Friday, November 29, 2013

The Rise of Online Applications

Funders seem to love them.  Grantwriters hate them.  Online application processes.

Balky processes:

Recently I completed a "Celebrate Ontario" grant application on the Grants Ontario website.  In addition to the "One Key" Log on for the Service Ontario site there is now an additional log on process for Grants Ontario.  I waited 48 hours before my log in was sent to me after registration. Once on the site I was presented with two options: Complete the application online or download the form.  Since I couldn't get more than the first page to display online, I chose "download the form", thinking to email the form to collaborators for input.  HOWEVER, the copies generated by the form were locked pdf's and it was impossible to convert the document to Word for collaboration.

I tried uploading it back onto the site but there seemed to be no way to save a draft created offline for online collaboration once the form had been downloaded. Submit was the only option after upload.  It was truly infuriating.

Wasted time:

In order to work collaboratively it was necessary to copy and paste questions one by one into a Word document and then collect responses and copy back into the document.  Why?  What is fundamentally wrong with allowing organizations to easily share working on a document?

While attempting to complete an application for another program using an online fillable form, the site kept timing out and losing my work although it appeared to be functional until I hit the "save" button.

One size fits none:

Is there anything more infuriating than the "Ping" of a locked form when you have reached the end of your character limit?  Because people, organizations and projects are very different, why not allow them to provide more content in some fields and less in another.  Rigid word/character counts distort project descriptions and rob funders of detail.


But surely online forms are more secure?  I seriously question that assertion. Recently I submitted an application on behalf of an organization, working as a consultant.  I expected that I would have to verify my ability to file an application on behalf of the organization but in fact no such checks were made.  No signature was required and I could have asked that the cheque by made payable to anyone or sent anywhere.  By contrast, old-fashioned paper submissions required multiple organizational signatures.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Founders' Syndrome: Why we should all be concerned

What is founder's syndrome and why does it affect so many smaller arts and non-profit organizations? 

Founder's syndrome occurs when a founder of an organization is not able to transition leadership style as the organization matures and grows.  The founder continues to operate in the same manner as he/she did in founding the organization, seeking to personally manage every aspect of a growing organization.

The strong entrepreneurial personality that developed a new organization may be unskilled at or unwilling to delegate. The tireless worker that was willing to pull all-nighters to get in last-minute grant applications may be unable to schedule work or effectively manage their time. The genius that came up with spontaneous project ideas may not be willing to work on long-range plans or within budget guidelines. All of the affects of founder's syndrome results in limiting the growth and effectiveness of organizations and often creates toxic environments for workers, artists, clients. 

We naturally see more of this in smaller organizations because it is such a strong factor in limiting growth.  It is more prevalent in the non-profit sector because while for-profit organizations can be affected by founder's syndrome, market forces exert limiting pressures on poor leadership.  The for-profit company that cannot grow and change often fails while others are forced to change their ways or leadership to remain competitive.  By contrast non-profits are less subject to market forces and may have difficulty discerning reasons for organizational stagnation or failures. Non-profits are governed by unpaid community volunteers who may feel unable to pass judgment on the workings of an organization that is outside their area of expertise and where evaluation may be more qualitative than quantitative. Volunteer Board Members customarily spend little or no time observing the day-to-day workings of the organization. They may also be friends of the Founder and so not impartial.  They may have been convinced by the Founder that any inquiries about management is "meddling". Staff and volunteers in the arts and non-profits tend to be very high-minded and mission-driven.  This results sometimes in a willingness to tolerate a sick work environment in a mis-guided idea that it is "for the good of the cause".

How does Founder's Syndrome develop in organizations?

Founders alone cannot create an organization with Founder's Syndrome.  It takes a step-by-step, person by person tacit agreement to cede power to the Founder by Board Members who should be providing governance to the organization.  It also requires funders, volunteers, staff, colleagues and other stakeholders to decide to continue to support the sick organization or to leave silently. Over the years it there may be numerous loud and clear signals that there is something terribly wrong in the organization but no effective action is taken to address the problem or to provide help to the Founder to assist them in developing a more effective leadership style before they stifle or bring ruin to the organization they founded.

What are the symptoms of founder's syndrome? 

1.  There's a "friends of the founder" Board of Directors.  The founder has recruited the Board of Directors him or herself (normal in the initial stage of an organization) and the Board has never taken over authority for recruiting new members themselves based on the needs of the organization.  Board members are vetted by the founder and Board Members that try to counter the Founder's wishes are quickly ejected.  The Board sees their role as supporting the work of the founder rather than stewardship of the organization's Mission and sound governance of the organization's work and resources. 
2.  Decision-making within the organization is all controlled by the founder.  Staff either don't know what's going on or plans suddenly get de-railed by a decision of the founder.  Ideas that come from elsewhere than the Founder don't go very far.  Staff become discouraged about offering innovative ideas, stop being pro-active and may even be afraid of the founder. 
3.  Organizational information such as newsletters and brochures contain a lot of information about the founder: personal letters from the founder to supporters, news of the founder's awards, achievements, pet projects. Board members and staff seem oddly uninformed about the details of project plans, budgets, and any results or evaluation.  Staff cannot articulate processes, statistics or evaluation methods. 
4. The founder often talks about "my vision, my program, my goals" rather than "our goals".  When asked about rationale for methods it is not unusual to hear, "we have always done X" or "I believe it is best to do Y".  There is no process for new ideas and methods to be introduced. 
5. There is a resistance to any changes that might create a real or perceived loss of control, e.g. a founder that is uncomfortable with technology will resist the implementation of a user-friendly website that a staff member might be able to create and manage because she/he will feel unable to control the content. 
6. Information hording can occur because information is power. The more threatened a founder is by a staff member, the less likely the founder will be in sharing information with that staff member.

What are the options for an organization with Founder's Syndrome?

1.  If the Founder recognizes the problem, get them help through professional leadership counselling.
2.  If the Founder does not recognize the problem you'll need buy-in from more than one organizational level to effect change.  Without support from Board, Staff, and Funders you will not be likely to succeed.  Staff driven efforts alone result in Board backed firings that can ruin careers and even the health of staff members summarily dismissed for the efforts to alert the Board to the dysfunction.  Board-driven change processes that lackstaff and funder buy-in can result in funding cuts, and/or sabotage at the staff level and ultimately Board fatigue, resignations, replacements. Funder led calls for reform without organizational support can result in financial hits for the organization but no real change. The organization will find new funding partners or fail, but will be unlikely to effect real change to suit a funder unless there is recognition of a problem.

What are the implications for staff employed in an organization with Founder's Syndrome? 

1. Recognize that you are in a very challenging environment and you may not be able to effect change.  Go easy on yourself.
2.  Consider your options and prepare your exit strategy even before it's necessary.
3.  It is unwise to try to effect change in the organization unless there is a Board initiated effort for organizational change.
4.  If you elect to stay in the organization focus on small goals or achievements within your area of responsibility with minimal opportunities for friction with the Founder.
5.  If you choose to whistle-blow, be prepared for a very difficult time and possibly lasting career damage. It might be personally advantageous to simply resign.
6.  Work within the non-profit sector to promote awareness of this problem and protections for workers.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Is it time for some "rules of the sidewalk"?

We all have to learn and obey the rules of the road when we drive a car, motorbike, or even venture on the roadway with a bicycle.  But who sets the rules for pedestrian thoroughfares: sidewalks, malls, escalators, stairways, hiking trails?  Some days it feels like a free-for-all out there and it is getting dangerous.

Slower traffic bears to the right:
A near accident a couple of days ago started me thinking about this.  On a busy downtown sidewalk I heard someone walking rapidly behind me.  Being a polite person, I did what I have been trained to do my whole life: I politely stepped to the right to let the person in a hurry pass me.  Engrained in my sense of how the world works is that slower traffic stays to the right and faster traffic passes on the left.  Because this individual decided to pass on the right instead, I unintentionally shoulder checked her into King Street where she could have easily been hit by a passing car. If you try to pass people on the sidewalk on their right, this kind of accident is going to happen.

Stay in your lane:
On the roadway we know that we have to stay in our lane and that traffic is two-way unless signed otherwise.  In rush hour that often means that lanes going one-way are crowded while the roadway on the other side is empty.  However car drivers do not see that as a licence to drive all over the road. Yet the same people when exiting the subway decide that they can walk up both sides of stair-wells and make it difficult and dangerous for the fewer number of individuals going in the opposite direction.I have sometimes shouted out, "hey two-way traffic stairwell, bear right" as I have wrestled my way down the King Street station stairwell. As someone who lives in downtown, I often find myself commuting against the flow of traffic.

Who belongs on the sidewalk?:
Pedestrian routes are for pedestrians.  No wheeled vehicle, apart from mobility devices has a place on the sidewalk.  I had someone on a bicycle justify their presence on the sidewalk on the basis of walking a dog from bicycle!  There's so many things wrong with that it left me sputtering. With motorized wheelchairs and scooters sharing our walkways, seems like we need some rules about how fast these devices travel. No mobility device should be moving on a congested sidewalk or other public space faster than pedestrians. Increasingly I see mobility scooters traveling at reckless speeds on sidewalks, in malls and in shopping centres.

Shared pathways and trails
Again, keep in your own lane and slower traffic bears to the right helps prevent a lot of accidents. Bicycles on shared pathways need to slowdown and make sure the people they are passing are aware of their presence and are not going to step out into your path.  You shouldn't think that just because you have pinged a bell or a horn that the pedestrian has heard you.  Between Ipods and hearing impairment you can't be sure until that pedestrian steps aside and you have eye-contact.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Critics At Large: Inspired Flight: Cylla von Tiedemann's What Dances...

"What Dances in Between, the title given to Toronto-based photographer Cylla von Tiedemann’s exhibition of dance images at the Al Green Gallery through February 9, captures the essence of the quasi-retrospective as having no strict beginning or end: a creative journey that, like the dancers in her kinetically charged photographs, is caught in mid-flight." 

Critics At Large: Inspired Flight: Cylla von Tiedemann's What Dances...: Fire Bird, by Cylla von Tiedemann (Ink Jet Print, 2012, 22” X 33” Dancer’s name: Anastasia Shivrina) What Dances in Between , the ti...

(Presentation) Arts Presentation Contracts