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Archive for the 'Governance' Category

Securing the Future

Monday, March 9th, 2009

“I think we live in difficult and dangerous times. We’re faced with problems that are both unprecedented and serious caused by human numbers and associated impacts exceeding the globe’s sustainable limits. The problems are not yet insuperable. But to solve them we require a paradoxical mixture; not only the questioning fact-based spirit of the Enlightenment to acknowledge the problems and seek solutions to them, but also people and institutions showing high levels of cooperative behaviour, the evolutionary origins of which may well be associated with inflexible and authoritarian beliefs and structures which are antithetic to such a questioning spirit.”

(Lord Robert May speaking at the Lowy Institute, 19 November 2007; excerpt from transcript, ABC Science Show, 1 December 2007)

Asked what he thought was the biggest challenge museums faced these days, Thomas P. Campbell, 46, appointed September 9 to be Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to succeed Philippe de Montebello at the beginning of 2009, said without hesitation, “A crisis of confidence.” In his view museums are often cowed by an audience that they don’t fully understand.

“There is a fear that the collections themselves are not sufficient, that one has to somehow gussy them up with presentations and dumb them down to two-syllable labels that can be read by a 6-year-old,” he said. “And of course you should never underestimate your audience.

“In this age of communication and the Internet our local and international audiences are actually very sophisticated. So the big challenge is how to deliver different levels of information to different audiences.”

Carol Vogel, “From Tapestries to Top Job, Ready for Met’s Challenges” New York Times September 11, 2008

There is no inherent reason why we should always trust those in positions of authority.

There are five main points to make about museums in Australia in mid-2008, and the future, where they should be and how they might get there. Five because, as I learned many years ago, most people manage to keep seven, plus or minus two, things in their head at any one time. And if we want to move together it is a good idea if we can do so without having to look up the book all the time to find the right lines to speak.

1, Get the social processes right

2, Be engaged

3, Believe in our own goals

4, Celebrate achievement

5, Form alliances.

And we need to laugh more!

None of these justify the existence of museums or distinguish them as special. Rather they recognise that museums are social organisations, groups of people. That is reflected especially in the first point. Professionalism will flourish in an environment conducive to that flourishing!

“Museums are coalitions of like-minded people in search of a constituency, one that will value the product more than they pay to gain access to it. Like clever politicians, the successful museum person knows the utility of the common agenda, vocabulary and shared values. But they know also that the logic of the market is imperfect and that trusted allies are essential. The real experience will give a competitive advantage but the collections and associated scholarship will secure the future only when influential constituencies value the past and its lessons.”

Museums are caught up in the financial meltdown like everyone else. However, let’s not forget that over the last several decades a lot of things have gotten in the way of clearly seeing a viable future. I am not talking about museums having lost their way and don’t know whether they are Disneyland or academies.

In times like these – the present financial crisis – the tendency is to see that the main game is ensuring the health of the budget. Unfortunately, that has often been the focus over the last several decades as neoliberal and market-driven philosophies have held sway. Accountability and transparency have been demanded but seldom exercised by those making the most strident demands for it. A fundamental of this philosophy is its inherent short run focus. But most organisations, particularly museums, have to have a long term vision.

The principal contributions of board and executive, indeed of everyone in the organisation, are those which provide an environment conducive to the ongoing goal to acquire, conserve and research material evidence of people and their environment so as to make a difference to public understanding. Excitement and understanding!

The whole point of all this is not to pursue management as an end in itself but to get things working so that the really important stuff, doing what the show is set up to achieve, can be done and done well!

Continue to essay

The Met Gets It Right: A scholar for Director!

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Thomas P. Campbell was named 9 September to succeed Philippe de Montebello as Director and Chief Executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Met is considered by most people to be the most prestigious art museum in the USA and by some as the most prestigious in the World. Campbell, 46, was born in England and holds a doctorate in art history from the Courtauld Institute in London. He is currently a curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and has worked at the Met since 1995. A specialist in European tapestry, Thomas Campbell organized “Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence” in 2002 and a sequel last year, “Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor.” Campbell will be the ninth director in the Museum’s 138 year history. (Some museums I know have had as many directors in the last 40 years!)

De Montebello announced this last January his intention to retire at the end of 2008.

The numerous reports on this important appointment are of considerable significance in several respects.

Campbell is a distinguished scholar noted for his outstanding exhibitions and wonderful accompanying catalogues, not because he has demonstrated a capacity to raise funds, appoint celebrated architects or because he has a business or management degree.

Campbell was already on the staff of the Museum, as were two of the other contenders for the position. He is relatively young which is also significant: he was appointed because the board wanted someone who would serve for “an extended period”.

Campbell represents a field of art scholarship in which the Museum is a world leader, not a field such as modern art which some claim is needed to make the Met ‘more relevant’.

One report said, “The Met’s trustees clearly see the art museum as an institution that society relies on to preserve, present and interpret its cultural patrimony…”

Reporting on the appointment, New York Times reporter Carol Vogel (“Curator at Met Named Director of the Museum”, September 9, 2008), says, “For years the museum has been faulted for its spotty 20th- and 21st-century holdings and its halfhearted presentation of younger, contemporary artists. While supporting important acquisitions over the years like Jasper Johns’s 1955 “White Flag,” Mr. de Montebello made no secret of his lack of interest in cutting-edge art.

“In a phone interview, Mr. de Montebello praised Mr. Campbell’s appointment. ‘He’s the most modern of us all,’ he said, invoking Met directors. ‘We’ve had a Romanist, a medievalist, but he goes up through the Baroque. This is the right choice’ he added. ‘Tom is a very distinguished scholar. I would have been surprised had they brought in someone from the outside.’ ”

Boards and governments take note!

For further extracts from the reports on Campbell’s appointment in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times go here.

I have to say I found the photos accompanying several of these articles to speak volumes about this decision and its reception.

Here are two further articles on this important announcement:

Heir Looms by Jed Perl The New Republic September 10, 2008: “The Met’s fresh, daring, and unconventional choice for a new director this week demonstrates that the old guard can still be the avant-garde.”

This article concludes, “I believe there is a real possibility that September 9, 2008, when the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art chose Thomas Campbell as its next director, will turn out to have been a great day in the history of American museums.”

From Tapestries to Top Job, Ready for Met’s Challenges by Carol Vogel, New York Times September 11, 2008: “For most of his career Thomas P. Campbell has presided over a tiny corner of art history that few people know or care much about: those grand European tapestries that were the obsession of kings and queens, popes and noblemen.”

You can watch a three part curatorial talk “Tapestry in the Baroque: A Curatorial Talk” by Thomas Campbell (on youtube) commencing here.

Why do organisations succeed? Lessons from Southwest Airlines

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Successful organisations support and develop their staff. That is one of the principal roles of executive leadership. Museum executives contemplating reorganisations might contemplate this seriously. So might media companies such as Fairfax (in Australia) and governments offering small wage increases to which the response is negative industrial action.

In much of what I have written over the last several years – indeed since 1986 – I have banged on about how important it is that leaders at executive level focus on developing staff. I have promoted this as one of the principal requirements for success. Many others do the same. But many executives in their day to day work do not! Of course being clear about the goals and rationale of the organisation is another of the half dozen most significant contributors to success. Not efficiency though inefficiency is not appropriate, not rules and regulations though some rules are essential or we would end up in chaos. Not technology though technology allows considerable advances in many areas.

Numerous examples of success flowing from attention to staff are given in the pages of this web site, examples from hospitals to airlines to grocery stores to public broadcasters. And yes, there are examples from museums, though few museum executives or board members pay attention to them. Like other organisations many firms have become besotted with the mantra of market economics and its attendant managerialism.

Many organisations respond to perceived bad times by pulling back, by reducing staff numbers, by looking for ways to trim costs. Instead they should never let up on the important work of creating a climate for innovation and making a difference. One of the fundamentals of managing any entity, from nation states to the local grocery store or local museum is that in bad times some of the money saved during the good times should be used to reduce fluctuations in basic practices like marketing, training and development, product improvement and research and development. Once staff are let go in bad times, rehiring and retraining staff when good times return costs so much that making gains becomes much harder. Most of all, large scale layoffs means loss of corporate memory, of how things get done in the organisation.

The fact is that executives seldom look at other organisations to see why they are succeeding; they seldom accept that it is the way staff are treated that makes a great difference, that gives a competitive advantage. With the increasing number of museum and arts organisations putting people from the business world on their boards, the tendency to cut back in times of financial stress would seem to be increasing.

One of the things that worries me about the financial stresses of the last 12 months is that many firms, including nonprofits, are simply applying blanket approaches to problems, adopting blunt instruments. These don’t just include cutting back on staff numbers, often through natural attrition or voluntary redundancies. Some banks are simply cutting back on lending generally, as if they still have not worked out how to evaluate the credit worthiness of clients seeking loans. The result is likely to be that more powerful clients will continue whilst less powerful but perhaps more worthy clients will not. Some governments approach prospective budget overruns in the same way: cancel the contracts for indoor plants, delay filling of vacancies, and restrict travel. It all ends up causing more problems than it is worth. It is disruptive and, in the long term, destructive of managers’ credibility!

To return to the main focus of this intervention. The latest story I have read which shows how good staff policies are linked to high firm performance is a story about Southwest Airlines in the USA. In a report by Joe Nocera entitled “A chat with Herb Kelleher” (International Herald Tribune May 24, 2008) we witness the differences in the annual meetings of two of America’s major airlines. (I have previously reviewed a paper on Southwest and American Airlines by Judy Hoffer Gitell (in California Management Review in 2000 ) which compares the different approaches to management structure and behaviour in the two companies. (Southwest is a point to point operator whilst American Airlines is a spoke (or hub) operator and this does influence their approach, a point brought up in commentary on Southwest’s success.)

Nocera begins by telling us “The Dallas-Fort Worth area is home to two of the country’s biggest airlines, American and Southwest, and for years they’ve both held their annual meetings on the same day. This year was no exception: Wednesday was the big day. He goes on to outline the different responses of staff to the event.

Nocera concludes his article comparing the two airlines by quoting the opinions of some consultants to the reasons for Southwest’s success. One of them pointed out “every time the legacy airlines have run into trouble in the last two decades, Southwest has used the opportunity to steal away market share. Even though its own profits are down this year, it still has plenty of financial powder to make investments its competitors won’t be able to match. And as the old-line airlines try to raise prices to keep pace with fuel price increases, Southwest, with its fuel hedges and productivity advantages, will squeeze them all that much harder. One analyst, Ray Neidl of Calyon Securities, has gone so far as to predict in a report that after the dust settles, Southwest will be, as he put it, “the last man standing.”

Nocera observes, “That may be an overstatement, but it’s not much of one.”

Read more.

Lessons from the wider world of Organizational Development

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

If Nobel prize-winner Richard Feynman can learn something about a major theory of physics from watching the way plates thrown across a university refectory wobble, why wouldn’t climbing Mount Everest and the problems in the paediatric cardiac surgery program of the Bristol Royal Infirmary potentially give us useful insights into our own organizations?

Three areas of research seem to me to be of particular interest: leadership, governance and organizational development. Existing parts of this site deal with these areas.

The papers dealt with in this post and related page concern organizational development, the way organizations work, what does and what does not effect and affect change and the progress toward outcomes which advance the organization and the people in it. They include some of the more important research papers published in the last 10 years.

In the translation from a previous version of the site to the present one, certain changes occur inevitably and sometimes losses. Unless one is very vigilant, these may go unnoticed. So it is with these important references about organizational change which I have frequently quoted in published papers.

Although the list was completed in 2003, some of the articles are of long-term importance. The articles deal with issues such as lessons learned from climbing Mount Everest – and the accidents that can happen in such a high risk pursuit – and how hospitals work. These are included because of my abiding belief that useful lessons are to be found in all kinds of unusual places. After all, if Nobel prize-winner Richard Feynman can learn something about a major theory of physics from watching the way plates thrown across a university refectory wobble, why wouldn’t climbing Mount Everest and the problems in the paediatric cardiac surgery program of the Bristol Royal Infirmary potentially give us useful insights into our own organizations.

I especially commend the papers by Nitin Nohria, William Joyce & Bruce Roberson on successful change, by Karl E Weick & Kathleen M. Sutcliffe on a major problem at he Bristol Royal Infirmary, by Dan Lovallo & Daniel Kahneman on the effect optimism has on executive judgement, Robert Chapman Wood & Gary Hamel on innovative approaches to grant giving in the World Bank, by Lynda Gratton & Sumantra Ghoshal on the way conversations influence people’s attitudes and behaviours and, of all things, a critique of transaction cost analysis by the wonderful (late) Sumantra Ghoshal and Peter Moran: anything but boring, this paper actually demolishes much of the favoured basis of governance theory and practice.

Continue to Articles

What Boards and Leaders Must Do

Monday, November 19th, 2007

The literature on governance and leadership is not just exhaustive, it is exhausting. But as I have said consistently, most of it is not very helpful and the really outstanding literature based on actual studies rather than market driven (or hard left or hard right ideology) seems to be not often listened to. That can equally be said in respect specifically of boards of museums.

Increasingly boards have focussed on oversight of executive leadership and on performance indicators. The indicators used have concerned the past, attended only to activities that can be measured, are not leading indicators in the sense of suggesting actions which should be taken in the future. They lead to silly statements like the one I heard recently about what the Ford Motor Company should do: be more innovative and more efficient. Not only is this mere rhetoric, it is wrong. Japanese motor manufacturers and other manufacturers which have been successful use different methods in the design and on the assembly line. Like the people in Southwest Airlines they understand how people work best.

These performance indicators are also imposed from outside and therefore are resisted or used grudgingly. At worst of all they concern operational, not strategic issues.

Boards and executive leaders need to frame a statement of the unique value which the museum contributes and communicate that to every stakeholder, staff member, visitor and supporter. And that statement needs to be reviewed in the light of experience and adapted to changing circumstances. None of this means that every demand by every stakeholder has to be attended to: boards and executive leaders have to stand for principles which guide the way they operate and approach their responsibility. That requires an ethical stance, not a slavish following of the market.

Most importantly, boards and leaders must focus on what only they can do. That is maintain the closest possible understanding of trends in the industry and environment in which the enterprise works and constantly seek understanding of new opportunities both within the enterprise and without in the way the expectations of those who are intended to benefit might be better satisfied. For a museum that means understanding the nature of learning and the way people interact with the museum. All of these activities are strategic and all are difficult to quantify. Certainly they may lead to some outputs and outcomes which are measurable but they are not themselves easily measured.

And just as importantly it means constantly working to improve the way staff can achieve above average performance in scholarship, public programming and collection management as well as all the administrative, supporting, commercial and development programs. And it certainly means resisting every attempt by others to control the museum. In particular governments genuinely interested in the museum serving the public will ensure that best practice is pursued, not exercise control over every process and line item of expenditure. It also means, perhaps above all else, ensuring best practice in recruitment of board members and executive leaders.

There is something to be said, generally, for appointing scholars and content specialists to the senior executive position. But the alternative view that scholars are incapable of managing and that therefore managers (or administrators) are needed is insulting as well as dangerous stupid rubbish!

The best companies appoint senior executives from within the organization who know the business and the industry. Those executives are in place for a considerable time, unlike those companies which are poor performers. The same is true of museums. Like some other Government reforms, those concerning appointments of executives are wrong-headed if not dangerous.

Boards and executive leaders need a new agenda to replace their concern with oversight and financial management. They need an agenda which attends to the kinds of behaviours which other successful enterprises have adopted. Continue to essay.