Over the years, we’ve worked with arts and cultural organisations on strategy and helped create some fantastic strategic plans . They’re comprehensive, ambitious, strengths-based and the process is taken seriously by boards and staff.
Unfortunately, however, they frequently end up on a shelf until the next funding acquittal is due and another flurry of activity commences.
Why? … the very familiar tyranny of the urgent. Art must be made, tickets sold and funds raised. Ideas are easily forgotten and the momentum gathered during the process dissipates quickly.
Symptoms of failure
When we go back to check in, we find that with the best will in the world, it just hasn’t been top of mind. Usually there is no time carved out for strategic development, and leaders haven’t broken down the big picture into a road map of tasks.
We find that staff have forgotten or sometimes don’t know what they’re working towards beyond the next performance or event.
Six causes of failure
In our experience, there are six causes of strategy failure in arts organisations.
1. Systems don’t support plan progression
Organisations that fail at strategy have no framework for implementing and monitoring their strategic plan. They haven’t got that road map that breaks the plan down into concrete, time-bound actions that are allocated to staff.
An implementation framework might include
- A standing ‘strategy implementation’ agenda item on board and executive team meetings
- A strategy implementation dashboard for board papers
- A HR plan for resourcing the strategy
- Allocation of key KPIs to team leaders and integration into…
- Team work plans
- A performance management framework that makes strategy progression a part of everyone’s job description, performance appraisal, remuneration and rewards
2. The budget has not been adapted to reflect ambition
A common feature of arts organisations is that we expect (or are expected) to deliver a whole new strategy with the same budget as last year. Strategy will never succeed if it is not adequately resourced. Initiative requires oxygen and it also requires people. It cannot exist in an anaerobic state. If you can’t or aren’t prepared to resource the strategy – it’s the wrong strategy.
3. Staff think that strategy is something that is done by the board
Strategic planning is unfortunately seen as something that happens at the top of the organisation. Our experience suggests that many general managers think (or are told) that the board sets the strategy. This is untrue.
Strategy development is a process – and when it is done well, true value is captured in the process alone.
Directors expect the CEO and staff have more intimate knowledge of the industry, organisational context, opportunities and threats than the board. It is the role of staff to bring this to the table while the board’s job is to scrutinise thinking and weed out bias.
The board will stress test the strategy, debate issues and approve the way forward. They do not impose strategy from on high. If you’re in any doubt about who does what – read up on the Australian Institute of Company Directors Good Governance Principles for NFPs.
4. The board (and maybe the management team) have a strategy day – and the rest of the organisation doesn’t
If strategy workshops are the domain of the board and executive team, the organisation is leaving a lot of insight and intelligence on the table. It is missing the input and ideas of those who are closest to customers, clients and partners. It is also missing the insights of staff who are deeply knowledgeable about the systems, processes and procedures that underpin the business.
The top-down approach is bad for implementation because it doesn’t create buy in. Staff do not take ownership of strategy in the same way that they do if they were invested in its creation directly or through work undertaken by teams.
5. The strategy does not get communicated
The lack of funding security and the urgency of today perpetuates this problem as well. A strategic plan may be developed but a common failing is that it does not get communicated beyond the authoring group.
For the rest of the organisation and its important stakeholders – the vision and goals over the time horizon are unclear. There is zero chance of success if the plan is not out in the sunlight to be shared and enacted by all.
Another massive opportunity is lost when your major donors and funders are not hearing about your plans.
6. It doesn’t offer a competitive response to the organisation’s operating context
Finally, a strategy will fail when it’s a bad strategy. This can happen when the plan is developed in a contextual vacuum.
Failure to consider the spectrum of environmental and competitive factors leads to a strategy that is full of untested assumptions and wishful thinking.
Some organisations do more environmental analysis and are good at observing influencing factors but fall at the hurdle of translating the observation into a genuine insight. A genuine insight offers a response to a fact or observation. It will always provide an answer to the questions ‘so what’? What does that mean for us? What’s our response?
Pursuing the game changing opportunities
If you can identify with any of these strategy stumbling blocks, you’re probably finding it pretty hard to move your organisation forward.
Imagine if the board and everyone in the organisation was on the same journey – aggressively pursuing the game-changing opportunities… if you had an entire workforce sharing the load. What would your organisation look like then? We know it will be a step-change beyond ‘business as usual but better’.
If you need a hand with making strategy stick and developing an implementation framework… please give us a shout.