Developing Transformative Employees and Systems

Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll feature posts around the final convening of our Chief Executive Program, The Summit at Sundance. We invite you to participate in an online discussion of four major issues facing the cultural field. In this post, Fielding Grasty introduces the first of the problem statements.
Problem to solve: Develop employees and organizational systems that will transform our organizations and the field.
The global financial crisis has passed for much of the world, but an era of uncertainty has not. Leaders face an accelerating rate of change, competition for scarce resources (talent and capital), audiences with a bewildering array of leisure options, dubious assumptions about growth and questions about the sustainability of the charitable deduction (1 , 2). Many leaders are helming organizations whose size and agility are well-suited to an environment with a growth curve sloping ever-upward: one that doesn’t always look familiar today. Most importantly, many organizations face serious questions about their relevance to the communities in which they exist and those they exist to serve.

In the 21st century, leaders seeking to transform their organizations and (more importantly) the field will need to be more nimble and less risk-averse. To succeed, this will require at least as much of a change in organizational culture as in organizational design and financial resources. We are right to trumpet the arts and culture field as a wellspring of innovation (R&D for the larger creative sector, inter alia) but must acknowledge that these virtues are hampered by our risk aversion (1, 2), a most powerful foil for innovation. At our best, we reach new heights of excellence, agitate for change and create and concoct amazing objects and experiences. Would that this extended to the systems and structures we’ve erected over the past fifty years or more! New models suggest possible alternatives, if not easy answers. Leaders and organizations that will be able to truly effect transformative change are those that have made themselves relevant, even indispensable, to their communities.

So, how do we identify talent best suited to meeting these challenges? How do we attract and retain them? How do we design organizations up to these challenges?



  1. Daniel Ellison says

    I agree that one of the factors that hampers innovation is an arts organization’s risk aversion. That risk-aversion factor applies primarily to established organizations — the ones that have something to (arguably) lose. It is no surprise then that a good portion of the really wild “out there” innovation in the arts and culture field is accomplished by start-up non-profits (or not-quite-even-formalized non-profits). With nothing to lose and a lot of inspired energy, those are the folks that are at the leading edge of innovation. With that said, if the established arts organizations somehow create a model that attracts and includes the folks that would otherwise be creating their own start-up nonprofits, how will that affect the dynamics of the innovative start-up?

    • Fielding Grasty says


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You make an excellent point and while some innovation requires scale (e.g., Met Live in HD), I agree much of the innovation comes from the smaller organizations who are often more agile, especially the early stage organizations you refer to. Thinking of the relationship between more established organizations and these early stage organizations, I think there is a model – or at least a long history – of larger institutions absorbing (empowering/co-opting, depending on your perspective) successful individuals, programs and (less frequently) organizations. In one sense, that’s a problem only if new people and ideas aren’t continually joining the field, refreshing and disrupting. Of course, it may extinguish some ‘out there’ innovation. Do you see that happening…or a happier state of ‘creative destruction?’



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *