What does it take to run a successful West End show? Actors, for sure. A good story, a must. A theatre is always useful. But it also takes a small army of people working front of house to make sure that every customer leaves that theatre happy … and maybe even with a song in their heart.
Imagine doing that for three decades, at an unrivalled five-star level. It takes hard work, good communication, real commitment and, most of all, a sense of balance. But what happens when routines change, like deciding that it’s time for the show to move on?
Science has shown us that humans don’t typically respond well to any change. It upsets the delicate balance that tells us who we are and what our purpose is. If we are knocked off balance, it can have a profound effect on our behaviour. We grow defensive, perhaps even a little antagonistic. And in a professional environment even small changes in behaviour can have a profound impact on people – sometimes preventing them from being at their best.
This was the situation that Delfont Mackintosh Theatres (DMT) found themselves in, following the decision to refresh Les Misérables – the second longest running show in the world. Endings are never easy, nor are they always immediate and in this case, the show literally had a target date to move on… albeit it not for a while. DMT’s senior management team were concerned about the impact this decision was having on its front of house staff; there were signs of tension growing behind the usually smooth operations.
So, they asked us for help.
Whenever we meet a new client we always start in the same place: we listen. That’s because each client is unique, which means their challenges, priorities and sense of balance is unique, too. And before we can help them find their balance, we need to know what makes them tick. So, we arranged a series of sessions with the Delfont Mackintosh Theatres senior team so we could carefully explore what mattered most to them and what a successful outcome might look like.
From there, we worked with them to design a workshop for the front of house management team – we call it a ‘create balance conversation’ – that would help them reflect on who they are, what they do and why they do it. Using this framework, the team could start to recognise their issues and priorities and come up with ideas to restore their balance. Like any balance conversation, our goal was to find the ‘answers in the room’ and help our client create their own solutions.
What we discovered was a team who were, understandably, nervous about their show moving on. But we also heard an immense amount of pride. So, we tapped into it and said, ‘what if we made this the best ending to a West End episode the world has ever seen?
’We always know when something has landed well with a group. You can feel the electricity in the room. That electricity powers everything we do. By the end of the session, the team had rediscovered their DMT identity and sense of ownership, creating a new, shared vision for the final days and weeks of their show. They also agreed to a new set of principles – a sort of code of conduct by which they would all operate – which they have continued to hold themselves. So much so, that the Delfont Mackintosh Theatres senior management team tell us that the final months of the show created unique memories and experiences, all while keeping team morale high and retaining balance throughout.
But balance isn’t just about us delivering a couple of workshops and leaving you to it. It’s an ongoing conversation. So, we agreed a timetable of follow up meetings with senior management to check in on progress and advise on tweaks and adjustments that would help them maintain and improve their balance
“Working with create balance was exactly what we needed. With Martin’s ability to take a room’s temperature and Mel’s extensive knowledge of business psychology, they were able to intelligently navigate us towards finding balance and use this to respond to the issues we were facing, so that we could get back to doing what we do best. They gave us the luxury of guided thinking time – something that can get lost too easily in the day-to-day bustle of running a theatre.
At no point did we feel like the create balance team were forcing a ‘one size fits all’ package on us. At every stage they tailored their approach to the specific needs of our theatre. And in the balance conversation they reacted live to curveballs and unexpected discoveries, working their magic to help the team help themselves. That takes real talent and an innate understanding of humanity.
We’ve seen first-hand how quickly a lack of balance in business can throw everything out of kilter. It isn’t something you can dismiss or pretend isn’t important, especially in our business where everything is about people. This whole experience is unlike any other consultancy we’ve encountered. We’re excited to continue working with this team to help us maintain our balance.”
balance isn't something you have, it's something you create - Jana Kingsford