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Three levels of attention and action
A framework for thriving nonprofit governance is also a useful lens across all ten functions of Arts Management.
The ocean floor was done
in lizardskin. Around a log or snag
the surface currents run
like lumber about a knot. A boat
is bent to sea—we favor the medium
we’re in, our shape’s
around us. It takes time.
Heather McHugh, from “Constructive”
The ArtsManaged Field Guide suggests Ten Functions of Arts Management – ten bundles of sense-making and action-taking that comprise the arts manager’s working life. But none of these bundles are monoliths. Each is a layered challenge requiring different kinds of attention and action in different moments. Arts managers working on only one or two levels will find themselves continually surprised, or frustrated, or both.
A useful framework for this challenge comes from nonprofit governance scholars, consultants, and practitioners Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor. In their classic text, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, they describe “three modes of governance,” advocating that all three needed equal emphasis:
The Fiduciary Mode: “where boards are concerned primarily with the stewardship of tangible assets” - being responsible about the organization’s resources
The Strategic Mode – “where boards create a strategic partnership with management” - being intentional in the allocation and arrangement of people, money, and stuff
The Generative Mode – “where boards provide a less recognized but critical source of leadership for the organization,” that is making sense of the world, the work of the organization, and the relationship between the two – being imaginative about present and possible futures.
Chait, Ryan, and Taylor found that most boards emphasized fiduciary attention and action – ensuring compliance and consistency, supporting responsible policies and practices. Few spent time on strategic concerns. And even fewer looked out into the world to develop a generative view on what was changing and where the organization might change, as well.
Take Accounting as an example – recording, summarizing, analyzing, and reporting financial states and actions.
At the fiduciary level, attention and action focus on compliance and basic hygiene – ensuring accuracy, following regulations, minimizing opportunities for fraud or error, paying the bills on time.
At the strategic level, attention and action focus on alignment and impact – using the resources you have to their best possible use; discovering and improving the essential dynamics of your enterprise; connecting money decisions with mission-related outcomes.
At the generative level, attention and action focus on the changing world – seeking shifts in the environment that change the game; imagining bold and different ways to work in relation to that world; modeling new dynamics for the enterprise.
It’s easy to get stuck in a particular mode – especially when the world acts in predictable ways. But the fiduciary, strategic, and generative framework reminds us to think and act at many levels at once, and to challenge the myopia of a single point of view.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Spaces & Systems
Spaces & Systems involves selecting, securing, stewarding, and harnessing the built environment and technological infrastructure.
Framework of the Week: Three Modes of Governance
The authors of Governance as Leadership proposed three domains for strong leadership in any nonprofit: fiduciary, strategic, and generative.
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