do my job if I don’t take the risk.

Justin: Hi, I’m Justin. I’m the Communications Director at CounterPulse, a performing arts space in San Francisco. So, we have a very ambitious and innovative team and we take a lot of risks, perhaps too many. So, we’re constantly (laughs) rebranding our gala to a benefit. We’re doing new brochures, we’re launching new programs, and I have been at the organization longer than some other people who’ve come in and are wanting to be innovative and take ambitions and I sense myself kind of going back to the institutional knowledge of, “Well, we tried it this way. Maybe we shouldn’t go back or let’s just stick with the default because it’s what our audience is used to, this sort of branding.” So, I’m trying to negotiate a way of having an institutional knowledge, but still honoring our, like, iterative and innovative nature and yeah … I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that.

Jennifer Zaslow: That’s a hard one.

Andrew Haines: That’s a hard one.

Lynette Shy: That is a hard one.

Andrew Haines: Your change is not change as much, is that right? (laughter) I mean, like, your change is not to change as often and not to do as much change, it sounds like.

Justin: We’re always trying to, like, innovate and take risks. Like, it’s literally our tagline, like, “Shatter assumptions and be risk-taking,” so I’m like, “Maybe let’s take less risk.” (laughter)

Jennifer Zaslow: I’m not the expert here; I’m just the moderator, but I just, maybe I’ll just play in. (laughter) What would it be like for you to be transparent about what you’re thinking? “I fear all of this innovation all at once,” and open your conversation that way and think about saying, “You know what? I think we could handle two new things this year and two more new things next year and let’s have a vote on what everyone’s thinks is the right path,” or something like that. How does that land for you, with a thumbs up or thumbs down? Okay. (laughter)

Audience Member: Hi.

Panelists: Hi.

Audience Member: Thank you so much for sharing all of this information. One of the things I’m curious about is, when you’re trying to implement complex change—and oftentimes, as you guys have said, you kind of have to pitch that to your team and implement it incrementally—so I’m curious how you go about doing that without losing that focus or that sense of urgency about that change because you want to make that monumental change for a reason, but, you know, as you’re having to delay, delay, delay, sometimes you can kind of lose touch with that and it’s like, “Oh, well does that really need to change?” and, you know … how do you kind of avoid drinking the Kool-aid, as it were-

Andrew Haines: Hmm.

Audience Member: and that kind of group think about, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it”

Lynette Shy: So, I’m going to … for me, I’ve been trying to change my website for nine years, not even lying. You know, it’s awful. (laughter) And one of the things that happened, truly that happened to me about three years in, I was done. I was sick of it. I just couldn’t keep going and asking for money every year. And they kept telling me no, and it wasn’t that much. And I think it became me, actually. I had to look inside and I had to be inspiring for my team and keep myself inspired. It’s hard. It’s not an easy thing to do but going back and saying, “Okay, I’m not going to give up on this one, even though it’s taking me years and years of laying groundwork to get forward. It’s, again, okay, it might be a baby step, but what is that baby step? And I’m going to go back to celebrating the success when you reache that, the first step on this very, very long journey that isn’t going to end right away.”

Andrew Haines: I think, you know, for us, again, like, our website process was close to three years and I had to keep reminding myself why I was important. It helped that, you know, there were serious issues that would happen with our website. I mean, one of the best things that could ever happen was the day that we were announcing our season, the website crashed. And we also happen to have a board meeting that day. (laughter) And so, I was able to go into the board and say, “So, we’re, you know, we were announcing our season today and you may have noticed there was a delay in the announcement. That’s because our website crashed. By the way, I’ve been talking to you about, we needed a new website,” right? (laughter) So … but I think that …. (laughs) I’m not shy. You know, I think that … and yeah, and I didn’t … I mean, fire me. I’m not, you know … fire me if you don’t want a new website because, you know, that, you know. Anyway, but no, I think that you have to, you have to keep reminding yourself. And I think you have to remember … I mean, like, for me, he’s in the room and he hasn’t heard me say this, but I had a really hard time looking at Richie every day knowing what he was going through and not being able to get a new website and knowing how challenging and difficult his job was. So, that was a constant reminder for me to keep motivated to do that. And there were a lot of other things that came my way that I had to deal with that weren’t even related to the new website, but I had to keep it paramount in my mind. And, you know, every time I would see Richie, I’d be like, “Get that website.” So, you know, so I think it’s about constantly reminding yourself, too.

Audience Member: Okay, so I have found that fostering change institutionally is increasingly difficult the further down you are in the power structure of your organization. (laughter)

Andrew Haines: Yes.

Audience Member: So, I guess sort of two-part question: number one, what are your strategies for empowering the people that you supervise to keep generating these ideas for change? But also, what advice would you give to those of us who are middle management or lower who just keep running into walls but also maybe don’t have board access or even access to executive leadership?

Terri Freeman: So, I am definitely not a fan of the old suggestion box thing because the suggestion boxes really a bitch box. (laughter) So, what I do do, though is I really try to utilize my staff meetings as the platform to engage everybody because here’s the issue that we have: we have the we/they issue. You got the administrative folk, right? And we’re in a different building. And then, you’ve got the people who are on the floor who are with the guests, who are dealing with people who walk up to you and say, “Can I touch your hair?” You know, just all sorts of craziness that they have to deal with. So, trying to bridge that. And what I’ve tried to do is on issues that are relating to the entire museum, bringing people together, breaking them up into work groups, working with people who they don’t typically interact with and giving them a task. So, recently, because of the strategic plan, one of the most hurtful things I think I heard during the planning process because I take my people so seriously, is that the values that we said were our values meant nothing because we weren’t using them. And so, I went home and just cried myself under the sofa. Then, I said, “Okay, pick yourself up and figure out what you’re going to do about this,” so we got everybody together. I asked my senior team members not to say anything, just be scribes and let people think through what they believe our values are and why some of the values that we should have, we don’t have. So, that was where I started. Then, what we began to done to do is figure out what types of projects, opportunities are there for people to create and say, “Look, you ever thought about this?” So, we’re looking at a renovation of one of our two buildings and we’ve asked everybody to give us their thinking on what the renovation should attempt, because actually they’re the ones who are welcoming our guests into the museum. They’re the ones who have to say, “Oh, well the bathroom is, like, five blocks away,” or they’re the ones who have to say, “Well, no, there’s no food to be had around here.” So, what are the things that you think are important? So, for me, it’s about having opportunities for everybody to be together, for people to work with different people, not staying in work groups, not staying with the administrative people and sometimes putting you in some uncomfortable situations and circumstances, working with people that I know you’re not that interested in working with. (laughter) But … and then I allow that to kind of percolate up and they hold me accountable to ensure that I am communicating back to them after staff meeting. Well, what was it that we talked about? What are the next steps that we’re going to take? So, that’s the way I have done it. I tend to be open to most conversations with anybody in the organization, as long as it’s not on the side of human resource stuff. I don’t like to get in the middle of my senior managers with their staff. But when it comes to projects and work and thoughts and ideas, everybody works there. We are a team. We’re not a family. We’re a team. And I want all of the team members to have a say.

Andrew Haines: I would also say, as far as, like, how do you … like, if you’re, like, in the middle of the organization, try and use the same tactics like I was talking about, like with building the case or understanding really why, you know, why your manager might have resistance to something. And I would ask that question, you know, “Well, what is your resistance to this? Why?” you know, and hopefully that manager will be open to answering that question. But I would say, you know, “Can I try to prove to you why I think we should be doing this or why this change needs to happen? Can I at least try to break down some of those barriers and some of that resistance? At least, you know, at least give me the chance or the opportunity to do that,” and I would hope, I mean, like, any good managers should say yes to that.

Audience Member: Thank you to all of these incredible panelists!

About Our Guests
Andrew Haines
Andrew Haines
Director of Marketing & Communications, Seattle Rep
Jennifer Zaslow
Jennifer Zaslow
Executive Coach

Jennifer Zaslow is an Executive Coach who believes that power begins with finding your voice. She began her professional life in New York as an aspiring opera singer, an experience that led to a twenty-year career as a leader and senior fundraiser in the non-profit sector.

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Lynette Shy
Lynette Shy
Director of Marketing, Sales & Communications, BalletMet
Terri Lee Freeman
Terri Lee Freeman
President, National Civil Rights Museum

Terri Lee Freeman is the president of the National Civil Rights Museum. She is responsible for providing strategic leadership in furthering the museum’s mission as an educational and cultural institution. She has also emphasized the connection between the historic civil rights era and today’s contemporary issues.

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