Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Day One


I started a new job today as Executive Director of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC. It's inspiring, challenging, refreshing, daunting, and exciting, so I wanted to spend a little time talking about my first day.

That was almost three months ago.

When I was first approached about the job, I immediately began listening. On this blog I spend a lot of time talking (er - writing), but in reality, and particularly in my professional life, I have found that listening is the most underrated and useful skill.

I knew that if I succeeded in the interview process, I would want to begin with as much knowledge as possible. I listened to (interviewed) everyone I could - donors, singers, former singers, former donors, general audience, and non-audience. I already had in my mind a picture of the organization, but I knew that my perception alone wasn't enough. So, I observed to get the most complete picture possible.

With so many different stakeholders all saying potentially different things, it could be challenging to make sense of it all - especially when you're new! And that is where your gut comes in. Once you have collected a ton of data through listening; you filter, compare, throw out, and fill in the holes. At the end of the day you trust your observations, you trust your judgement, and you make that first crucial decision: pizza or Chinese for lunch?

Why is listening so important? Because it forces you to stay relevant. When you listen to donors, you know what's on their mind (inside and outside of your organization). When you listen to subscribers, you know if they're going to renew next year and why or why not. When you listen to new friends you meet in a bar, or listen the radio, you get an idea for the pulse of your community and you can better program to the rhythm of it. When you listen to why a singer is no longer with the group, it helps you prioritize your member efforts and win them back.

My official first day (today) was full of listening. After filling out some forms, I listened to the immediate needs of the week, listened to financial reports, what roles are assigned to whom, new partnership possibilities, what kinds of food staff members like, and how to take out the trash.

My first day also became about priorities. With a big picture view, I can pinpoint areas of inefficiency, stress points, successes that deserve more budget priority, and operations that are running smoothly as they are. It's thrilling to see the big picture, and be comfortable enough to get in the weeds to make positive changes from the ground up.

I look forward to doing more listening, and hope you will too!