Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Friday, 27 July 2007

Last day at school!

During our last morning, Arvind Bhambri continued his lecture on strategic alignment and renewal. Looking at the question of what a new director can do, Arvind pointed out that often in a new role, a director will be confronted by issues that need immediate attention (usually issues that will have been inherited.) These are issues that are best taken care of immediately and since a new director is still in a honeymoon period, there is some grace allowed in terms of effecting change.

A director will then get to know her team and direct reports. This is a time to identify where the current challenges reside, and where the question: What can i do for you? should be asked. Also a crucial time for laying the ground for trust and establishing a sense of the director's leadership.

We looked at how Strategy implies Actions:

To survive in the present, short term actions are required

To create a new future, actions are taken, stakeholders are tapped, alliances are built and audiences are created/recruited.

We further discussed the concept of slipstreaming, where you target your efforts to where the ratio of impact will be maximized.

In strategic thinking, we need to think about:

potential competitors



complementors (whose existence increases the value of what you have)

Here, you work with the following question: Are there some services or products in our institution that enable some other supplier or stakeholder to add value to us? (this needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship where the equation also adds value to the complementors.)

In my mind, Arvind's session was the most informative and useful in terms of allowing me to rethink some of my own approaches, as well in terms of providing some very useful examples of how to work more strategically in a community environment. Arvind was thanked with a spontaneous standing ovation from the whole group when he concluded his presentation. We were all impressed by his extremely clear thinking, his ability to synthesize complex questions and to help us focus our own critical thinking.

During the last part of the afternoon, Phil Knowlen helped us to reflect on how we can try to maximize the benefit of our re-entry into our work environments. We also went around the room and discussed how we will integrate some of what we have learned during the last three weeks. A colleague commented that what we have received represents a mini-MBA in arts administration. I concur!

Tonight, closing dinner at the Getty followed by poolside entertainment. I move out tomorrow morning! It's been swell! The team here has been wonderful and the program itself more than i had anticipated. Great work, Getty crew!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Strategy alignment and renewal

An excellent session today with Arvind Bhambri who started the discussion by asking how we can start taking a long view of ourselves and our institutions. We spent the better part of the day analysing a very successful company. What was clearly outlined here: if you acknowledge your environment in the context of your strategy and organizational process, you can keep constantly changing to stay ahead of the game. In that light:

-look at where you are now;
-look at where you will be in five years, and
-look at where you will be in ten years.

In that respect, a leader can ask his team:

1. What our your strategic challenges?
2. What will competitors do to keep ahead of us?
3. What is your strategy to stay on top?

The example discussed refers to how this dynamic director institutes a program that he names work out the design premise of which is that all organizations are doing a lot of unnecessary work and that you need a process for identifying work that has no value. By instituting a method of feedback from employees, you encourage a system where a great majority of suggestions for change can be implemented, resulting in an improvement in the confidence level of the organization. You start by asking the question: "If there is something that can be done that will improve how you work right away, what would that be?" This actually results in people being able to constantly redefine the work that they do.

This could make for the start of an interesting discussion at our next staff meeting. How do we start a discussion to look at how we can work better, more effectively?

Following this discussion, we moved onto a case study of a U.S. museum that was able to successfully work its way through of a difficult and tenuous position thanks to strategy and collaborative work. Very interesting day!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Marketing strategy & External influence skills

We spent Monday and Tuesday discussing marketing strategy with Punam Anand Keller. We compared how a Traditional Marketing Mindset(TMM) does not fare as well as a Social Marketing (SM) approach:

TMM: the foundation on which all else rests: "I know this is a good idea."

SM: "Is this a good idea? Do YOU think this is a good idea? What do YOU think of this idea?"

TMM: "Let me tell you why this is a good idea."

SM: "Tell us why YOU think this is a good idea. Why is this a good idea?"

TMM: "Once I convince you this is a good idea, let me urge you to act."

SM: "Tell me how this can become a good idea for you."
"Let my offering urge you to act."

Today, we spent the morning studying external influence skills. Two resource persons with extensive experience assisted us with a very useful exercise which allowed us to consider a number of issues that are valid in terms of media relations for museums these days:

-how do you use new media to assist in reaching new audiences and to leap over traditional and more mediated structures;
-how do you cultivate journalists so that you engage in the creation of a discussion/dialogue surrounding your institution;
-recognizing that reporters may try to destabilize you during an interview, be prepared to offer various aspects of your story in different parts;
-prepare your own list of what will probably be the major issues a reporter may delve into, prepare your responses to what could be the most difficult/embarassing questions beforehand;
-also, be ready to refer them to the best person in the organization to take specific questions;
-answer for yourself beforehand: why do these people want to meet with me? what should i expect them to ask?
-learn how to "pitch the story", since this is a finely-tuned art,and, finally, we discussed the uses of "off the record", "deep background" and "background" as different responses to specific questions.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Financial Strategy and Strategic Budgeting

Since i last wrote, we have completed two and a half days of work on Financial Strategy with Kent Chabotar. We looked at a number of case studies and analysed these to reveal strengths and weaknesses in top-down vs. participatory budgets; how to effectively implement a retrenchment process and how to think about the uses of and prepare different types of financial reports. We also went back in our groups and were given different questions that would need to be presented in the most effective ways possible.

A great variety of approaches came through during yesterday morning's presentations. Some included powerpoint graphs and charts WITH singing (there were four musical numbers, one based on Barry White, the other on Rogers and Hammerstein's "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", one musical based on a selection of segments of disco hits from the 70s and beyond... and another original interpretation of a Johny Cash hit... what musical talents reside in museum administrators!!!)

The exercise allowed us to think creatively about the wide variety of ways of presenting different types of financial information for different audiences. The first part of the afternoon was spent investigating the concept of strategic budgeting with a few key concepts/questions:

-Is the organization's mission consistent with its financial resources?
-Is the organization practicing intergenerational equity by balancing the needs of the present and the future?
-Are the sources and uses of funds appropriately matched?
-Is the organizations sustainable?

We also studied the concept of zero-based budgeting and the importance of studying/analysing 3-5 year cycles to assist in more realistic budgeting exercises. We discussed the concept of dashboards as effective tools for tracking budget trends and history. (it's great to know that Claire has already introduced this concept in our monthly presentations!)

A final case allowed us to look at the San Francisco Symphony, as a study in how to acknowledge and work with the importance of non-financial, mission-driven values in times of financial difficulty.

If all this sounds a bit dry, it wasn't. We were given an opportunity to look at a variety of approaches for both the presentation of information and the building of the fundamental aspects of budget work. Seeing that most of us are actively engaged in our institution's budget processes, it is good to expand the range of critical understanding of budget issues. I'm looking forward to discussing some options around our own budget work.

After work, a group of us went out for dinner at a mexican restaurant off of Santa Monica blvd. Good company and good conversation! Today and tomorrow: our first two consecutive days off since the program started. i'm going to see if i can make it to the LA MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and possibly the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I'd also like to visit LACE (L.A. Contemporary Exhibitions).

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Strategic initiative: linking with consensual values


The proposal of capital upgrades is consistent with all of the elements of the WAG’s recently defined values:

Excellence and innovation: the improved WAG will allow us to refine our program offerings by: renovating spaces and surfaces that have seen more than 30 years of use; facilitating best practices in terms of energy conservation and incorporation of new technologies; expanding the potential for presentation of new media work; also the potential for expansion on Colony Street could see us create a large space for permanent display of a much larger and more representative selection from our Inuit collection (which we are renowned for.)

Financial sustainability: the improved WAG could be reconfigured in such a way as to provide greater ease of access to redesigned retail areas, potential for improved facility rentals, potential for incorporation of new heating technologies (with Manitoba Hydro as potential partner on a geo-thermal approach); the inclusion of the Inuit component could result in an important naming opportunity that would assist with our total capital campaign goal; the success of endowment campaign would also be key to ensuring our long-term financial well-being.

Inclusivity: as we plan for the improved WAG, we could contemplate the creation of a community gallery (possibly on the mezzanine area) where work from our art classes and other uses would expand our reach and our audiences; also, our proposal to hire a Curator of Aboriginal Art (tied to strengthened link with the U of Winnipeg) would see us focus on working hard to improve the communication and exchange with our aboriginal partners and (new and expanding) audiences.

Integrity: a number of the points raised above pick up on this theme: we will demonstrate integrity through excellence and innovation, tied to financial sustainability; we will improve the flow of communication both internally and externally to make the institution more transparent; we will improve the working conditions for all WAG staff, and we will demonstrate our integrity through collaborative approaches in how we work.

It would be great to start a conversation with the team at the WAG and get their input as to how they perceive this project. What is missing? What needs to be rethought? What are the issues that (with the best foresight) we need to be planning for? Also, how do the WAG team members feel about the elements that I think relate to our recently defined values?

In terms of posivites and negatives that emerge with respect to our ability to implement this plan:

We need to clearly assess the planning requirements to start defining the vision. A structured conversation with the whole team would be essential. During this conversation, we would seek input into the vision (what do we want to collectively achieve? what are the priorities in terms of investment? where are the greatest gaps in the institution?) A possible approach to the question of how we hold these conversations would be to start with a visioning session that would see teams work together to define the vision and the needs of their individual departments; we could then combine these in a larger forum and see if we can to establish a consensus on priorities.

Other conversations could be held later that would see us inviting community stakeholders into the fold: how do our draft plans meet/or not their expectations of what the WAG should and could be? How does our vision confirm/or not the potential for expanded collaboration and inclusion?

In terms of my role, maybe the need at this point is for someone to play more the role of facilitator (rather than leader.) The problem with leader in this mode is that it needs to be clear that if someone if putting forth some options (as I did in last week’s document), these are only starting points for a discussion as to how we can move forward. Also, coordination of all these elements would be essential and Claire and I will need to work very closely to ensure that we both plan and time the roll-out of the next steps.

Further, the discussion that happens with the staff could be a starting point for the dialogue with the Board. As we just discovered that we can successfully manage these types of conversations and get alignment of our values (as we did with the Mission, Vision and Values exercise), the work done by staff could be used as a springboard for the committee and board level discussions of the board. Once a consensus is established on the Vision for the new project, we could start discussions with key individuals in the community who could be recruited to play a major role in the capital campaign (we would then be in a position to recruit our campaign chairs and honourary chair.)

Next steps:

Once back home, start the discussions with staff and board and define respective roles and responsibilities. Establish consensus as to what my role should/will be; what is the role of the individual board members? How will our current (and recently proposed) committee structure assist in achieving goals as we move through the design phase?

Also, clearly identify (with a “best guess”) what the timeline should be for each part of the conversation.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Building strategies based on values

Today, we completed two days of work with Dave Logan, a very bright and articulate professor, who provided a framework for "moving forward together even when values collide." Very rich material with a lot of food for thought as to how we at the WAG can work better to align our values. We started the day yesterday with an exercise where the whole group had to collectively figure out how to solve a problem. We went through this exercise five times before we achieved success and we were all pleased to be told that only 5 groups had succeeded in solving this same problem and that we had done so in very good time.

In another very interesting exercise, Dave asked us to declare what our own organization's noble cause was. I referred back to the text that we developed during our sessions with Scott Baldwin earlier this year: "My organization's special cause is to be an international destination where people are excited by art." Then, working with this statement, we were asked to produce a Leadership Declaration. Here is mine: "My values are openness, integrity and vitality serving the community through art." My colleagues will be posting theirs as well.

Following the session, we went for a two hour back-of-the-house tour of the Getty Centre: conservation, packing, prints and drawings and photography collections, i am amazed by the quality and level of resources here. It is truly impressive.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

A beautiful and bright morning in L.A. (2)

Following our quite intense mornings, we were taken as a group to the Getty Villa. What an extraordinary site. Spent the afternoon looking at Greek and Roman antiquities (and doing what museum workers do when visiting other institutions: looking at display and lighting techniques, flow of traffic, labelling in galleries, the type and look of handouts and brochures, the quality of gift shops...) Following the visit, had a refreshing iced coffee on the terrace and engaged in a discussion with a colleague. As i've mentionned earlier in this missive, these discussions are as important as "all the rest of the stuff" we are doing here. (i asked mijin the other day whether we could extend our stay for three months. but it appears they have other plans for the use of the space!!)

Off for coffee. Today is our first day off since we started. I might go downtown to see some more art. Will report later.

A beautiful and bright Sunday morning in L.A.

Where generally the morning starts with overcast/clouds/fog, this morning is bright and clear. This is a good sequel to yesterday's morning session, where i spent 3 hours with Russ Pierce, a psychologist who specializes in Executive Coaching and Development. Where Thursday, i felt a real disconnect, the session with Russ allowed me to recognize the real strengths that i bring to the job and also to start building a plan for improvement of issues that colleagues have identified as needing some work.

I left the session feeling quite positive and determined. Interesting to note the general feeling of a more energized group as we met for lunch and discussed our morning sessions. I will state it again, i believe they do an excellent job here: they really allow you dig down deep and confront you with realities (which may be difficult to acknowledge)then they give you tools to start thinking about how you can modify deeply ingrained behaviour.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

This is what it feels like...

This is what it feels like...

...to know what your boss, peers and direct reports actually think about you! Today, Bill Sternbergh took us through our 360 degree evaluations... and i must admit being quite surprised by the disconnection/discrepancy between my own assessment and how others see me. Frightening to think that i have such little self-knowledge or understanding of how i am perceived in this role. It also appeared that quite a few in the room had responses similar to mine.

We broke for lunch and i took some time to get out of the study centre to go and visit Manet's Bar aux folies bergères, one of my favourite paintings, on view currently at the Getty. Then back to the afternoon session. I'll admit that they manage this very well. The scenario is as follows: 1. you get sucker-punched in the morning with the 360 evaluation. 2. you break for intermission(lunch) 3. you come back from lunch and start the afternoon with comic relief to go on to act. 2 which follows up with tools with which you can improve some of the issues identified in act 1. We ended the day with the reports of our Myers-Briggs personality assessment... more food for thought.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Strategic initiative


The Winnipeg Art Gallery is currently housed in a modernist building, which is considered by many one of the most significant structures built in our community since the Second World War. A bold triangular form that juts out at a major intersection, it is also beautifully sited on Memorial Boulevard, a few blocks north of our Provincial legislature. When it opened in 1971, it was hailed as a groundbreaking achievement and it has served its purpose well over the last 36 years. The WAG recently completed a major capital renovation that resulted in a retrofitted auditorium (that sits 300 in a very elegant setting) as well as a major overhaul of our art storage vaults and the installation of state of the art climate controls and fire-suppression systems. One liability on this front remains the $1.6 million debt that remains from this period (2003-04). The Board at the time took the decision to postpone a capital campaign to a later date, once we had confirmed the vision for the more ambitious plan.

The WAG, through lack of capital funding and very tight budgets, has not succeeded in properly maintaining the building’s appearance, nor can it successfully provide for a number of vital features that could assist in ensuring our long term financial viability. We will be celebrating the WAG’s centennial in 2012. This is a key moment to engender community support for our campaign. A number of opportunities could be addressed by the proposed renovation/expansion:

Work that could be contemplated:
-improved and expanded gallery space particularly for our Inuit art collection (the signature aspect of our institution) would assist in promoting a better image of the WAG;
-an improved gift shop, with better location, direct access from the street level and visibility, would produce a greater ROI than the current shop;
-improved working environments for staff (most of whom are working in quite awful spaces devoid of natural light);
-improved and energy efficient lighting grids would assist in reducing electrical costs;
-improved and expanded library would provide more space for the growing use by students (this tied to our student membership program and our links to U of Winnipeg and U of Manitoba);
-improved meetings rooms would assist us in generating more revenues through facility rentals tied to our corporate programs and the use of our auditorium;
-improved studio space would allow us to increase our offerings in our art studio and education programs;
-capital campaign potentially twinned with a endowment campaign, and
-a new –and higher end- restaurant at ground floor level would assist us in making Eckhardt Hall (an already great reception area) a more friendly space while increasing revenue potential

-The WAG would benefit from an ability to improve our bottom line (operations have been shrinking since 1993);
-our education partners would be interested in collaborating/informing the work we do in our art studios;
-improved and upgraded gallery spaces would assist in promoting a better image of the institution (we could start “looking like a winner” again);
-the community would benefit with the launch of our renovated spaces to coincide with the launch of the Canadian Centre For Human Rights (another museum set to open after 2010), and,
-our capital campaign may jeopardize our annual giving requirements.

-our core constituencies: members, board and volunteers, artists, and supporters;
-our major funding partners (federal/provincial: Manitoba/Canada Infrastructure Program);
-School boards and the two universities and community colleges;
-agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Manitoba and Destination Winnipeg, and
members of the capital campaign cabinet.

-create sense of renewal and excitement for the organization, including board, staff, volunteers, friends and supporters;
-enhance visitor experience through improved gallery spaces;
-substantially improved studio program spaces (for a program that is already quite successful);
-substantially improved working space for our team may actually assist in improving morale and performance;
-galvanize the team with a sense of momentum (they have “heard this story” for 15 years!), and improved financial performance through greater attendance and increased retail and rental revenues.

-the potentially negative impact of this work on our day-to-day operations;
-no history of successful fundraising with the organization;
-first time campaign for a Director who is relatively new in town;
-we may not have sufficiently lobbied for support of our vision to find willing partners, and
-very difficult context for fundraising (with the “Canadian Centre for Human Rights” looming on the prairie horizon needing more than $70 million to complete their project.

Tomorrow, we meet to start designing our professional development agenda which follows on a 360 degree evaluation that was completed by a number of people we work with and for. I am told this is a humbling experience and that it allow for very truthful feedback on an individual's strengths and weaknesses. But for now, time for bed. (an important footnote: i am finding the time at dinner with conversation with colleagues as informative and stimulating as the course work.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Moving from "current reality" to "new futures"

As we continue to discuss how to design strategy, more interesting questions come to mind: how do we create a welcoming situation in a context like museums or art galleries - when new communities are invited? How do we provide access and how do we teach our new audiences the language? conversely, how do we adapt and modify our language and our way of describing our work (in our institutions) in ways that acknowledge new and different realities/ constituencies?

In that light, we (at the WAG) could think about who we are talking to, what means -and what type of language- we use to communicate. The question of who is responsible for understanding to occur is also tied to the possibility of managing multiple audiences with different interpretive strategies. As Jeanne said today: "Who we decide to talk to also informs how we work."

This type of reflection also dovetails well with the work we have been doing establishing the WAG's institutional priorities. We could spend more time thinking about these questions as we start looking at next year's strategic plan.

Monday, 9 July 2007

First full day of work

A great first day with Jeanne M. Liedtka (Assoc. Professor, Darden School of Business Administration). In reviewing the issues surrounding the Legal Aid Society file we read up on, we consider various ways we can integrate strategy (and strategic approaches) in the work we do as museum directors. Some very useful concepts surrounding how we define strategic capabilities, as the ability to respond to the new needs of our audiences/markets as they shift and change. Also, what are we good at; what do we care about? Externally, how de we define what are the needs and opportunities out there? what are our stakeholders expectations?

Tied to our situation at The Winnipeg Art Gallery, i would like to know how our staff view or assess our own capabilities. Also, i am not sure that we could currently define what our stakeholders' expectations are with any great clarity. But this could form the basis of some work we could undertake this fall to assist us in defining these very questions.

Overall, very impressed by the discussions in the workshop and the level of participation!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Two days before departure: homework

Two days before departure, I am reading my homework for the Museum Leadership Institute at the Getty. One of the first exercises on the schedule asks us to read a case study focussing on the organizational challenges of a legal aid society in the U.S.

Interesting exercise in that we need to look at a very complex situation with multiple stakeholders where the organization may need to evaluate the nature of its work, the impact of its work on the community (or communities) it serves and to possibly rethink some of the basic premises of its work.

It's interesting to think about how the different challenges faced by this organization could apply to some of our challenges at the WAG.