Sunday, February 28, 2010

Access to Auditions

In early December, Equity and PACT began what we all hope will be a productive process to ensure greater member access to the audition process, and engager opportunity to come face to face with a wider range of talent. The discussion focussed on two overlapping problems with the current approach.

Equity members in many communities feel like they are stuck on the periphery of the audition process, constantly applying for audition opportunities, but rarely being seen. We have heard that that the challenge is particularly felt among those new in the business, among established and also senior artists who wish to expand and renew their career contacts after some time in the business, and most especially among Equity various diverse communities.

Engagers are faced with the difficulty of meeting a steadily expanding pool of interested performers in a time when artistic budgets (and therefore hiring opportunities) are stagnant or shrinking, and an AD's time is increasingly fragmented among many responsibilities. Our PACT colleagues also shared concerns that Equity members may be unaware that "traditional" audition settings represent only a portion of the time spent connecting with and considering artist for roles.

We are looking at a joint approach that would bring together several theatres in a shared audition opportunity, with both PACT and Equity support and assistance. There was a second meeting quite recently to firm up plans for the first such auditions, and a formal announcement is in the works.

Great news!

Friday, February 19, 2010

How do we know what the members want?

Who provides the input for Council decisions? You do, and it's not necessary that you excel at making yourself heard above the crowd. When we have a major topic on which to decide, we will come to you. Our "owner linkage" mandate is to regularly consult a broad and representative group of the membership for their views.

This is different from the approach taken by most boards, which tend to hear input primarily from groups with a predefined stake in one outcome or another. As owners of the association, all members have a stake in major decisions, including you, even if we are considering a topic that is not front and centre on your personal radar screen.

We want to know what the majority of members – or major opinion groups within the membership – think, and then we act in accordance with what we hear. There is enormous diversity in our membership (define diversity as you will), and this approach is the only one that promises equitable benefit to the greatest number of members, and not merely to those who are the loudest.

Friday, February 5, 2010

For whom does Council act?

In the previous post, I mentioned that Council functions in a somewhat unusual way. What I probably should have said was that Council operates in the way most boards should, but in which few do.

One of the comments that came back from our major 2007 survey echoed something I have heard repeatedly over time: that election to Council is a chance for 22 people to grab the steering wheel of the association and yank it sharply in the direction that they, personally, would like it to go. Related comments suggest that having "friends" on Council is a chance for some privileged group of members to do the same thing.

The natural belief that comes with these assumptions is that the most advantageous tactic for the individual member is to elect as many people like you as you can, and hope they get their hands on the steering wheel. The corollary view is that if you aren’t part of the “in” group, you’re screwed. Cynical, yes, but then people are used to dealing with governance bodies such as school boards and town councils, where this jaundiced view may not be so far off the mark.

Council doesn’t work that way. In fact, one of the first requirements of the Council Members’ Code of Conduct is this:

Councillors must have loyalty to the membership, unconflicted by loyalties to staff, other organizations, and any personal interest as a consumer [of Association services].
This injunction is backed up by a comprehensive conflict of interest policy, and a signed declaration from each Councillor identifying other involvement that might be a conflict, or be perceived as such. It is also reinforced by regular evaluation of Council's adherence to its own rules of conduct. What other board do you know of that takes the time to do that?

Councillors who have served over the years will attest to the value of this broad-horizon and rigorous approach, and new Councillors who come to the table with a personal agenda discover it quickly. Councillors are expected to devote the same level of time, energy and consideration to topics that do not impact their immediate peers or constituency, as they do to issues in which they have a stake. Moreover, much of the work of Council is done at a level where individual stakes don't even make an appearance.

Back to the title question...

A board, any board, is there only for one purpose: to govern some entity on behalf of an ownership (members, shareholders, the public, etc.) Consequently, Council’s declared job is to "act as an informed agent of the membership as owners." This means that Council does not act instead of the members, or through paternalistic assumptions of what is best for the members; it acts for the members, from a consistently informed position based on ongoing and broad-based member input.

In brief, Council doesn't act parochially when addressing issues, and we certainly don't target our decisions toward personal benefit or the benefit of friends. We act for the membership as a whole.

Next...collecting your input.