In the midst of change management and all of its opportunities and challenges, my colleagues and I continue to find ourselves in Aristotelian discussions about values, results, and mission in the context of dance non-profit – what is necessary, sustainable, realistic, and ethical. Our change management team is an eclectic mix of masochistic, over-committers with a fun range of experiences in work and belief systems. Everyone on the team is super passionate but maintains keen perspective – this is quite a wonderful combination! Everyone is in love with dance, everyone respects individualism, but, most importantly, everyone is committed to our overarching non-profit dance mission, which serves a whole (and a whole lotta people). Everyone understands the difficult path of seeing the individual need within the context of the needs of the whole. We have chosen to pursue a values-based, results-driven, and mission-driven path.
Our current roles require us to step into an established operation and culture and observe, consult, and take action with respect and care to patrons and also seriousness related to mission-driven purpose and donor dollars. My personal all-time administrative lesson learned to date is the value of management, organization, and form. I have learned that taking the time to observe, think, and then formulate plans that are documented and sensitive (in the mindful way) allows teams to work functionally and independently. By providing common language from communication to stakeholders, clear delineation of responsibility and expectations for staff and patrons, and efficient and standardized operating processes so we can maintain some control in an environment of constant change, limited staffing can be efficiently utilized and patrons can relish consistency. Form and organization lead to reliability and efficiency, which can lead to flexibility, dynamism, and sustainability. However, I have also learned that the directness and precision of the ‘form and structure’ can stir images of clinical commodification, which is not a welcome thought in the arts world of creation and experimentation.
The early part of the form and structure building can feel harsh because it requires making the intangible fairly tangible. The assessment/inventory/discovery period of the initial phase in change management should reveal a lot, like the things that really, really aren’t working but everyone got used to or became desensitized to; or the actual dollar amount that is being lost in inefficiencies. The value of this discovery period and acknowledgement period is incredibly critical- it gives the information necessary for change and, hopefully, improvement and growth.
As a Project Manager, and a self-proclaimed organization addict, I have to work within clarity and form. I feel it is the only way to responsibly manage resources and manage expectations. In non-profit, excellent relationships are critical since they often lead to resources required to fill gaps created from weak revenues or decreased funding availability. Organization and form can provide the tools for stewardship. As stated in one article below, "Stewardship asks us to be deeply accountable for the outcomes of an institution, without acting to define purpose for others, control others, or take care of others."
This week we heard that our attention to form and function was being categorized as “corporate,” a possible taboo word in an arts space. Our PhD scientist colleague, of course, looked up the etymology of the word corporate. It comes from the Latin noun Corpus, meaning "body" or the verb Corporare/Coporatus, meaning "form into a body." We were all pretty excited about this! Corporate has a bad stigma these days, however it did make many huge innovations possible throughout history. We are hoping to salvage the positives in the history of the word - bodies coming together in an effort to innovate! Doesn’t that sound life such a nice thing to do to a non-profit. Take inefficient parts and put them together into a stream-lined, efficient, and functional body that maintains the hope of transformation!
The articles below are highly recommended reads on results-driven non-profit management.