Developing Transformative Employees and Systems

By     May 7, 2013

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?