Utah opera was founded in 1976 by Glade Peterson as the general director until 1990. Anne Ewers succeeded him as the new general director. By 2002 Utah opera had production studios and other assets valued at $4.8 million. The organization had more than 20 people on the administrative staff. Utah opera contracted Utah symphony for its orchestra services.
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Utah state symphony orchestra was founded in 1940 by Maurice Abravanel who was its director until 1979 at his retirement. Keith Lockhard, the music director took over the reins of power at the organization. The Utah symphony has more than 30 people in its administrative staff with an annual operating budget of over $13 million.
Faced by the need to economize on costs and expand artistic potential, the boards at the two organizations considered a merger. Anne Ewers was proposed as the general director of the merger and was given responsibility of leading the integration efforts. However, consultations with Keith Lockhard by Utah symphony’s board proposed further discussions on the matter.
The opera organization chair also expressed his reservations particularly citing loss of identity and financial instabilities. A joint task force was formed and made the merger proposal public. The public initially received the news enthusiastically. However, the mood turned cautious later. Lockhard and Ewer the two directors of both organizations met to discuss the prospects of the merger further.
Initially Utah symphony’s board had not revealed to Lockhard that he would assume a subordinate position to Ewers in the merger. This according to Lockhard was compromising where he was going to loose his music director role perhaps to someone who had no experience.
The public also contributed to the dissimilarities where in terms of finance Utah symphony predominated while in terms of fixed assets Utah opera predominated. According to public opinion, each organization was going to loose its identity in the merger.
Subsequent weeks saw personal developments with the widow of the Utah symphony founder opposing the merger plans and the daughter of Utah opera founder resigning from her operation’s director position. Ewers had an autocratic style of management and the merger task force committee was concerned about her people management skills (Finney, 2008; Novak, 2012).
Ewers was seen as a unilateral decision maker and concern was raised regarding her ability to artistically, financially, and managerially manage the merger. Typically most symphonies had the chief executive officer (CEO) and music director reporting directly to the board.
Apparently the organizational structure typical of the Utah opera organization is the bureaucratic or hierarchical structure. In this respect Ewers is at the helm as the general director reporting to the board. The administrative staff comes under her each with a department head or manager. The structure at Utah symphony organization varies where the music director reports directly to the board.
However, the music director who is also the orchestra’s conductor also works with the symphony team as their manager. This can be described as a balanced functional matrix organizational structure because each unit of the orchestra specializes in playing a certain instrument or percussion. Additionally, each of them shares in the power structure with the music director.
The Utah opera and symphony structures are fundamentally different. Although the power structure at Utah opera organization is concentrated at the top, the power structure at Utah symphony organization is distributed among the different units that work collectively as an orchestra. Utah opera’s director makes decisions unilaterally and reports to the Utah opera organization board.
The case with Utah symphony is different where the music director sits at the helm of the organization but shares responsibilities with the various units within the orchestra. Whereas each of the organizations has vested authority in their boards, the directors wield varied authority within these two organizations.
Whereas Ewers the Utah opera director can make unilaterally decisions, Lockhard the music director at Utah symphony has to consult extensively with the leaders of each of the units within the orchestra to make any decision. The orchestra must work in unison and therefore no unit is perceived as superior to the other. Each unit makes particulate decisions and the music director ensures that these units share collective responsibility.
The merger can proceed successfully if each of the directors applies the principles of competing values framework (Day, & Wensley, 1988; Harrigan, 1988).
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Provisionally the two directors can maintain a balance between the four values of the framework to acknowledge the tension from opposite values while emphasizing the importance of each. Generally these directors will need to have an internal and external focus while maintaining a flexibility and structure.
Ewers as the director of the merger organization is facing many challenges. The director can use motivation and power to realize the desired merger. However, this must be in interplay with other factors and as those from the competing values framework.
The mixed reactions meeting the Utah opera and symphony proposal is pre-conceived perceptions. An audience and message strategy can be adopted by the director for the merger to counter these perceptions.
Understanding the message strategy requires knowledge of each of the party’s position. A position in this case is a mental space that can be owned based on an idea that will the recipient (Munter, 2002). Ewers as the merger director will ensure that in this mental spare each party’s needs and benefits are addressed. Once this has been achieved a fruitful relationship will be founded.
Note here that position relates to each organization’s best solution to the merger issue. Therefore, at this point Ewers can develop a position statement that should reflect the balanced interests for Utah opera and symphony organizations. This positioning statement can include a number of support points. This strategy should govern Ewers public engagements because the public perception is most important to the success of the merger.
The positioning statement is characteristically a compelling statement including the benefit of the proposed merger. The support points used must be aligned to the positioning statement objective. These are meant to reinforce the believability of the positioning statement by Ewers on the merger proposal.
The message strategy will work together with an audience strategy. At this point it is expected that Opera director must plan to grab the audience’s attention and manage their perceptions and expectations. This also targets the public who are the customers to both organizations. A practical audience strategy will define such issues as rank on what the merger will bring to the two organizations combined ranking.
This can also relate to the image and identity issues that define the professional attractiveness of the merger. Other factors like goodwill, and expertise and shared values can also be mentioned and from part of Ewers’ audience strategy.
A proper application of a message and audience strategy will increase the chances of successful communication (Palmer, 2011). These strategies must focus on the external and internal environments of both organizations.
Day, G., & Wensley, R. (1988). Assessing advantage: A framework for diagnosing competitive superiority. The Journal of Marketing, 52(2), 1-20.
Finney, M. (2008). The truth about getting the best from people. Boston: FT Press.
Harrigan, K. (1988). Joint ventures and competitive strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 9(2), 141–158.
Munter, M. (2002). Guide to managerial communication (6th ed). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Novak, D. (2012).Taking people with you: The only way to make big things happen. Johannesburg, SA: Portfolio.
Palmer, R. (2011). Ultimate leadership: Winning execution strategies for your situation. Boston: FT Press.