Should we evaluate Queen + Adam Lambert …


FORBES [24 June 2014] asks…


The band Queen was founded forty-four years ago. It took a few years—and albums—for it to become one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world. By the mid-1980s, Queen was breaking concert attendance and sales records. Last week, two original members of Queen—Brian May and Roger Taylor—launched a tour with Adam Lambert filling in for the late Freddie Mercury. Queen joined the likes of the Rolling Stones and ZZ Top in keeping their brand alive on the stage well into their fifth and sixth decades.

Reviews of the performance were mostly ecstatic, but some critics have called for the band to create some new Queen music together, rather than reverting to releasing more albums fronted by Freddie Mercury. Does the reconfigured Queen need to make new music to be considered effective? At the heart of this issue is a question that matters not just for bands, but for any organization: Should we evaluate the effectiveness of a mature organization using the same criteria we use for upstarts? Do we judge Queen with Adam Lambert using the same metric with which we assess newcomers, like Iggy Azaelia or Imagine Dragons?

Adam Lambert at iHeart
Adam Lambert of Queen performs at the iHeartRadio Theater on Monday, June 16, 2014, in Burbank, Calif. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

According to a classic study by management professors Robert E. Quinn and Kim Cameron, “Organizational Life Cycles and Shifting Criteria of Effectiveness: Some Preliminary Evidence,” the answer is no. The way we should define and evaluate the effectiveness of an organization depends on what stage of the organizational life cycle it is in.

A new musical act is like a new firm. It is in its entrepreneurial phase. Its primary focus is creating, innovating, acquiring resources and gaining external support. For companies this means securing their first customers and investors. For a band, it means getting their first few million YouTube views and song streams, joining major festival lineups and getting radio play.

For some bands this growth eventually leads to signing with a record label, which can usher them to the second stage of the organizational life cycle: survival. This is the stage of development where the band gels as a team and develops the cohesion and commitment that will carry them through the challenges of growth. At this stage, according to Quinn and Cameron, evaluations of effectiveness should be based on whether the group has coalesced around a common vision and is committed to that vision.

Next comes a period of success. In this phase, companies turn toward sustaining their momentum and productivity. For Queen, the period between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s was such a period. During this phase, effectiveness should be measured by the extent to which the organization maintains its position and meets the goals it has set for itself. Any company currently succeeding in the market is concerned with sustaining its success, whether by increasing efficiency or by formalizing its procedures.

The final stage is renewal. It involves scouting for new opportunities to avert decline. Queen’s current tours, like the tours of their peers, seek to take advantage of the relatively new market for nostalgia, to preserve their legacy and, in many cases, introduce their music to new audiences. “We’ve played to some of your mothers and fathers,” said Queen guitarist Brian May in the Chicago concert, “And some of your grandchildren, I’m sure.”

In this mature phase of Queen, we should not evaluate them as we did when they were in their entrepreneurial phase. We leave discussions of innovativeness, creativity, and freshness of voice to artists who are just starting out. Instead, we evaluate Queen on their ability to adapt to the contemporary musical landscape and provide an experience that their audience values. And on that front, Queen + Adam Lambert have delivered.