Voiceless Journeys

October 30, 2016

On my return from nearly 3 months of travel, one of my first tasks was to contribute to the launch of a book called Voiceless Journeys published by Ondru, a great small arts organisation committed to provoking thought and evoking change through art: http://www.ondru.org/about/us The book consists of strong black and white photos ad the words of refugees who have come to Australia. https://ondru.myshopify.com/

My address, which followed a great opening by activist Tasneem Chopra and moving words by some of the participants in the project, follows:


“Whilst I’m extremely honoured to be part of this launch tonight, I’m feeling slightly guilty about playing such an important role. Firstly, I’m someone who avoids having photos taken. Cameras are kind to my face and so I spend my life behind a camera taking pictures of other people. Secondly, I’m a pink Anglo Australian – born and bred in this country and given every opportunity to achieve a good life. The only challenge I’ve had to face is being female in a world where it’s still hard to have our skills and talents acknowledged. But nothing I’ve experienced comes close to the lives of dislocation and difficulty of the people in this book.

Evan Marginson, the Chair of the Ondru, says in his opening to the book that the organisation exists to “create art that seeks to give voice to one or many of the varied experiences of what it means to be human.” What I can offer tonight (I hope) is some reflection on how the arts – whether it’s words or images, movement or music – help us learn about each other.  The “other” might be my ancestor or yours; or someone from a different country or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or religion. Understanding them helps us find our common humanity, helps us connect, helps us understand each other – and that, in turn, should lead to a better world.

I’ve been travelling for the last 3 months and just got back to Melbourne yesterday. I have great memories of the wonderful people that I’ve met but I’ve also been moved and gained insights about other places and other people through arts and cultural experiences. For example:

  • In the Aapravasi Ghat museum in Port Louis I saw photos of the faces of the indentured labourers who settled Mauritius and saw the hardness of their lives etched in their skin
  • An exhibition in Paris about Oscar Wilde, showing just what we lose when we punish and imprison people who don’t fit traditional definitions of sexuality
  • I listened to old recordings of the story telling and music from the people of the Great Blaskit who used to live on this tiny windswept Atlantic island off the coast of Ireland
  • On the same day in Sardinia, I engaged with the artist who painted small tiles with images of Sardinia’s old way of life and with a jeweller who made a beautiful necklace that contains an image of day to day live for all of us, now and before – clothes hanging out to dry on a line
  • Stepping down into the Roman arcades under Coimbra’s art museum and walking in the footsteps of past generations and then stepping back into the light to see the statues of saints made by Portuguese limestone carvers 1,500 years later
  • Listening to the Fado music of Portugal and the Folk music of Ireland and the Sega music of Mauritius and the Pop music of Italy – sometimes in words I could understand and sometimes in words I couldn’t – but all invoking emotions of pleasure and connectedness.

Whether its photos or sculpture, music or stories, paintings or jewellery, art tells us about ourselves and about others.

One of my favourite arts managers John Tusa captures with grace and passion the contradictions and strengths, the paradoxes and weaknesses, of why the arts are important:

“The arts matter because they are universal…..because they deal with daily experience in a transforming way; because they question the way we look at the world; because they offer different explanations of that world; because they link us to our past and open the door to the future; because they work beyond and outside routine categories; because they take us out of ourselves; because they make order out of disorder and stir up the stagnant; because they offer a shared experience rather than an isolated one….The arts matter because they embrace, express and define the soul of a civilisation. A nation without arts would be a nation that had stopped talking to itself, stopped dreaming, and had lost interest in the past and lacked curiosity about the future.”

Philosopher Alain De Botton makes the beautiful point that “many important truths will impress themselves upon our consciousness only if they have been moulded from sensory, emotive material.” And that’s what the arts do so well – touch our senses, touch our emotions. He goes on to say that “We may, for example, need a song to alert us in a visceral way to the importance of forgiving others…just as it may be only in front of a successful portrayal of an oak tree that we are in a position to feel, as opposed dutifully to accept, the significance of the natural world.” And in the same way, looking at the beautiful photos in Voiceless Journeys, responding to the warm smiles, the demonstrative hands and the often challenging words, we learn the importance of looking deeper into what it means to be human.



By creating something of beauty such as this book; by taking such wonderful photographs; by enabling the hearing of so many disparate voices; the photographers and designers, project managers and other Ondru staff, have done us all an immense favour. And to the people who have bravely changed their lives and shared their stories – of hurt and loss, of struggle and success – I am honoured to meet you and our shared country is richer for your presence.

To end I’d like to share a poem from the Nigerian writer Niyi Osundare from another great book From the Republic of Conscience: 

I sing

Of the beauty of Athens

Without its slaves


Of a world free of kings and queens

And other remnants of an arbitrary past


Of earth

With no

Sharp north

Or deep south

Without blind curtains

Or iron walls


Of the end

Of warlords and armouries

And prisons of hate and fear


Of deserts treeing

And fruiting

And the quickening of rains


Of the sun

Radiating ignorance

And the stars informing

Nights of unknowing


I sing of a world reshaped.



Brokensha, P & Tonks, A 1986, Culture and Community: Economics and Expectations of the Arts in South Australia, Social Science Press, Sydney

De Botton, A 2009, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Hamish Hamilton, London

Stover, CF 1984, ‘A Public Interest in Art – Its Recognition and Stewardship’, Journal of Arts Management and Law, 14 (3)

Tusa, J.2007a, Engaged with the Arts,  I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London



July 18, 2016


My T’s were “Technology, Trust and Turnover”. As I was reminded by one of my overseas students last semester, turnover can mean either people or money moving in and out of the organisation and in this case, the focus was on people. And because people are so important in our business, today’s section is an extract from Trust.


As for trusting others, I have a long history of believing people until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy or liars. Even though I’ve been caught out over time and had some difficult situations to deal with as a result, I prefer to trust rather than not. There’s a great quote from Abraham Lincoln: “it’s better to trust and be disappointed occasionally than to distrust and be miserable all the time” (quoted in Rosner& Halcrow 2010, p.84). It’s better to take that view because research shows that our accuracy in deciding whether or not someone can be trusted tends to be “only slightly better than chance” (DeSteno, 2014, 113). Apparently, we place too much emphasis on reputation and perceived confidence and don’t rely enough on our intuition. Lencioni (2005) talks about the importance of vulnerability-based trust and the importance of building trust by sharing life stories and of phrases such as “I’m wrong”, “I’m not sure”, “I made a mistake”.

You have to:

Trust when you go on holidays.

Trust when you share a secret.

Trust that someone is working hard/well.

Trust that people have the best interests of the organisation at heart.

Trust that they are telling the truth.

Trust that your trust is being returned.

Even when you might be trusted as a person for some people, particularly unionised staff, that trust will always be qualified by your role. I remember a constant refrain through the negotiations of my first enterprise agreement at MTC. To paraphrase it was ‘You’re ok, we trust you, but what about the next person?’ As it turned out, I was the only person they had to worry about for the next 18 years and through four agreement negotiations but underlying the line was an implicit lack of trust in ‘management’. And because you are ‘management’, don’t be surprised if the things you say – even perfectly innocuous statements – are given deep and sinister meaning. I still remember thanking an artist after a preview but hearing later that because I either wasn’t effusive enough or detailed enough, they took it to mean that I hated the show. Needless to say this wasn’t the case – I just thought it was appropriate to make a brief comment and get out of their way so they could continue to work on the show.




DeSteno, D 2014, ‘Who Can You Trust?’ Harvard Business Review, 92(3):112-115


Lencioni, P 2005, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide to Managers, Leaders and Facilitators, San Francisco, Jossey Bass


July 13, 2016

S really should be for Slack…because I haven’t provided an extract from the A to Z for a couple of weeks. Instead, I’ve been marking essays of the rich and varied range of students that I taught in 1st semester. They were arts managers and engineers IT specialists and HR managers; they came from India and Colombia, France and China, Nepal and Italy; they studied arts management but also critical thinking, business communication and human resource development. And in each class room, I learnt as well.

The S topics in the A to Z include Sponsorship, Stakeholders, Strategic Planning, Succession and today’s extract, Sustainability. Given the recent Australian Federal Election and the return to a power of a party that didn’t even both to release an Arts Policy and in the weeks before the election had withdrawn funding from a large number of previously vibrant arts organisations, sustainability is going to be discussed in a range of board rooms in the forthcoming months.


Sustainability is one of the words that has felt ‘popular’ over the last decade without been either well defined or clear about what it should mean to arts organisations. With its origin in discussions about environmental sustainability, the idea is about being diverse and productive but operating in a way that doesn’t cause harm. Peter Ellyard (2015), futurist, describes it as doing things with zero net collateral damage.

In a recent conversation with a colleague who works in the area of ethics, I said that ‘sustainability’ was the underlying rationale for all arts managers. What I meant was a sense that they all want their organisation to exist in the future because of a belief in the arts. This is compared, for example, with a for-profit  manager who is currently investing in making car parts but if that becomes ‘unsustainable’ they will turn their investment to making computer parts. Having said that, there may be arts groups that only want to come together to do a project and don’t want to continue into the future or an organisation that decides to close once its artistic founder has left.  So even that simple approach to sustainability as ‘ongoing survival’ isn’t true for all of us.

Unpacking organisational sustainability leads to thinking about economic, artistic and audience sustainability. For example, for an arts organisation to be economically sustainable it needs to have sufficient income streams, effective governance, financial management systems and good staff. Artistic sustainability requires being open to new ideas and new artists, investing in risk taking work as well as building on the past and creating work that excites and inspires audiences because without them, the sustainability of the art form and the organisation becomes questionable.  The idea of artistic sustainability could also be defined as simply ensuring the artistic vibrancy of an organisation (Australia Council). Audience sustainability is literally wanting more live ones to replace the dead ones.Every Annual Report of an arts organisation is likely to have measures that capture each of these elements although they wouldn’t necessarily be defined under a single heading ‘sustainability’.  And many of those same Annual Reports would comment on the ‘greening’ activities  of the organisation reflecting their concern with a broader definition of sustainability (based on policies such as those found in Julie’s Bicycle’s practical guides (2013)).

As the conversation continued with my ethical colleague, he talked about his work with various industries and their desire to measure and share their sustainability. However, much of that seemed to be driven by a perspective that they needed to justify their behaviour in a way that arts organisations don’t.  For example, the Australian dairy industry clearly feels that they need to demonstrate their credentials because “[o]ur customers and the community are increasingly demanding proof we are doing the right thing by people, animals and our planet” (Australian Dairy Industry Council, 2014). The call for arts organisations to demonstrate their sustainability hasn’t come from outside but rather from within the industry itself with a concern about environmental issues and an ongoing concern about survivability. Images of Islamic State terrorists destroying historic art works in an Iraqi museum remind us how fragile art making can be (ABC, 2015).

As early as 2001 Throsby (2001, p. 161)) described ‘sustainability’ as an ubiquitous term “deployed indiscriminately”. But he did offer a series of criteria which might be useful measures for the managers of cultural capital such as the contribution of the art to well-being[1], intergenerational and intragenerational equity (preserving art for future generations), the maintenance of diversity and culture systems and what he calls the precautionary principle. This is an approach to risk management which says that if an action or policy is suspected of causing harm to the public or the environment then the burden of proof falls on the those planning to take the action. In other words, our policies and actions should be determined within an ethical framework, taking into account our staff and our artists, our audiences and our community, our environment and the future.

In an example of how an arts organisation captures ‘sustainability’ in their strategic plan, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney states that it is one of their four ‘strategic ambitions’[2]. The subheading of ‘sustainability’ is ‘supporting long term relevance’ and the action statements include having sound business modelling, resilience, fiscal sustainability, workforce and stakeholder trust, conserving collections for future generations, continuous improvement in operations and governance, being an employer of choice, well maintained and safe buildings with an agile and efficient workforce (MAAS, 2014). In other words, sustainability is about good management with an eye to the future.


ABC,  2015  Islamic State jihadists appear in video destroying ancient artefacts in Iraq’s Mosul museum,

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-27/is-jihadists-destroy-ancient-idols-in-iraq-museum-video/6267554 [accessed 28 February 2015]

Australia Council, Artistic Vibrancy, http://2014.australiacouncil.gov.au/resources/About-Artistic-Vibrancy [accessed 23 January 2015]

Australian Dairy Industry Council, 2014, Australian Dairy Industry Sustainability Framework Progress Report — December 2014, Dairy Australia, Melbourne

Ellyard, P 2015, Interview on The Conversation Hour, ABC Radio National, 26 February http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programitem/pgJE6g2bLG?play=true ,

Julie’s Bicycle 2013, Practical Guides: Environmental Policy & Action Plan Guidelines, http://www.juliesbicycle.com/files/JB_Env_Policy_Action_Plan_Guidelines_March_v4.pdf [accessed 20 January 2015]

MAAS 2014, Strategic Plan, http://maas.museum/strategic-plan/  [accessed 1 March 2015]

Throsby, D. 2001 Economics and Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[1] Interesting, also one of the criteria measured by the Dairy Industry

[2] The other three are Curiosity, Creativity and Collaboration.


June 27, 2016

It’s been weeks since I’ve uploaded a segment from the A to Z of Arts Management. Like any busy executive I have an array of excuses but like any buys executive, the truth is that I’ve simply given more attention to other things – marking essays, looking after family, worrying about the forthcoming Australian election and its impact on the arts.

Now that the marking is over, the family is getting better and we’re in the last week of the election campaign, I can get back to business.

The topics under R are Resilience and Risk and here’s an extract from the latter:

““Risks involve ambiguity and uncertainty.

Risks result in a kind of learning available in no other way.

Risks may entail a loss of control and an acceptance of vulnerability.

Risks accompany abandoning the old, but abandoning the old makes way for the new.

Risk on the part of individuals are the only way to improve our world.

Humility invites risk; pride discourages it.

Risk are inevitable“ (De Pree 1997, pp. 146).

Arts and cultural organisations face three types of risk – firstly, the creation of art; secondly, the business risks to support that creation; thirdly, the uncontrollable risks of just operating in the world. Every other organisation has to face the second and third type but only our organisations embrace the first.

I started this section with De Pree’s quote because it’s a reminder that when you work with artists that’s what they are doing every day and in a much more profound way than the risks a banker or an engineer might take. Which isn’t to minimise their risk – of stockmarket and building crashes – but an artist is trying to create a totally new and unique experience that is going to explore our humanity. As Tusa (2007b, p.5) says “Programming art is totally, innately, constantly, gloriously unpredictable” and the capacity to take personal risk separates the potential artist from the actual artist (Bilton & Leary 2010, p. 59).

So as an arts manager, I have to take risks that are going to minimise the artists’ risks of failure. I have to risk agreeing to spend more money on the set if there’s the chance that it’s going to make for a better production – but not if it’s simply going to change the angle of the floor and add to the chance of injury. I have to risk not recovering the cost of that interstate actor if they are the best actor for the part – but not if they only as good as a local. I have to risk commissioning some new writers even if the historic odds are that two out of three commissions don’t work because the one that does may be the one that tells us all something new about our world.

There is a paradox built into the nature of non-profit arts organisations. On the one hand, they take risks with every show and every exhibition. However, restraints imposed by government and private funding may see management trying to play it safe. A classic requirement from government is often a balanced budget which can make it a challenge to take artistic risks. However, risk taking is essential. Sometimes the artistic risk pays off and even it doesn’t one hopes that ultimately audiences and funders would prefer to support an organisation that is innovative and exciting than one that isn’t (Maifeld 2012, p.217).The way to solve the challenge of risk is to give attention to risk, to monitor it, measure it and not be afraid of it.


Bilton, C & Leary, R 2010 ‘What can managers do for creativity? Brokering creativity in the creative industries’ International Journal of Cultural Policy, 8(1):49-64

De Pree, M 1997, Leading Without Power, Shepherd Foundation, Holland, MI


May 9, 2016


QUALITY – extract

“There had to be a section on quality simply because there had to be a Q in an A to Z of arts management. But it’s really unnecessary because quality is imbedded in every aspect of an arts organisation’s activities.

Our artists want the chance to be at their most creative when they work with us so that they can produce art of quality that is valued by their peers and the audience.

Our Artistic Directors want a quality relationship with us which involves trust, effective communications, respect and a shared passion for the company’s mission. They want to partner with someone who is thoughtful and cares about quality in all aspects of the organisation (Reid 2013, p.106).

Our audiences expect us to provide a quality arts experience. It may a different one from last year. It may be more challenging than last year. But it has to be just as good if not better than last year. As Maifeld ( 2012, p. 219) says delivering consistency of quality requires care. He goes on to quote Hewison & Holden (2011) saying that “[o]rganizations demonstrate true care when they view their audience as a ‘relationship, not a transaction’”.

Our boards are expected to provide quality governance so that our organisations remain financially resilient enabling the ongoing creation and sharing of art into a distant future.

Our government funders expect us to produce quality art and to be able to prove that we have done so.”


Hewison, R & Holden, J, 2011 The Cultural Leadership Handbook, F Gower, Farnham

Maifeld, K 2012, ‘Review of “The Cultural Leadership Handbook: How to Run a Creative Organization” by Robert Hewison and John Holden’, The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, 42(4): 217-9

Reid, W 2013, ‘Dual executive leadership in the arts’ in Caust, J (ed) Arts Leadership: Internal Case Studies, Tilde University Press, Melbourne:, 98-111



May 4, 2016

Over the next couple of editions, Arts Hub Australia will be publishing extracts from the A to Z which is great. But in the meantime, I’ll keep providing new snippets as I work through the alphabet.

Ironically, my first P is passion – and I suspect we’re all going to be passionately disappointed in the next couple of weeks. Arts and Culture were almost invisible in last night’s Australian Federal budget and I fear that there is going to be more bad news when the next round of Australian Council funding is announced. Live Performance Australia is saying that up to 40% of small to medium sized arts companies are likely to lose their funding. If this is anywhere close to accurate, it’s going to be devastating for all those people that work in those companies.

One way or the other, all the other topics under P relate to people: Pay, Performance Appraisal, Policies, Power & Problem Solving. Here’s an extract from People:


“There are times when you’ll be alone in this job as an arts or cultural manager. But most of the time you’ll be listening to, talking to, supporting, training, advising and agonizing over people.

You’ve chosen to be an arts manager because you care about the arts and that implies that you want to dedicate your life to supporting the artists who make it. As well as artists you’ll be dealing with politicians and philanthropists, carpenters and cleaners, accountants and arts workers, ticket sellers and technicians. Some of them will be like you but most of them won’t – they’ll be of a different gender or sexual orientation or age or ethnicity or religion or ableness. You’ll have to not only live with diversity but treasure all the benefits that come from different experiences and opinions.

In many ways, people management is the hardest part of the job. In a salutary quote, Deming says:

“In my experience, people can face almost any problem except the problems of people. They can work long hours, face declining business, face loss of jobs, but not the problems of people” (1982, p. 137).

I’ve known good managers who will do anything rather than deal directly with underperformance. Or who are fabulous in their area of speciality but just can’t build the team cohesion that will make a difference. Or who aren’t comfortable with people of a different gender or ethnicity. Or who want to be friends with their staff rather than be the boss.  If people like this are in your team, you have to coach them or provide them with development opportunities to build their skills in managing people. Because ultimately you can’t be a really good manager unless you can help people fulfil their potential for the betterment of the company.

Shelly Lazarus, ex-Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide talks about advice he received from the founder David Ogilvy: “[n]o matter how much time you spend thinking about, worrying about, focusing on, questioning the value of, and evaluating people, it won’t be enough , he said. People are the only thing you should think about, because when that part is right, everything else works” (Wademan 2005, p.107).

In ‘managing’ people, you have to play a variety of roles.  In talking about managing young people, Drucker (1990, p. 148) quotes a minister who says that they need a mentor to guide them, a teacher to develop their skills, a judge to evaluate their progress and an encourager to cheer them on. In my experience, it’s not a matter of age. People appreciate all these aspects of support from their manager.”


Deming, W 1982, Out of Crisis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Wademan, D 2005 ‘The best advice I ever got’ in Harvard Business Review on Managing Yourself,  Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston Mass, 103-127


April 26, 2016

Compared to finding topics to write about beginning with X, Y and Z, O was comparatively easy – because you can put “organisation” in front of almost anything. But I stuck to “culture” and “structure” and included a section on Occupational Health and Safety. Here’s an extract from the Organisational Culture section:


“Put simply, organisational culture  is the “feel of things” in a company or as someone might say to a new comer, “the way we do things around here” (Deal & Kennedy 1982, p. 4). It’s not written in a policy manual but has a profound impact on the way organisations operate and how people within them connect and behave.

More technically, organisational culture is defined as “deeply rooted value or shared norm, moral or aesthetic principles that guides action and serves as standards to evaluate one’s own and others’ behaviors”(Hofstede 1994, p. 68). Such norms and beliefs are established through personal example, organisational history, management policy, the role of unions, what money is spent on, recruitment and promotion criteria and what’s happening in the general culture. As Bolman & Deal (2013, p. 263) say, organisational culture is both a product and process:

“As a product, it embodies wisdom accumulated from experience. As a process, it is renewed and re-created as newcomers learn the old ways and eventually become teachers themselves.”

Although organisational culture isn’t concrete, it is easy to sense. Think of an organisation you’ve worked for and find some adjectives to describe it. Was it warm or cold, caring or heartless, people or task oriented, closed or open, fun or focused? Skringar & Stevens (2008, p. 96) use the phrases ‘strong and weak’ and ‘thick and thin’ to describe cultures. For example, a strong culture is one with a system of informal rules spelling out how people behaviour and as result people feel better about what they do and so are likely to work harder. On the other hand, a weak culture is where employees waste a good deal of time working out what to do and how to do it. In a thin culture, staff don’t share common values with the organisation or the group whereas in a thick culture, values are shared, communication is effective and there’s less social distance between staff and managers.

Golensky (2011,70) says there are three levels of organisational culture:

  1. Observable artifacts – for example physical layout, dress code, the annual report, overt staff behaviour
  2. Espoused values – expression of personal convictions to explain or justify expected behaviour
  3. Deep-seated assumptions – guides to actual behaviour that have become so ingrained that they don’t require conscious thought .

The observable culture at MTC was very casual. After one day in the job, our quite formal Finance Director took off his tie except for Board meetings. And even then, because the meetings were on a Friday, some of the Board members also took advantage of ‘casual Fridays’ to dress down.  When you are sitting down having morning tea or lunch with people who are carpenters in overalls or actors in leotards, one looks slightly foolish if overdressed. Another type of observable artifacts is noted by Plas and Lewis (2001, p. 66).They give the example of how informal and seemingly insignificant symbols can tell a story and in their case it was an in-house telephone directory, just like MTC’s, that was alphabetized by first names rather than family names – “reflecting the personal touch that is so important to the culture.”

I always wondered what impression visitors had of MTC when they came into a building that was falling down:  at those moments when I tripped over the gaffer tape holding the carpet together under my desk; or when they started to roll away from the meeting table because of the slope of the floor. Did they think that we didn’t care about our environment? That we were slack? I hope that believed us when we said we’d rather spend money on the art than on our surroundings although of course, eventually occupational health and safety issues meant that we had no choice but to find a new home with flat floors.


Bolman, LG  & Deal, TE 2013 Reframing Organizations ,5th edn, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Deal, TE & Kennedy, AA 1982, Corporate Celebration: Play, Purpose and Profit at Work, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco,

Golensky, M 2011, Strategic Leadership and Management in Nonprofit Organizations, Lyceum Books Inc, Chicago

Hofstede, G 1994,Uncommon sense about organizations: case studies and field observations, Sage, Thousand Oaks CA

Skringar, ER & Stevens, T 2008, Driving Change and Developing Organisations, 1st edn., Tilde University Press, Melbourne




April 14, 2016


The topics under N that I cover in the A to Z of Arts Management are Negotiation, Networks and the place where I have spent most of my working life: the not for profit world.


Whether it’s nonprofit or not-for-profit, unfortunately the phase that defines so many arts and cultural organisations is a negative one (Drucker 1990). It describes what it’s not rather than the rich panoply of what it is. Peter Brokensha, a great teacher and adviser on arts management, described why he moved out of the corporate world to the world of the arts in his biography Coming to Wisdom Slowly:

“I had come to realise that I wanted to contribute to the society something that was distinctively mine. In the corporate world there is rarely very little of a lasting nature that any executive can point to as his or her personal achievement. A brilliant chief executive can turn a company around from disaster to profit but this can be illusionary as non-controllable external factors can wipe out the achievements overnight…..The lubricant that enables most organisations and large corporations in particular not only to run but to be successful is the ambition of its supervisors and managers . This drove me as I climbed the ladder of success from plant foreman to Director but when I got there I found that the god of success I had worshipped for so long turned out to be a false idol…one soon learns that ambitions can be realised and rank and success achieved only by conforming to the rules and traditions of that particular organisation or company…What finally dawned on me was that I was becoming very narrow and inwardly focussed and that my creativity and imagination were being inhibited by being narrowly focussed on my work at Caltex” (pp. 81, 83).

It’s reasons like that which lead many of us to make active choices about working in the non-profit world.

The United Nations defines nonprofits as “organisations that do not exist primarily to generate profits, either directly or indirectly, and that are not primarily guided by commercial goals and considerations” (quoted in Bowman 2011, p.3). This doesn’t mean that in some years, perhaps every year, nonprofits don’t make surpluses. It’s just that those surpluses aren’t distributed to trustees or directors or shareholders; rather, they are accumulated and reinvested in the process of achieving the mission of the company. Bowman (2011) says that social values are the business of nonprofits and Drucker (1990, p. xiv) says that the nonprofit’s ‘product’ “is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its production is a changed human being.” That’s certainly the story that Peter Brokensha tells about himself.

Other differences that writers point to between the for-profit and the not-for-profit world include the pre-eminence of the mission, a multiplicity of stakeholders with conflicting needs and expectations, the difficulty in judging performance due to often intangible outcomes, high accountability and the complexity of resource generation (Tshirhart 1996; Courtney 2002;  Inglis & Cray 2011). In terms of the people who work for them, there is the tradition of unpaid board members, a higher proportion of women leaders and worker commitment and motivation which isn’t primarily about money (Nair & Deepti 2011).

Bowman (2011, p.3) says that nonprofits practice “value centred management” and Courtney (2002) describes the culture and values of such organisations as more participatory and egalitarian than for-profit companies. However, it’s not all sunshine and light. Nonprofit arts organisations face a number of challenges such as never having enough money, paying people poorly, having to deal with politicians, bureaucrats and the wealthy, operating in a risky business with long lead times, inflexible deadlines and uncertain demand. Having said that, a number of for-profit managers would say they have to deal with many of the same issues but we deal in making and sharing art which is risky by definition. However we do share some qualities with for-profit companies. Although nonprofits are not in the business of making money, they are in business because they are hiring, organisation and directing people to produce goods and services (Bowman 2001).

The core difference between the two types of organisations is the motivation of the people who choose to work for them. In the nonprofit company, people are usually working for love and not particularly for money. They choose to work for us because they want to contribute to the making of a rich and vibrant community. Their motivational rationale will have an impact on the operation of our organisations because they are more like to want to participate, to be inspired, to have meaningful relationships with their peers and their leaders than to be told what to do by more controlling managers in hierarchical structures.

Because of the nonprofit’s multiplicity of funding sources, stakeholders and outcomes, as an arts manager you need to be able to deal with diversity, complexity, uncertainty and risk. And ultimately you are there to serve the artist and the audience first and the financial stakeholders second.


Bowman, W 2011, Finance Fundamentals for Nonprofits, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ

Brokensha, P 2007, Getting to Wisdom Slowly, Peacock Publications, Adelaide

Courtney, R 2002, Strategic Management for Voluntary Nonprofit Organizations,  Routledge, London

Drucker, PF 1990, Managing the Nonprofit Organization, HarperCollins, New York

Inglis, L & Cray, D 2011 ‘Leadership in Australian arts organisations: a shared experience?’, Third Sector Review, 17.2

Nair, N & Deepti, B  2011 ‘Understanind Workplace Deviant Behaviour in Nonprofit Organizations’ Nonprofit Management and Leadership 21(3): 289-309

Tshirhart, M 1996, Artful Leadership, Indiana University Press




April 5, 2016

There are lots of topics under M including Marketing, Media, Meetings, Mindfulness, Mission, Money and Motivation. Of course, there’s the obvious heading “Management” but one that doesn’t turn up in management text books very often but one that I think is extremely important is:


Maybe it’s because I was brought up to be a polite young girl by the nuns. Maybe it’s because I have an allergy to being yelled at. Whatever the reason, I think ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ all have currency in the work place.  As Grayling says in his version of the Epistles (2011, p.579) “[n]o less necessary than either ancient or modern knowledge therefore, is knowledge of the world, manners, politeness and society.” If you are nice to people, they will usually be nice back. Stewart (2009, p. 131) notes that this “a timeless precept, grounded in ethics, barely rising about tautology, and emerging naturally from the experience of being a human surrounded by other humans” but that doesn’t mean that people are always nice to each other in the workplace.


The starting point is respect amongst people in the workforce. You don’t have to be friends but you should acknowledge and value each other’s contribution to the organisation. Adams says that you win people’s respect if you say what you mean, do what you say, are good at what you do and inspire confidence (Adams 2007, p. 159). An Australia Board Chair says that she will not work with people who don’t respect people “no matter how brilliant they are, if they treat people poorly, if they are rude or if they have bad manners” (quoted in Sarros et al 2006, p. 37).

Technically if you’re the boss, you can direct someone to do a task but why not say ‘please’ in the process? What starts as an order turns into a request. The answer may simply be ‘sure’ but it gives the receiver a sense that at the very least, communication could be two way with the possibility to ask questions about the requirement.  The result could be a better defined task or a clearer sense of the timing of the outcome which lead to a better result for both parties.

One of the most profound tools in the manager’s kit is a well meant ‘thank you’. James Button (2012) in a book about working as speechwriter for Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister in the 2000s, tells stories about the man who said thank you and the man who didn’t. Rudd’s Departmental Secretary regularly said ‘thank you’ if he liked someone’s work, whereas the Prime Minister’s habit seemed to be one of being  “rude and contemptuous” towards his staff (p. 65).  This presumably, was one of the reasons why Rudd was removed as Prime Minister by his own political party.

In a study conducted by Gina and Grant, “the effort of call center employees increased by 51% during the week after an external manager paid them a single visit to express appreciation for their work” (Anon 2011). Our organisations don’t usually have the negative organisational cultures of call centres but some us do have the potential for similar environments in our ticketing and subscription departments. The old fashioned model of management by wandering about is part of the process of people seeing that they work is noticed, understood and valued. Gestures of appreciation don’t have to be expensive, just heart felt. I was in the habit of finding a gift for everyone on the company at Christmas. That meant over 100 items so it was obviously never an expensive gift. One year it was a small diary, next year it was a book from my collection. But each gift was given with a personal note because without all of them, I didn’t have a job worth doing.

The other word in the manner’s collection is ‘sorry’. Because you will make mistakes. But you’ll also have to take responsibility for other people’s mistakes. When you delegate tasks, the results are still your responsibility. And when things go wrong for your organisation due to external pressures that you can’t control, you are still going to have to say ‘sorry’.  “Accept your role as apologist-in-chief,” say Rosner & Halcrow (2010, p. 70). “You’re the boss, which to your employees makes you the voice of the company. That means you’ll be called upon to apologize for things you have had nothing to do with.”  

Somewhat ironically, the Prime Minister who didn’t know how to say ‘thank you’ to his staff, did understand the importance of saying ‘sorry’ and one Kevin Rudd’s  most rated moments in the role was when he said ‘sorry’ to Australia’s Indigenous people in 2008.

On of Drucker’s  (1990, p. 115) “don’ts” in his list of what to avoid when managing non-profit organisations  is “[d]on’t tolerate discourtesy…..manners are the social lubricating oil that smooths over friction…..One learns to be courteous – it is needed to enable different people who doesn’t necessarily like each other to work together. Good causes do not excuse bad manners.”

The times when I felt the most belittled in the workplace is when I’ve been yelled at. Apart from the fact that each time, I wasn’t at fault and each time, someone else was trying to cover up their own inadequacies, the point is that it didn’t improve my work or my attitude. So as a manager, the best thing you do is to be polite in the good and the bad times, control yourself and in Grayling’s (2011, p. 579) words:

“To be well-mannered without ceremony, easy without negligence,

Steady and intrepid with modesty, genteel without affectation,

Cheerful without noisiness, frank without indiscretion, and able to keep confidences;

To know the proper time and place for whatever you say or do, and to do it with an air of condition.””


Adams, J  2007, Managing People in Organizations: contemporary theory and practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Anonymous 2011, ‘The Problem with Financial Incentives — and What to Do About It’, Knowledge@Wharton,, http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-problem-with-financial-incentives-and-what-to-do-about-it/ [accessed on 9 December 2014]

Button, J 2012 Speechless: A Year in My Father’s Business, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne

Drucker, PF 1990, Managing the Nonprofit Organizations, HarperCollins, New York

Grayling, AC 2011, The Good Book, Bloomsbury, London

Rosner, B & Halcrow, A 2010.The Boss’s Survival Guide, 2nd edn, McGraw Hill, New York

Rudd, K 2008, ‘Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/kevin-rudds-sorry-speech/2008/02/13/1202760379056.html [accessed 2 February 2015]

Sarros, J, Cooper, BK, Hartican, AM &Barker, CJ 2006, The Character of Leadership, John Wiley & Sons, Milton QLD

Stewart, M 2009, The management myth,  W.W. Norton & Co, New York




March 29, 2016

My topics under the heading L include Laughter, Leadership, Learning, Listening & Love.

You probably want the answer about how to be a good leader. Unfortunately there isn’t one, but laughter is a useful aspect of a well led organisation.

LAUGHTER – extract

A volunteer once asked for an appointment to speak to me and her demeanour was so serious that I thought she was going to leave us. But her story was much more of a shock. She wanted to tell me that in all her working life until now, she hadn’t been in an organisation where laughter was the norm – as it was at MTC – and how much pleasure she was getting out of the experience. I find it hard to imagine a workplace without laughter. Admittedly, I have often worked for organisations which manufacture comedy as part of their output but that but that doesn’t guarantee laughter off stage.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Beard (2014, 130) says the workplace needs laughter: “[l]aughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.” Research on care-focussed service non-profits in Great Britain, also provide examples of what make employment experiences positive amongst the stress of such work. When asked why an employee loved her organisation it was because of the laugher. “For her, employee satisfaction manifests itself in the fact that they work and play well together. The staff has fun”  (Lewis & Plas 2001,p. 68).

Even the UK Department of Trade and Industry in a survey exploring the influence of inspirational leaders focuses on the importance of fun: “employees are able to have fun at work and the importance of a light-hearted attitude is paramount. Business is seldom effective when everything is taken excessively seriously, and employees who work in a relaxed, more fun-filled environment are less stressed and more productive” (quoted in Adams, 2007, p.226).

There are pragmatic ways to engender happiness according to researchers. For example, Cropanzano & Wright (2001) believe that because it’s such a subjective state, as long you’re providing people with a sense that their work is meaningful, that they’re supported and that their work makes a difference then you’ve at least contributed some of the precursors to happiness. Of course, those researchers were interested is in exploring whether happiness at work results in more productivity. As a manager, one does want people to be more motivated and thus contribute to the needs of the organisation but it’s also just nicer to go work with people who are happy.

In a recent discussion with a successful and caring arts manager, they talked with pride about the good organisational culture that had helped create. To do this, the organisation had a staff workshop and simply asked what would make for a happy workplace. The answers were wonderfully pragmatic and included things like making sure that time accrued was taken off, regular as well as annual performance appraisal, giving everyone a pay increase (even if it was modest), promising and trying to deliver honesty and transparency and good HR practices. Laughter wasn’t on the list but I’m sure it was another organisation where it could be heard.


Adams, J 2007, Managing People in Organizations: contemporary theory and practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Beard, A 2014, ‘Leading with Humor’, Harvard Business Review 92(5): 130-131

Cropanzano, R & Wright, TA 2001, ‘When a “happy” worker is really a “productive worker”: A review and further refinement of the happy-productive worker thesis’, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research 53(3): 182-199

Plas, JM & Lewis, SE 2001, Person-Centered Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA