This is a vital question. And there is no meeting or conference without someone posing that question to me: How to implement change within the orchestra?
From my perception there are two crucial ingredients to achieve change: (1) the orchestra’s leadership has to be an active part of and encourage a change-process. (2) The process has to be a shared one. Members of the orchestra (musicians and staff!) have to have a very strong influence of the decisions being taken within the process.
Many orchestra leaders will be reluctant to that suggestion – and leaders in that context includes not only board-members, CEO’s and Intendanten, but also the orchestra’s chief-conductor. I am a strong supporter of the idea that the decision-making power has to be with those who are responsible for an institution. Nevertheless, without the players and staff aligned, no leadership will be successful in the implementation of change and – innovation.
Here is, what I introduced with my orchestra, the South Netherlands Philharmonic.
I asked some members of the orchestra (players and staff) to become members of the workgroup innovation. The task of this workgroup is to advise me on all matters concerning innovation and renewal. Below you see a foto of the workgroep’s founding dinner at the Popei restaurant in Eindhoven.
The South Netherland Philharmonic’s workgroep will be informed about all ideas and projects in discussion. The groep gets a budget to check-out projects and initiatives from other parties that seem interesting to them. And I will regularly meet them to ask for their advice. It doesn’t matter whether this advice is about projects that are planned or whether it is an advice about projects that are not yet planned.
How are the members chosen?
The groep is heterogenous: Next to experienced players that are attached to the orchestra for many years also the youngest players of the orchestra who just got a contract for unlimited time were asked to become a member. The groep also includes two young staff members. And the artistic programmer is part of the groep.
The selection criteria were simple. I wanted personalities in the groep who are open-minded toward new and fresh ideas. And I achieved that by setting a simple rule: If the groep is confronted with a challenging suggestion the argument “yes, but…” is not allowed. Rather, the groep’s members are asked to think “how fascinating” and look for ways to actually support the challenging suggestion.
The most important bit
The most important bit, however, is to follow the advice of the workgroup wherever possible. No one knows, what the future will bring. And that includes the orchestra’s leadership. Making steps into unknown directions in alignement with the workgroup will mean, that a success is then a common success that the whole orchestra will be proud of. It will bring a new dynamic to the orchestra. A failure – and they will surely happen – will just be a failure. And strengthen the orchestra on its collective path in a long-term perspective.