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Cleaving The Executive Director In Twain

In plumbing the old archives to find some entries that might stand the test of time, I found an entry where I cited a suggestion made by The Non-Profiteer that social service non-profits follow the example of arts organization leadership structure.

What she was praising was the practice of having an executive and artistic director focused on different aspects of the organization’s activities. The thing was, even at that time arts organizations were moving in the opposite direction consolidating leadership under a single person in order to save money.

Reading The Non-Profiteer’s post, she presents an argument against using overhead as a measure of effectiveness years before it was the topic of conversation it is today.

Wouldn’t social service agencies operate better with someone at the helm whose expertise was effective service to clients and someone at the rudder whose expertise was squeezing every dime til it shrieked? These are not identical skills–they’re not even complementary–and for charities to insist on combining them into a unitary Executive Director means one part of what they need done will almost inevitably be done badly.

And if donors are serious about wanting to see rigorous metrics of charities’ effectiveness, they’ll recognize that it takes two: one leader to innovate, experiment and rethink client services and another to measure, evaluate and assess the results.

Since evaluation of organizational effectiveness is shifting toward outcomes over time, ensuring the organization is adhering to their planned arc of progress and collecting requisite data will require an investment of greater attention.

Think about your arts organization, are the top executive(s) able to provide the appropriate leadership to accomplish both the programmatic and administrative goals? Are the top people in charge of these areas invested with appropriate authority to accomplish these things? (In other words, does the program manager really need to be at least a director or vice-president?)

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Return To The Valley of Intrinsic Impact

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the important thoughts Carter Gillies had about the concept of the intrinsic value of the arts.

In light of that, I wanted to look back at where the idea of intrinsic value of the arts all began. Well, at least for me.

The first attempt to measure the intrinsic value of the arts I was aware of was a study by WolfBrown on behalf of the Major University Presenters consortium.  I wrote about WolfBrown’s presentation of the study results, Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance at the Arts Presenters conference back in 2008.

In writing about the report at that time, I related the concerns expressed by then president of Arts Presenters, Lisa Booth,

And while she was glad that there was a new metric of success being developed that wasn’t based in dollars or butts in seats, she was also concerned that in the eagerness to justify the value of the arts in some quantifiable way, the arts community was trying to measure what can not be measured.

This last bit was very interesting to me because Lisa Booth seemed to recognize the inevitable if these measures became widely used. If foundations and governments start basing their funding on the intrinsic value a performance has for a community, arts organizations will probably try to measure everything imaginable to show all the levels on which a performance meets funding agendas. Just as the arts aren’t well served by showing economic impact, they probably will be equally ill-advised to create numeric values for changes in things like self-actualization, captivation, social comfort level and questions raised.

I am not sure if it is fortunate or unfortunate that funders aren’t focused on improvements in intrinsic value measures.

If you want a quick primer of WolfBrown’s process and how they define things like readiness to receive, self-actualization, captivation and social comfort level, you can take a look at the website they have created for the intrinsic impact portion of their consultant work. (It looks like they have refined some of their terminology in the last 8 years.)

In terms of whether one can accurately assess any of these things so that it results in a meaningful measure of intrinsic impact, I don’t know. Even if it does, it is likely to lack the relevance to policy makers and others who are not involved and invested in the arts that Carter talks about.

What I do think their process does is get closer to bridging the communication gap between why arts people like the arts and those who don’t see any value in the arts. When you are having conversations with people where you are paying attention to things like Emotional Resonance, Captivation, Intellectual Stimulation and Social Bonding, you can start to find common language that communicates value beyond economic stimulus and cognitive development.

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Measuring Manager’s Worth In Those Who Don’t Want To Be Left Behind

Years ago, I wrote about a FastCompany article, Ten Habits of Incompetent Managers.

Even though it was written in the context of a for-profit company, I wrote most of the rules are universal and pretty much common sense – “afraid to make a mistake, keeping too many problems secret from employees, afraid confronting a problem will hurt people’s feelings, focus on picayune details to hide general incompetence, heavy use of consultants and problem with deadlines.”

Of course, one of the big ones for the not-for-profit sector is long hours.

Long hours: In my experience, bad managers work very long hours. They think this is a brand of heroism but it is probably the single biggest hallmark of incompetence. To work effectively, you must prioritize and you must pace yourself. The manager who boasts of late nights, early mornings and no time off cannot manage himself so you’d better not let him manage anyone else.

Though this may just as easily reflect poor prioritization of resources, funding and over commitment to doing more with less by the organization leadership.

The one habit that caught my eye then and still does today -Inability to hire former employees.

The idea here is that if a person has been working in a line of work for a long period of time and hasn’t mentored/collaborated with someone who would be interested in working with them again, you need to beware.

Even though most non-profits are concerned about having the funding to hire one person, never mind fantasize about poaching workers from other companies, this seems like an interesting hiring criteria.

Those doing interviews and hiring generally concentrate on calling supervisors of job candidates, but rarely talk to subordinates. It may be prudent not to.

Supervisors may be concerned about lawsuits if they say something negative and the person doesn’t get a job. Subordinates may fear retribution if their supervisor even suspects they said something that scuttled a job prospect.

Still, a question to a supervisor or even candidate along the lines of “is there anyone with whom you have worked in the last five years that would be interested in changing jobs if it meant continuing to work with you in some capacity,” might provide some interesting results.

On the performance and technical side of the arts it is fairly common for people to bring those they have worked for previously along with them, but I can’t think of too many instances in my experience where that has happened in administration, marketing, development, etc.

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The Few Times The Audience Is Too Demonstrative

Around 9 years ago I wrote about a response someone had gotten from the head of a dance program while trying to revive an annual dance festival.

The head of the program said he didn’t want to expose his students to our audience whom he compared to the crowd at a football game. I had followed up to see if there had been miscommunication or misunderstanding. As I wrote at the time:

He felt the audience, which is generally comprised of family and friends of the dancers, needed to be educated about how to behave. He admitted he didn’t know how that might be accomplished as lecturing folks before a performance on decorum would probably make people resentful.

Reading that, I got to wondering if that type of attitude might have changed in the nearly decade since. Given all the conversations about changing the general environment in performance halls to allow audiences to feel more actively involved and less passive, has anything changed?

This is one of those rare occasions when new audiences aren’t intimidated by the thought of disapproving looks from those more experienced and knowledgeable than themselves.

Since I am not longer working at an arts organization with a dance program or a reputation for presenting dance, I need to throw this question out to the readership. Have there been any changes?

In the situation 9 years ago, the person objecting lead a university based training program conferring graduate and undergraduate degrees. The approach such a program might take to dance is likely to be different from that of a dance company that was started by someone who received their training at Urban Dance Camp.

If you want to respond to this, give us a little context about your practice or the expectations you recently experienced.

There is also the issue that an overly boisterous environment can create an unnerving experience for people who are participating in their first public performance after having just started learning dance. Often the cheering is a much about the audience member calling attention to themselves and their connection to the performer as it is about supporting the performer.

The other question is, how do you communicate the need to keep it dialed back without offending people who are making a rare visit to a performing arts venue whom you want to see more frequently?

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