The role of the organisation

It’s the last day of my five-day thematic writing exercise and it’s achieved a number of things. Firstly, it has got me writing again. I’ve had a break from writing since I finished my paper in late June.  Next week, as I go into the context chapter, it won’t feel so foreign to me. Though the style, and the references, will be very different. And I’m be back in Scrivener not here.

Additionally it has me thinking more about the structure of my thesis, and planning out the ideas in a more cohesive way.  So I’d highly recommend the activity.

The last theme I am thinking of exploring is that of the role of the organisation.  I have two distinct groups of participants in my study, and it will likely be an almost 50/50 split when I’m done (couldn’t have planned it better.)  The first have the more ‘traditional’ experience of working within an organisational structure.  And most of these have moved from organisation to organisation in their career.  They have bosses and colleagues, team days and training. Most are from the cultural sector, but I have one or two from outside who are influencers.  It’s the cultural sector ones I’m focussing on. The second are the freelancers, entrepreneurs and volunteers. These are those that run their own businesses, cobble together multiple jobs to stay afloat or are not yet employed in the sector they want to be (only one or two fall into this space.)  Of the freelancers they are either moving from job to job as their environment dictates, or building their own business models.

This latter group are the ones a lot of creative industries literature talks about.  Those with a (potentially) precarious nature of employment. While this is not my focus you can’t escape the comments from participants about the challenge of survival without a regular income.  For those in digital media there was sometimes a conscious choice to freelance (with contracts that were between one and three months in length) to build a ‘brand’ and get big names on the resume, but once they had established themselves, got a bit older, and needed to settle down because of family responsibilities, then the lure of an organisation become stronger.

For those outside the organisational dynamic there was little expectation of career or leadership development, when you were entering into an organisation for a one-month stint there is little time for an orientation. Here is where the cooperation model (from Tuesdays‘s post) kicks in, when everyone knows their roles there is no need to team development.

For those inside organisations, however, I am interested in what role they play in facilitating staff leadership development. And it is a bit of a mixed bag.  There are two or three sectors where the organisation plays an active role, theatre being the most obvious, but I’d also say design.  In some other cases, such as music, there was money being spent on staff development or at least time being given away from the workplace, but it was more to attend externally run courses, not an in house development approach.  Here is where there is a difference between leader and leadership development – sending a manager off to attend an external leadership course probably benefits them, and the flow on may benefit the organisation through better management, achievement of goals and staff retention.  But putting that money toward staff development in house, that focuses on leadership (not leaders) would benefit the whole organisation, and the flow on would be greater long term (IMHO.)  Interestingly I’ve heard that a lot of those who go through leadership programs end up leaving their organisation – which is the same in other sectors, so it can also become a disincentive to send high potential individuals out.  Maybe an organisation approach would have the reverse effect retention wise?  So maybe I am calling for more organisationally focussed training?

The second issue with regard to the organisation is an attitudinal one by the individuals within it.  While there are those who see development as essential for the sector, there are also those that see their leadership roles are having a staff development aspect to them.  But, unfortunately, not all.  I come from corporate companies where managers were sometimes assessed and rewarded by how well they did in developing staff, this is definitely not the case in the creative sector.  I think there are a few factors involved:

  • Lack of knowledge.  Those managing staff in small arts/cultural organisation have little experience or understanding of the importance of staff development.
  • Lack of care. In an industry where interns are junior staff are lining up for jobs there is the assumption that there will always be someone to take their place. And the idea of retaining staff and organisational knowledge is not really on the radar. I was told in the interview for my last job that my next step with out outside the organisation as they had no development or progression. And they were right, I lasted less time than I’d hoped to as their lack of care in this area made it an unpleasant place to be.
  • Lack of time/resources.  This is a week excuse, as it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time to meet with staff, develop a coaching plan, set goals and the rewards are great.

The first two here are what I think the sector needs to change. How much of this is this creeping neo-liberalism though? Organisations do not see themselves as responsible fro provision of development as we live in an individualised economy where career success was all on you. The course I participated in, and later taught, at COFA was all about making better managers/leaders in the arts space and I hope that all the students who went through it at least had more knowledge and realised that it is an important area.  I am still staggered by the comment I got in one interview that a new staff member’s arrival was a chance for him to ‘sink or swim’, rather than a chance for the organisation to develop his capabilities to mutual benefit.

In this case there needs to be more sectoral support in a) basic management of staff, but also b) the understanding that participating in leadership development is not all about you. It’s about how you learn to develop others. Because without the ‘others’ you ain’t got nothing.


(Word press is being a nightmare regarding spacing, I apologise if this is a bit of a mess.)

The first session delved into the idea of cooperation across the Mediterranean region and included 6 speakers from both universities and practitioners from the region. The first, but not only learning, was the translation earphones that were provided, as it was conducted in French, are really uncomfortable. (And they shorted out during the second last speaker, the artistic director of the Aix festival, who was the most engaging.)

The second is, despite this being the very first session, and the urging by organisers that we must stick to time, that no one tells people of this calibre/status to stop telling their stories (and it should be noted the panel was all male, facilitated by a woman, a fact pointed out by Dr Kate MacNeill from Melbourne University, who has earned her badge of honour already.) The supposed round table was actually six speakers presenting their own story one after the other, with almost no time for audience interaction or even interaction with each other. I have to say it’s my pet hate when we don’t manage panels effectively to achieve the dialogue component. But that is just me.

The issue of terrorism and political instability, particularly given the events in Lyon this past week, clearly hung over the proceedings, particularly when the engagement of Arab world is such a crucial area both regionally and globally. Monday night was to be a trip to the opera as part of Aix Festival. It was a Mozart opera, nearly four hours long, and as it was starting at 9:30 I had mixed feelings about attendance. The director of the Festival, however, informed us that we were to attend the final dress rehearsal, but in the light of the recent terrorist attacks, particularly in Tunisia, some of the performance needed to be rewritten as to be sensitive to the situation and the audience was no longer welcome. It was an interesting insight into the reality of artistic directorship in the modern environment.

There’s plenty of social time across the conference, and I’m very glad to have spent 2 days in the doctoral workshop as entering the melee of the conference proper without a few friends would be daunting. I’m happy to see a few Australians presents, Ruth who ran the doctoral workshop, and two of the senior figures in Melbourne University’s Cultural management program. No one from Sydney has been spotted as yet, suggesting our move south might mean I’m more connected into Australian arts management networks than I had been previously.
Lunch was held in the luxurious, but hot, grounds of Pavillion Vendome and featured pastis and local rosè. Yeah it was tough. All the Australians, or I should say Melburnians, congregated together and had a chat with the very charming head of MUCEM, the museum in Marseille we visit on Wednesday.

The afternoon kicked off the main paper tracks, at each time there are up to seven parallel sessions ranging from strategic management to consumer marketing. I’m likely to camp out predominantly in the organisational behavior and HR track as it’s my main research area, though I plan to also see some of the ‘big names’ and the people I’ve met along the way.

Paper one was an investigation into arts management and millennials, and I was surprised to find that no work had been done in this space before. This sort of generational analysis is standard in non-academic HR as it’s so crucial from a hiring and retention perspective.

Apparently this group of prospective employees, as determined by this particular study, see training and career development as being “somewhat unimportant” which is interesting from my perspective, writing on on this space. But my theory, one I shared with the speaker, is that we have conditioned people to be in control of their own career, thus do not expect organisations to provide training or career development therefore it isn’t seen as important.  I was happy to find this opinion was agreed with by others.

I was watching the presentations with two purposes, one to learn what research was out there, but the other to understand the structure and mechanics of presenting at conferences. I’ve decided to submit a paper to a conference in Adelaide in December, which would be my first foray into actual conference papers. The generally tough feedback given in the PhD symposium was not found so much in the general conference, a fact I learned was a conscious decision. And the presentation content and style was pretty general, nothing that revolutionary, but I’ve learned my lesson that this is not always welcome in academic circles.

I’m probably displaying my academic naïveté in some of the sessions as I get excited when people are researching areas that overlap mine. I probably wear my glee too obviously. Not cool. But it’s exciting to hear about communities of practice research in Estonia or how visual artists learn career skills in Birmingham.

At the end of day one we went off to see some art and culture, but I’ll cover that in my other blog.