Playing the part Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

First things first: It isn’t about Art Falco.

If you think that you can get Falco to talk about anything that he’s done without him emphasizing how important his 275 full- and part-time employees are at PlayhouseSquare, then you don’t understand his style.

That’s because Falco, president and CEO of PlayhouseSquare, believes that the not-for-profit performing arts center has a big mission in the community, and involving his employees is the only path to success. Instead of thinking that only he has ideas and that his people need to put them to form, he makes an effort to get out to his employees and hear their ideas. In turn, those ideas become the driving force that pushes PlayhouseSquare’s growth and the expansion of Cleveland’s theater district.

Smart Business spoke with Falco about why you need to get ideas from everyone before you make a plan and how letting people ask you questions can help modify your company’s structure.

Listen to every idea. You have to develop a vision, and develop that vision not in isolation but with your team, and then communicate that vision to the employees as to why it’s important and how having everyone on that team will benefit the organization.

The challenge is communicating and having everyone feel like they’re part of the decision. So we will have retreats, and most of the retreats are at the senior level talking about concepts and directions, but it’s only after the various departments have met to discuss those concepts and directions.

We involve all the departments to have their input into the planning process, and then those ideas are brought to the senior staff, and out of that will come a direction, a goal, a vision or whatever business opportunity that we should pursue.

It’s not that every idea is going to be taken. Many times, there are suggestions that aren’t taken because maybe that employee didn’t have the proper perspective, that, yes, it may look like a great idea on the surface, however, here is why it may not be practical. But we listen to all of them, and that’s the key.

Then they feel that their voice is being heard, and it makes them feel better about being part of the organization, knowing that they are a member of the team.

Get to know your people. More successful organizations have to have successful teams, and you have to treat employees with respect. You have to realize that your employees, whether they’re senior staff or at the lower level, all have different personalities and that you need to treat those individuals uniquely. There isn’t just one way to approach things; with some employees there’s a different approach. And if you treat employees with respect, and you treat them the way you’d like to be treated, you can get to know each other.

I happen to be a person who doesn’t stay in my office very often, so I’m out talking to employees and saying hello, and those things created a culture of inclusiveness.

Then you have to know what makes up a person, and you have to realize that there are some employees and some staff that are risk-averse and some that are very conservative and others are on the other side of the spectrum, so when you’re having conversations and discussions, you have to take into account where they’re coming from.

Get employees together to hire people they like. In the interview process, we involve other staff members to get their perspective because having different people’s opinions and views are important. We try and flesh out what is the true person rather than just the flashy resume.

It would be more likely that we bring in people working directly with them, but we’ve also involved some key board members who might be working with that person.

Basically, you have to like the person. I know that there are some organizations where the top management tries to essentially pit the employees against each other, believing that type of tension will create greater results, and that may work for some organizations, but I don’t think that would work for us.

The reason we’ve had a lot of success at PlayhouseSquare and a long tenure with many of our employees is because of the culture that we’ve created. We want people to enjoy work and the people they work with.

Modify the hierarchy. You have to have a hierarchical structure because that’s how things are done most efficiently. However, you can modify that structure. It comes down to the senior staff doesn’t feel threatened.

Insecurities are always the reason for some of these hierarchical problems. There just isn’t a situation where someone couldn’t ask me a question. Clearly, they may go to the department head because they all understand that I’m busy, and it doesn’t work to have an organization where everybody has to ask the president every question.

But it’s more management by walking around, and whether that’s in the theaters or the offices, we’ve created a culture where I’m around and I will ask them questions. We don’t have a hierarchical type of organization whereby you can only go to the head of that department to ask a question, who will then go one level up, who will then go to the person who actually knows the answer.

If you know who has the answer, just go to that person, and that creates a culture whereby people don’t feel as hindered.

HOW TO REACH: PlayhouseSquare, (216) 771-4444 or