Lesson from the Trenches: Don’t Sugarcoat Conflicts While Doing Strategic Planning

Print Share on LinkedIn More

August 17, 2011; Source: Philadelphia Inquirer | The Philadelphia Orchestra has been working on a strategic plan to address financial problems resulting from a reduction in revenue. But on the eve of a three-week European tour, 80 of the company’s 100 musicians formally rejected the plan’s recommendations in a letter to orchestra president Allison B. Vulgamore and board chair Richard B. Worley.

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the musicians said in the letter that “[t]he document and its suggestions have serious flaws, and we do not believe it will do what a strategic plan is supposed to do: create a plan for the future that protects the music we create and builds on our legacy as one of the world’s greatest orchestras.”

The musicians say that they do not have an alternative plan at this time, but they think that the process needs to be started over from scratch. What is confusing about the situation is that the process has been touted as one that involved the musicians and was an expression of institutional cohesiveness. The musicians, however, say that they were involved only in the early stages of the process and were then left out when the organization’s financial crisis became more severe.

“That’s why we were surprised by repeated public statements that we were somehow involved in the drafting” of the association’s plan, the letter says. It goes on to say:

As Ms. Vulgamore said in July on CBS, “The conversations with the musicians started in October. So we’ve been working together for a long time.” No, we worked together “a long time ago.” As you know, we did not even see a draft of the plan until just before it appeared in the newspaper at the end of May—more than six months after our involvement in the planning process ended.

If this is true, of course, then this earthquake was inevitable. You cannot turn engagement in decision making on and off without making the process crystal clear. These musicians, like those in many other companies, have now evidently been turned into activists. Though they had been silent about the strategic plan, they did oppose the orchestra’s decision to file for bankruptcy in April, so there was every reason to believe that leaving them out of the last stage of strategic planning process would result in their opposition.

Of course, as with every labor-management dispute there is probably a lot more here than meets the eye. But a good lesson we might reiterate is to advertise only as much engagement as actually exists.—Ruth McCambridge

  • David Weisberger

    Managing expectations is indeed critical in a group process. I always try to establish early on transparency about how much influence (from being kept informed, to contributing, to making decisions) each participant exerts.