One of the challenges of organisations working in the arts and cultural sector is that we can sometimes work in a culture silo, not taking full advantage of the links with the wider voluntary sector. A missed opportunity, I think, to share, learn and connect with sectors that legally, practically and ethically work in very similar ways to us.
Whilst my basic response to the question leans more to the ‘fit for change’ side of things, my overarching point is that diversity and complexity must always be acknowledged. One size does not fit all. Good governance is vital. But running a creative organisation also requires you to probe, take risks, extend and explore. We, therefore, need models and approaches that allow organisations to ‘breathe’, to innovate, to refresh and to renew – as well as deliver accountability and fiscal responsibility.
In 2009 CLP commissioned a series of essays looking at the issues and challenges of governance and the overall finding was that
The charitable model in itself is not the source of conservatism or instability... Rather the problems of governance ... stem from incongruent values, dysfunctional organisational culture, and incompatible personalities’
i.e. - the structures are fit for purpose, but the mindsets are fit for change!
Devlin and Thorold found that the charitable model does not need to restrict the organisation operating creatively and accountably, even entrepreneurially. What was more damaging was the incongruence in the operation of the Boards of Trustees, such as
· Informal contracting – so the role of the Trustee is not clearly articulated at the outset and not under-pinned by induction and on-going good practice (and, whilst this is done with the best of intentions, it could lead to legal or compliance problems later on)
· Micro-management on the part of Trustees – having a clear take on the supervisory role (and inhibiting the ‘experienced professionals’) but not fully engaging with the strategic role: that of driving forward long term visioning, planning and delivery
· Having an imbalanced membership – often demonstrated in small organisations through a level of inexperience amongst Board members. In larger organisations this was, conversely, evidenced by the representation of ‘experts’ from other sectors, who do not necessarily appreciate the values of the cultural organisation and who try to ‘eliminate’ rather than ‘manage’ risk; not recognising the fact that ‘risk’, in a creative organisation, is the lifeblood of its existence.
Should we consider paying Trustees? For me, the central issue is about finding flexibility. There will be some organisations for which payment of Trustees is not only counter-cultural, but counter–productive and an organisational misfit. The key lies in an organisation creating a business model that is clear about its mission and its parameters – achieving the best structure for the job. And in some instances, payment may well be appropriate and sustainable.
One note of caution. When I call for flexibility, I certainly do not mean a ‘free-for-all’ – strong regulatory control based on principles rather than bureaucracy is important. We’ve seen where the banking sector got with its loose regulation and the voluntary sector is not, I think, so well prized nationally and internationally that the government will apply some quantitative easing to save us from collapse and meltdown.
I think it is also important that we acknowledge the potential impact of losing the public’s trust in the prudence of the system. We are working with public resources and the ethical contract that underpins the good work delivered across the sector must be prized, protected and supported.
With long knifes out to slash spending in the public sector one wonders if ‘tightening the belt’ is going to be enough? How quickly can an organisation bounce back from a 10% - 30% cut to the budget? And does the investment in leadership or workforce development have to be the first in line for the chop?
I think now more than ever, we have to combine the challenge of the present with ‘the long view’ and mix emergency survival measures with strategic thinking. It’s a critical time to invest in the leaders of our industries, as without good leadership and strategic planning, our organisations will struggle to withstand the challenges ahead.
I’m keen to create a pool of practical ideas that support strong leadership and organisational strength in times of adversity. Here are 5 to start the ball rolling - why not add your ideas and see how many we can share?
1 Partnerships & Alliances: Partnerships are essential in today’s climate. They encourage the sharing of expertise, create new perspectives, build and facilitate knowledge transfer and ensure that new work is relevant to more than one audience. They also ‘spread the load’ (financial and operational) and enable resources to be better deployed.
2 Feminine Leadership: not male/female, but masculine/feminine. This distinction is important as it recognises that those traits can be present in both males and females. The Guardian recently descried masculine leadership cultures as involving buccaneering, financial engineering and reckless, short-sighted decision making; whereas feminine leadership culture is characterised by balance, transparency, fairness, social responsibility, accountability and sustainability – long term thinking. We have seen where the masculine approach has taken us – look at the banking sector. Can we now place more value on the ‘feminine’ approaches?
3 Better Talent Management: properly supporting individuals to grow through secondments, work shadowing, coaching mentoring etc., which can often be negotiated for little or no costs. ‘In tough economic times you have to invest in developing talent, because it is your leaders who will create the environment in which people will innovate’. Sian Thomas ‘Public’.
4 Maximise organisational memory: watching the make up of teams to ensure that youth and experience are well balanced. There is a big focus on engaging ‘youth’ right now – but it is also important to draw lessens from people who have been ‘around the block’. Look at the contribution of Vince Cable MP to the recession debates and analysis; he offered the voice of experience. Who is your Vince Cable? How are you supporting them? How can you ensure systems to transfer knowledge before that experience is lost?
5 Structural Change: the old macho leadership models no longer work for women in leadership roles – nor do they work for men! Since we have to change and adjust – now is the time to look at what leadership really requires and affirm new norms about work-life-balance; flexible working and the routes to career progression. Why not break the mould rather than tinker at the margins?
In grasping opportunity from the challenging times ahead, it will be essential to ‘imagine it differently’, make choices and safeguard the things we most value. What would you add to the mix?
Three sector lead organisations, Arts Council England, Creative & Cultural Skills and the Museums, Libra ries and Archives Council have formed the Cultural Leadership Delivery Partnership, a unique cross-sector collaboration to support the Programme.