Three Perspectives on Thriving in the Digital Age

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Maureen Andersen, President and CEO of INTIX, and Linda Forlini, Vice President of Ticket Philadelphia, for a panel discussion at the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT) conference in Philadelphia. We were moderated by PatronManager’s Vice President of Business Development & Strategy, Robert Friend, who elicited a surprisingly wide-ranging set of answers to the main subject of the panel, which was to uncover what it takes to thrive in the digital age.  

Linda started the conversation with a strong view about how to manage and motivate a team of box office and supporting staff who are facing myriad requests and demands each day. Unlike in the past, when box office managers spent most of their time answering calls and fulfilling ticket orders, most of those types of transactions are now done online. Today, the phone calls that make it to the box office are by definition more complicated and require not only a trained staff, but also a staff that has the ability and authority to think on their feet and solve problems, especially those problems that are unanticipated or urgent. 

Linda shared that the most important thing she does as a manager is to make sure her staff feels well supported. “If you take care of your staff first and foremost, they will then take care of the customer,” she said. Making the staff feel appreciated, heard, and respected is at the heart of Linda’s approach — she commented that even things like bringing in pizza for lunch once a month make a difference. So for Linda, thriving in the digital age means paying attention to decidedly non-digital things — the well-being of your staff. 

Maureen then pivoted the conversation over to how the ticketing industry overall has done a fantastic job historically of telling the ticket buyer “no” in many and different ways. But in today’s digital world, she argued that our industry must make a 180-degree turn to figure out all the ways to say “yes.” We’re in an economy where customers expect to be coddled. In retail, things that used to be rarities, such as free shipping, free returns, and next-day shipping, are all commonplace. Today, customers expect more.  

To that end, a participant at LHAT asked appropriately, “We have a big sign by the box office window that says, ‘No refunds, no returns!’ What should we do with it?” The emphatic answer from the panel was, “Take it down.” Maureen commented that the secret in most box offices is that we almost always take care of the customer anyway — even if the sign says otherwise.  So why create a negative message from the minute they do business with you? 

When it was my turn, I focused my comments primarily on how differently team collaboration and meetings work in the digital age. Digital collaboration tools such as Slack and Chatter have had wide adoption and are fundamentally changing the way people work with one another.  

These tools move conversations that used to happen in the hallway or on the phone between co-workers into the digital realm. It’s now common for staff members to have group “conversations” with their co-workers in a Slack channel, even if some of these co-workers are only a few feet away! In the arts, where the box office and the regular office are often physically separated, this has been a positive transformation in team collaboration. 

I also described a different approach to managing meetings. Most people hate staff meetings; however, I’ve become convinced that staff meetings should serve a different purpose. They should be scheduled only when there’s an agenda that calls for the engagement of staff members in a discussion where making decisions collectively is imperative. Contrary to common practice, meetings should not be for employees to update one another on what they are working on. Those meetings are often quite boring, and people dread them. Information sharing can and should take place in advance of the meeting in writing.

This approach comes directly from a terrific book called “Read This Before Our Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done.” It was transformative when we implemented it at PatronManager. We found that when meetings were focused on an open discussion that led to a collective decision, people were much more engaged, and the meetings were shorter and more compelling.  

To sum up, this panel highlighted the idea that thriving in the digital age has less to do with technology and more to do with how people work together and how managers work with them. The message seems to be that as the digital tools for our business get better and better, thriving is more about how we manage people — how we treat them, support them, and collaborate with them — as well as how we treat our customers with more personal care.

The more things are digital, the more being human seems to matter.

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