In March, we conducted a “Quick Poll” for next generation leaders in the arts. And now we’re back with the results!
Perhaps the most striking finding was that 80% of next generation leaders who self-reported working in highly innovative organizations see their organization as “one they’d want to move up in,” as compared to only 38% in non- or slightly innovative organizations. With the high rate of turnover emerging as a major resources sinkhole, this points to an important possible relationship between the adaptive capacity of organizations and employee retention.
We also found that next generation leaders at highly innovative organizations were four times as likely to report seeing their ideas implemented and twice as likely to report bringing their “whole self” to work as opposed to “just a part.” Next generation leaders at highly innovative organizations were also nearly five times more likely to report that their organization has “meaningful ways for employees to invest in themselves” than non- or slightly innovation organizations.
While this “Quick Poll” was not comprehensive enough for scientific analysis, we hope these results will add fuel to the fire that says investing in next generation leaders is essential to a culture of innovation and, ultimately, to weathering the difficult conditions facing arts organizations right now. Read on for an explanation of our methodology and our full results.
What theory were we testing?
Our goal was to take a closer look at the role of the next generation of leaders in organizational innovation. The hypothesis we set out to test was that the degree to which an organization is innovative, i.e. seeking ways to adapt to today’s challenging conditions by testing out and evaluating innovative approaches to persistent challenges, is positively correlated with how much that organization values the contributions of next generation leaders.
What was our rationale?
We conducted this survey because we had a hunch and we wanted to test it out. Anecdotally, we see it all the time: organizations with strictly hierarchical authority structures (i.e. those who don’t value the contributions of next generation leaders) tend to be resistant to innovation and struggle to adapt, while those with distributed leadership are more nimble in navigating today’s challenges and rapid changes. But we felt we needed some data back it up for ourselves, for next generation leaders, and for today’s executive directors, artistic directors, and supervisors.
What were our methods?
The survey, conducted online through Survey Monkey, was distributed through ArtsFwd.org, Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth from March 5, 2012 to March 21, 2012. We defined next generation leaders as both Millenials (born 1983 – 200) and Generation Xers (born 1963 – 1982), a definition we adopted from the study on “Next Generation Leadership” commissioned by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in 2009. Of the 165 respondents, 2 reported being 50+ and were removed from the data set. An additional four respondents were eliminated because they indicated that they were already the executive leaders at their organizations. Of those that remained in the data pool, age ranged from 21 to 49, years in the business ranged from 1 to 20+, and jobs ranged from Program Director to Administrative Assistant to Marketing Manager to Development Associate.
The questions we asked reflected the kind of organizational practices we’ve seen around next generation leaders in adaptive organizations. We asked: Are your ideas implemented? Do you have the opportunity to make decisions? Are you able to bring your whole self to work? Do you feel close to the artistic core of the organization? We then correlated their responses with whether or not they reported that their organizations were “highly innovative,” “somewhat innovative,” “slightly innovative,” or “not at all innovative,” with further explanation of those distinctions based on our definition of innovation. We also asked for some basic demographic and organizational information. None of the questions were required, leading to some inconsistency in the number of responses.
What were the results?
Overwhelming, our data supported our hypothesis. Looking at the two extremes of our data, (next generation leaders who self-reported working at highly innovative organizations (45) and those at non- or slightly innovative organizations (29)), we found that those at highly innovation organizations were:
- more than four times as likely to report seeing their ideas implemented (49% vs 11%)
- nearly twice as likely to report “having the opportunity to make decisions” (93% vs 55%)
- more than twice as likely to report bringing their “whole self” to work as opposed to “just a part” (84% vs 41%)
- twice as likely to feel “close to the artistic core of the organization.” (82% vs. 41%)
NextGens at highly innovative organizations were also nearly five times more likely to report that their organization has “meaningful ways for employees to invest in themselves” than non- or slightly innovation organizations. (67% vs 14%)
Perhaps most striking was that 80% of next gen leaders in highly innovative organizations reported seeing their organization as “one they’d want to move up in,” as compared to only 38% in non- or slightly innovative organizations. With the high rate of turnover emerging as a major resources sinkhole, the data point to an important possible relationship between the adaptive capacity of an organization and employee retention.
Also important to note: we found no difference between respondents at organizations with budgets over $1 million as compared to less than $1 million, which suggests that the trend is not directly linked to organizational size. There was also no difference reported between those with greater than 8 years in the field and those with less, or those older than 31 as compared to younger, suggesting that the differences are most strongly correlated with the overall adaptive capacity of the organization as opposed to other factors.
In response to our two open-ended questions, comments fell loosely into five categories, which include: ways of thinking, leadership, communication, organizational culture, and audiences. A small selection of the responses are below.
Of a total of approximately 90 responses on each question, only 7 were positive, which is why you’ll see that the responses below are overwhelmingly negative. There was no discernable pattern of response across different organization types nor the degree to which an organization is innovative. It is possible that the way in which our question was framed elicited this tone. Further study is needed.
I’d encourage arts leaders reading this to ask themselves “Is this something the employees at my organization would say, and if I don’t know, what could I do to find out?”
Open-Ended Question: What do you see from your seat that your supervisors don’t see?
Ways of thinking
- Old ways of doing business are going to make us lose business, our competitive edge, and constantly waste our hard-earned contributed revenue. Implementing new technology and getting rid of hierarchical structures would help us trim the budget and be more nimble.
- A monolithic institution so set in its old ways that it isn’t capable of leading the field in the future. The work itself is forward thinking, but the process by which it is created and produced is very much antiquated and stale.
- The artistic leadership rules from above. They interact with artists and artistic staff daily but only with marketing and fundraising staff when something is wrong. It does not appear that the artistic leadership knows the temperature of activity company wide and does not value the role that all departments must play in order to have a successful institution.
- A fear of taking action.
- The lack of communication between departments and because of that the closed off environment and within-the-box thinking.
- I don’t know that my supervisors really get how their employees are feeling.
- I see that the organization has a rather large identity crisis. I’m not sure how all of the programming fits into the mission and goals but I do not have the ability to voice that.
- I see a generation of audiences coming up that don’t believe in the singular genius of artists – these audiences see themselves as creators, participators, and engaged meaning-makers. The age of the spectator is over.
Open–Ended Question: If your supervisor extended an open invitation to share your thoughts, what would be on the tip of your tongue?
Ways of thinking
- We need to be as open as possible to new ideas, new performers, new presentations, new audiences.
- We should look at big picture issues before embarking on a project and geting mired in details.
- Visit staff more often. Ask. Listen. Share your vision with us not through open letters in playbills, quarterly staff meetings, and letters to grant panels but with us directly, independently. We eat lunch in the break room. Feel free to join us and join in on the conversations.
- We want to work hard and feel committed to the work we are doing. But without any guidance, every idea can seem like a good idea. Which leaves us feeling overworked and directionless. I really believe in ideas bubbling up from the bottom, but we also need a structure in which to develop those ideas.
- I don’t think I would share what I truly think. I have had invitations to share, and have to be incredibly diplomatic.
- We need to have team building activities and open the lines of communication amongst all departments.
- Can I sit in on a meeting?
- If you are going to invest in me professionally with conferences and other educational experiences, give me the opportunity to execute what I learn.
- Let me propose a producing model through which we can simultaneously experiment with form and process, as well as meet new emerging artists AND introduce ourselves to the next generation of audiences. Just let me in the room.
- We don’t rotate roles in meetings enough. The same person always says “no” and the same tensions always arise.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reaching out to leaders to respond to these results. We hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts.
Questions for discussion:
- Do you think the relationship between valuing emerging leaders and innovation is cause-and-effect? Or is it chicken and egg?
- Established leaders: what do you see from your seat that emerging leaders don’t see?
- Choose Your Own Adventure: Innovate or Bust by Stephanie Hanson of AFTA
- Journey to the Center of the Organization by Andrew Taylor of The Artful Manager
- Encouraging NextGen Leadership & Innovation in the Nonprofit Arts by Eleanor Whitney of NYFA
- Next Generation Leaders by George Patrick McLeer, Jr., Blogger.