It is often stated that front of house operations are among the most important for a performing arts entity because it is the first point of contact the general public has with the organization. Front of House staff generally encompasses the ticket office, ushers, concessions/merchandising and activities related to them (valet parking, for example).
It isn’t just a matter of public relations. Some of the front of house staff are also responsible for the safety of the audience in the event of an emergency.
Those who directly supervise staff in these areas (ticket office manager, front of house manager, concessions manager) need to be well trained and possess the technical skills and good judgment required to execute their jobs and supervise those in their charge.
It is important that they know they have the confidence, support and freedom to exercise that judgment. While most of the suggestions and observations here address the expectations of higher level management for mid-level managers, they are generally applicable to any supervisory situation. Likewise, the general concepts are widely applicable. Examples from front of house operations at performing arts organizations just lend themselves well to this discussion.
Because front of house area supervisors are responsible for providing an enjoyable experience and welcoming environment to humans, no set of rules can be absolute.
A policy of no refunds or exchanges, for example, is a tool to provide stability and predictability to the organization’s finances and general operations. At one time it may have been possible to stubbornly hold to refusing refunds, but these days the expectations people have and their general relationship with live performing arts has changed to the point where flexibility is required. It can be more important to have a person’s good will than their money.
A front of house supervisor should have a clear sense of the general scope of their authority and the role they play in interactions with the public. That role should not be that of a scapegoat. One of the most dispiriting phrases a patron can utter is “Let me speak to your supervisor.” To have the supervisor handle the request in a way that suggests their subordinate was being silly and was clearly wrong in denying a request is demeaning and demoralizing.
Proper training and ongoing conversations about the intent and goals of various policies will leave the front of house supervisor secure in the knowledge that their area director has their back. If the supervisor has acted correctly, 90% of the time their director should be playing the role of the bad guy who will shoulder the blame by affirming the decision. The other 10% of the time, the director should counter the decision in a way that everyone knows this is an infrequent exception.
There will be moments of crisis where the supervisor will need to make a snap decision that may not conform with the way the director would have handled it. In those situations, the director should choose to support the decision as long as there is no immediate threat to health and safety. The preferred path can be addressed later when the crisis has passed.
Tweaks and alternatives might be suggested to mitigate problems, but complete reversal should be avoided. Investing authority and trust in a team member requires providing freedom to make mistakes. Obviously, to prove worthy of that trust, they need to take responsibility for rectifying those mistakes.
This shouldn’t be a secret between the director and subordinate. Everyone in the organization should know that subordinates have the confidence of their directors with the implied or overtly stated expectation that everyone else is expected to support their efforts. While this should go without saying, often times people are assured in private they have the confidence of their supervisor but this is not clearly demonstrated in day to day operations.