Recently I’ve spoken with managers from a few small theaters who are adding (or considering adding) employees to their management staffs. This is something that any successful business eventually considers. New employees mean more payroll expenses of course, but at some point continued growth demands it. When a young theater company begins producing more shows or working on more projects, expands its marketing or development efforts, or moves into a new space, often more work is created than its founding members and volunteers can handle. They begin to wonder whether they should hire a managing director or general manager, a production manager or technical director, a business or finance manager, maybe a marketing or development director, or even a consultant to do or help with any of these things.
When I encounter theaters at this point in their growth (and especially if they’re already financially stable) the opportunist in me sometimes wants to shout, “Me! Hire me!” But, as a consultant, I lean toward making them question whether they’re really ready to hire anyone and who that should be.
Certainly a new team member—whether a consultant, contract employee, or staff member—can help in many ways: in carrying out more ideas from directors and board members that time constraints might limit; in contributing new suggestions and systems of marketing, sales, development, or production; and in providing more staff consistency and permanence than volunteers might be able to provide. But, some ground work and careful thought needs to be done before hiring anyone.
When I speak to theaters about hiring new managers, I always recommend creating a formal job description for the position. This document helps to reveal whether a new position is warranted, it creates a list (whether specific or general) of requirements and expectations, and it serves as a tool to establish and continually develop the relationship between a new team member and existing management.
A job description, of course, is not a static document, but evolves as an organization continues to grow. As a starting point, however, I always recommend making three lists. The first list should include management items that should be done, but currently aren’t due to time constraints or other factors. The second list should include jobs that current directors, employees or volunteers are performing, but that should or could be delegated to another person. Finally, the third list should include any additional projects, systems, ideas or goals that the theater would like to implement either soon or as it grows (for example, online ticketing, group sales, or new fundraising events or campaigns). In this last list, some items may be long-term goals, but others may be realistic projects with additional management help. The three lists can then be combined—and edited—to create a workable job description. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in any particular format, just clear to anyone reading it. In addition to responsibilities and requirements, the job description should also show whom the employee reports to and who reports to the new employee.
Once a document exists that outlines the requirements and goals of a new management position, a theater will be best equipped to decide whether it would benefit from hiring a consultant, contract employee, or staff member. And, with the new job description as a guide, the transition for everyone involved will be all the better.