November 29, 2017



Values, Volunteers


VALUES – extract




Stating one’s values is a way of describing what is important in life. Stating an organisation’s values is a way of helping employees know what behaviours are expected and what principles underlie the policies and actions of the company. They help organisations because they encourage consistency, clarity, decision-making and autonomy (Hewison & Holden 2011). Values provide a shared framework within which people can  make decisions and act. Phills (2005, p.197) gives some simple examples such as intellectual freedom for a university, innovation for a high tech firm, meritocracy for a professional service firm and aggressiveness for a professional hockey team.


When the major performing arts companies were learning about strategic planning with some Stanford University academics in the 2000s, the direct question we were asked to help us unpack the values of our organisations was:


‘Given our purpose or our mission, what are a couple of things  – philosophies, guiding principles, things we believe in – that we would never compromise?’


Autry (2001, p. 32) says that you find out what values people want by asking people to finish the following sentences:


“We want to work in an organization that values ___________”

“ We want to work with people who value___________”


And then use the same sentences to check congruity:


“This organization values ___________”

“ These people value___________”


A more indirect way of finding out about the company’s values is to ask people about inspirational moments they’ve experienced in the company. It’s in the heart of stories about how people interact with or experience an organisation that you’ll find the enacted values. Because that’s what you’re looking for – not just words but words that are turned into action in the day-to-day operations of the company. For example, a value such as ‘concern for others’ needs to be turned into a series of policies and actions that ensure a workplace where people are treated with respect and allowed to fulfil their potential (George et al, 2011).


One of the best stories about values in an arts organisation can be found in Hewison, Holden & Jones’ (2013) story about a change of leadership at the Royal Shakespeare company. The RSC has traditionally been an ensemble company of actors but the new leadership team of Michael Boyd and Vikki Heywood used the idea of ‘ensemble’ to guide their decisions. The company understood the qualities of an ensemble as it was experienced in the rehearsal room and on stage and so it was a transparent metaphor standing for the values of trust and mutual respect, transparency and collaboration. What Boyd and Heywood did was apply these qualities to the new organisational structure and culture. They streamlined processes, opened up silos, broke down hierarchies and got people on board for the change in collaborative and participative ways. There was no dissonance between values and actions.




Autry, JA 2001 The Servant Leader, Three Rivers Press, New York


Covey, SR 1992, Principle-Centred Leadership, Pocket Books, London


George, B, Sims, P, McLean, AN & Mayer, D 2007,’Discovering your authentic leadership, Harvard Business Review, 85(2):129-138


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


Hewison, R, Holden, J & Jones, S 2013, ‘Leadership and transformation at the Royal Shakespeare Company’  in Caust, J (ed) Arts Leadership, Tilde University Press, Melbourne, 144-158


Phills, JA 2005, Integrating Mission and Strategy for Nonprofit Organizations, Oxford University Press, New York




W, X, Y, Z


Work, X, You, Z


WORK – extract


Adams (2007, p.xiv) says, ““…we are at our most effective, psychologically and physiologically, when stimulated by productive activity”. But he goes on to say that even though most people would continue to work even if they didn’t have to, “most people dislike the work that they do, and cannot wait to leave their workplace at the end of each day.”  It’s useful to be reminded that work can be boring, one can be underappreciated, one can certainly be underpaid. No work place is the perfect vehicle for self-esteem, growth and happiness (Rosner & Halcrow, 2010) and not everyone, even in an arts organisation, is going to be happy or productive or cheerful every day. As a manager, you have to create a good workplace but also to enable the balance between work and the rest of life.  In a book called Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense based on evidence-based knowledge about organisations ,  Pfeffer & Sutton (2006)  discuss a number of assumptions that are held by managers about work life. In a chapter called “Is Work Fundamentally Different from the Rest of Life and Should It Be?” the rules they say reflect the workplace include:


  • Your time is our time, even when you work all the time
  • Clothes make the person
  • Don’t think, you’ll weaken the team – just do what you’re told
  • Display prescribed feelings, not your real feelings – check your emotions at the door
  • Love – babe, even friendship – is a dirty word
  • Conflict and competition are desirable in the workplace
  • Rules of polite, civilized behaviour don’t apply at work
  • Meaning and fulfilment come elsewhere – work is just about the job.


It’s terrifying to think that a majority of organisations might be managed this way; that leaders believe this is what a workplace should be like. It may be just me (and may explain why I’ve never worked in the for-profit world) but I’ve never followed any of those ‘rules’. I’ve brought  a child into work when there was not alternative. Power dressing has never suited my style. I think therefore I am. I have tried to avoid abusive emotions at work but I’ve felt happy and sad and laughed and cried. I confess I even had a work affair. Politeness is a virtue which I’ve tried to express. And I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in organisations where the output was of value to the community.




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


Pfeffer, J & Sutton, RI 2006, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense, Harvard Business School Press, Boston MA


Rosner, B & Halcrow, A 2010 The Boss’s Survival Guide (2nd ed), McGraw Hill, New York



July 25, 2016

This week is the beginning of Semester 2 at the University of Melbourne were I teach arts management. This semester, I’m sharing the teaching with two esteemed colleagues and so the students should get a richer experience than usual.

My U’s in the book are Uncertainty, Unions and Upward Management. In someways, Uncertainty should be the topic for this week because with the recent outrages in Nice, Munich and Kabul and the forthcoming US Presidential election, the world seems very insecure. But I’m going to remain optimistic and provide some insights into of those challenging work tasks – managing your boss.


There’s no guarantee that you will always have a good manager or a good leader. Adirondack (2005) has a great approach to management in the non-profit sector. She talks about ‘good enough management’ and provides a range of advice on dealing with ‘not-yet-good enough management’. It may be incompetent management. But it can also be about lack of direction form the Board, or poor processes such as badly run meetings, or unclear objective or expectations, or lack of good financial management. You can help provide advice and ideas to improve these scenarios even when you’re not the boss.

One of the regular whinges from students is about bosses who micromanage them. I’m lucky enough to have avoided such a relationship (to date) so for their sake, I went looking for some advice. Gallo (2013b) provides some useful strategies. The starting point is that it’s more likely to be about your bosses insecurities than it is about your competence.  And some micromanagement might be good for you. You may simply have a manager with very high standards who pays a great deal of attention to detail. Whilst they are exerting a degree of control, you can probably learn from them.

However, what students are generally talking about are the bosses who give you little independence, are obsessive about what you’re doing every minute of the day, don’t let you make decisions and seem incapable of focusing on the bigger picture. Gallo’s (2013b) advice is not to fight it but rather to try and understand what’s behind it – is it fear of failure, pressure, company culture, the only way they know how to be a boss? Understanding will help sort out which strategy is best to use to deal with it including  trying to earn your boss’s trust, making up-front agreements about their level of involvement in your work and providing regular and detailed updates about your  progress.

The other boss that regularly gets a mention is the one that’s simply incompetent – whether it’s because they can’t make a decision or because they play politics (or World of Warcraft) instead of doing work, or because they are focussed on their career not on helping you. Gallo (2013a) also offers insight on how to deal with this problem. Once again, it’s about trying to understand what causes it, asking others for help, finding creative ways of collaborating with them and stepping up and taking on responsibilities and decisions if they can’t or won’t. Her final point is the most important – take care of yourself.  If you find yourself with a manager that isn’t good enough, you can and should take it up with someone higher up, formally or informally, if that’s possible. As Adirondack (2005) suggests, you can do it in the spirit of asking for advice and guidance rather than complain.

But what if you feel that the relationship is all one way? That the management is not just ‘not yet good enough’ but actually bad. You’re doing their work for them; they take all your ideas and don’t give you credit; you can’t trust them; they can’t made a decision – or make bad decisions. You may decide to stay on and put up with a poor relationship because you love the organisation and hope that they will leave soon. But it’s important to remember that you won’t be able to make significant differences in how they think or operate (Hill & Lineback 2013). So you may have to do what I’ve done in the past and decide that working for such people is ultimately so demeaning and disappointing that it’s not worth staying. It’s traumatic and scary to leave but it’s better than working for a bad manager even in a good company.



Adirondack, S 2005, Just About Managing? 4th edn, London Voluntary Service Council, London

Gallo, A 2013a, ‘Dealing with your incompetent boss’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, 55-59

Gallo, A 2013b, ‘Stop Being Micromanaged’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across,   Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, 47-59

Hill, LA & Lineback, K 2013, ‘Managing your boss’ in HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, 3-16




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