CEO Adviser: Helping Seattle Rep plan for its next act

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As management and technology consultants, we’re used to helping clients solve tricky business problems. Most often, we find ourselves working with financial services institutions, health care companies and manufacturers on growing and transforming their operations and ultimately changing the way they do business. Our latest project with Seattle Repertory Theatre offered a change of scenery and gave us a new respect for the meaning of “life onstage.”

Since 2008, when Seattle Rep experienced an artistic leadership change, the theater has conducted strategic planning with the goal of striving for more artistic excellence, achieving financial stability and increasing audience engagement. The Rep was in need of a straightforward plan for growth that would carry them through the next act of its business.

A Role for West Monroe

With the Rep’s business needs in mind, West Monroe Partners provided several months of pro bono strategy services to support the theater’s vision. West Monroe Partners helped the Rep adopt an “Initiative Scorecard” that allows leaders to rate and monitor, on a quarterly basis, their levels of satisfaction with respect to reaching their goals.

During phase two, we looked at how the theater attracted and retained audience members in the past, what customer segments it should begin targeting and the best way to communicate with audience members. The third phase focused on execution. Using all the data and information we collected, we helped the Rep create an operating plan to meet its goals.

Finally, we sent teams of customer experience practitioners to a Rep production to get a sense of the atmosphere, patrons and overall experience. After the show, we combined our observations to form detailed personas and storyboards narrating how the experience could evolve through technology. From there, we conducted a series of customer experience workshops for Seattle Rep’s leadership team to share our insight and recommendations.

The Outcome

The Rep now has a better sense of what business areas need improvement, which projects to prioritize and what timelines are reasonable. As we found in phase two of our project, the Rep’s trustees wanted to attract an audience base that could be converted to repeat and potentially season-ticket-holding customers. During our customer experience workshops conducted with the board, we recommended that the Rep take steps to instill a higher degree of audience engagement by creating customer personas for each of the targeted audience segments.

With a stronger, more aligned board, the Rep is able to fundraise more strategically and move forward with a variety of projects currently in development, including advocating on behalf of the Cultural Access Fund, a statewide initiative to increase access to arts and culture for Washington citizens with a focus on communities in the Puget Sound region and varying the types of productions the theater puts on by partnering with local organizations such as Seattle Children’s Theatre.

Takeaways for nonprofits

Put your data to work: More likely than not, you have databases and spreadsheets full of customer data from promotional events, outreach activities and your website analytics. Integrating those data points into one big picture is critical to assessing your current business and setting goals for the future.

Welcome input: For-profits and nonprofit organizations alike often default to executive leadership or trustees to make operational changes or inspire a new direction. Planning a successful transformation means accepting thoughts from concerned groups both inside and outside the organization — from entry-level employees to volunteers to customers.

Set a realistic timeline: Sweeping changes don’t happen overnight, so be realistic about how long it will take to achieve your goals. On paper, break down your organization’s major objectives into smaller, manageable tasks, assign resources appropriately and then provide deadlines to encourage accountability.

KELLY HAMSKI is the West Coast change management lead and a senior manager in West Monroe Partners’ banking practice in Seattle. Reach her at khamski@westmonroepartners.com.

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