Let's talk about Accountability
It takes a lot to keep any organization running, and even more to keep one thriving. Two of the absolute most important traits of any successful organizations are accountability and self awareness.
In the fast paced world we live in, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to our own deficiencies and point fingers and throw blame when things don’t work out. And if one thing is for sure, not everything is going to work out.
I was recently associated with an academic program in Nashville that was designed and poised to be a leading music industry program. The curriculum was painstakingly designed, the facility was thoughtfully put together, including a fantastic mixed use recording studio / rehearsal space / classroom, and the instructor roster was chock full of award winners and industry leaders. By all accounts it should have been a home run.
Yet after two classes (and several semesters of delayed start dates), it has folded. What could and should have been a shining beacon of the future of music education is now gone for good.
Yes, the organization had its trials and tribulations, as any organization in the startup phase will. Early on in the process a founding instructor as well as the founding executive director had to be removed due to their consistent bad behavior (PROTIP: don’t send a female student a text message saying “I’m wasted come have your way with me”). While these are certainly major speed bumps, they are far from fatal if handled swiftly and thoughtfully.
All the while, the day to day business operations were being completely ignored by the remaining staff. When the choice was presented to rise above and carry on or resign to turmoil after the bad actors were removed, the day to day staff resigned to an attitude of “oh well, what can I do anyways” instead of taking the reigns and doing what needed to be done.
Throughout the life of the organization, students and alumni were expected to take care of the facility. The paid staff members wouldn’t even trouble themselves so much as to change the trash, at one point purchasing (with school funds) two 40 gallon garden trash cans for the facility, because they didn’t want to change the several standard office trash cans every day. If you think fast food leftovers smell bad in a small office trash can, you should smell two 40 gallon bins full of it. If the facility was ever swept, mopped, vacuumed, HVAC filters changed - it was myself or one or two other students/alumni.
Payroll records were never properly filed, nor secured, but tossed in the bottom of an unlocked filing cabinet drawer in an unlocked closet that students regularly accessed, as various other supplies were also stored in that closet. I don’t know about you, but if I was a high power agent at WME, or a Grammy winning audio engineer, or an esteemed music publisher, I would be less than thrilled to find out my personal and banking information was being stored in such a haphazard manner.
Earlier today, the alumni were notified that the organization is officially shuttered, the facility has been dismantled, and the gear has been sold (none of us were given opportunity to purchase any of it). The first response from an alumni included the resounding sentiment of “those greedy bastards” at the sponsoring college.
Every finger jumped at the opportunity to blame the sponsoring institution. Another response stated how the staff member making the notification had been “jerked around” by the sponsoring school, when every day of class sessions they were the first to leave, often even before any of the students, citing his need to “get home and let the dogs out”.
As you can see, this organization had a dire lack of accountability. Those two staff members let go over their repeated bad behavior towards our female students - were both on paper let go for other reasons. Throughout the life of the organization, I had been vocally raising these (and many other concerns) to local staff, even escalating my concerns as far up as the president of the sponsoring college. This ain’t my first rodeo - I’ve worked for several large, infamous companies that are now defunct, and know the warning signs of an organization headed towards destruction. I’m all too familiar with the warning signs of an organization headed towards disaster, and fought vocally to prevent that. The organization had far too much potential to let a few stumbling blocks bring down the entire operation.
All of this was largely preventable, had there been a culture of accountability. Was I at times loud and abrasive about the issues I saw? Yeah. After months of repeatedly raising these concerns to largely blank stares and excuses, I was frustrated. I understand it’s not easy to take accountability for your actions (or inaction), but the beautiful thing about life is that all it takes is the conscious choice to have the self awareness to identify the issues, the accountability to take responsibility, and the effort to step up to the plate and do something about it. Sadly, in this case, that’s not the route that was chosen, and generations of future students will now miss out on what could have been the educational opportunity of a lifetime.
Next time you encounter an issue in your organization, instead of sitting around and pointing fingers, playing the blame game, ask yourself and your team what actions and behaviors led to the situation, acknowledge it, and focus on solutions. You’ll find the vast majority of issues any organization will face can be solved by simply holding yourselves and your colleagues accountable, and making the decision to do something about it.
RIP Segue 61, you could have been so much more.