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When Business Managers Commit to an Artistic Mindset

by | Mar 19, 2021

Communication, team building, innovation skills – these are all common topics for corporate workshops and training. A quick search on the internet will result in thousands of potential programs based on design thinking, behavioral economics, and other organizational advancement terms. 

Organization management often faces the task of improving company communication, increasing innovation, and building better teams. But using the same kind of workshops once or twice a year doesn’t necessarily do the trick. Think about design thinking training that has gained popularity in the last decade. About 75% of companies reported that they used design thinking, but only 48% of those companies actually felt they were actually improving user-centeredness [1]. 

So what can we do differently?

We want to offer an alternative that might grab your attention: arts interventions. Arts interventions aim to help company issues such as communication and innovation through artistic practices. This could mean dance classes, theater workshops, or writing seminars, each with a different purpose depending on what the company goals are.

But work doesn’t stop there. 

Yes, arts interventions are under-utilized tools that are proving their worth, with 76% of creative workers saying their work in organizations has positively impacted morale and community cohesion [2]. We can also see their usefulness in the many glowing reviews and surveys from companies that have done them.

But making the choice to bring an intervention into a company is only half the battle. To ensure long-running success, people from all levels of the organization need to commit – often that requires the management.

Commitment means adopting the practices that the interventions teach across all levels and encouraging their practice after the intervention is over. While the first step to include them is important, there must always be a commitment to continuity afterward. 

A study published in 2019, “When Top Management Leadership Matters: Insights from Artistic Interventions,” [3] talked about several case studies that both succeeded and failed,giving reasons why from the perspective of both managers and employees.  

So if you’re looking to undergo an arts intervention to inspire your employees – and bring a unique approach to your organization – let’s see what can make it a success or a failure. 

 

success,

SUCCESSFULLFAILURE | Source: Paul Keller, Flickr

 

Where Management Went Right

 

“Effectiveness…does not depend on individual, heroic leaders but rather on leadership practices embedded in a system of interdependencies at different levels within the organization.”

(When Top Management Leadership Matters: Insights from Artistic Interventions)

 

One thing was constant throughout all of the beneficial programs: management was involved and encouraging across all levels. They went a step beyond approving the program and made sure to see it through. 

This doesn’t mean that they were physically present throughout the whole process, but it does mean that employees felt their support. Managers and CEOs sometimes attended workshops and often talked about the intervention within the company.

At Unilever, senior management made sure to include their arts intervention, called Catalyst, into the fabric of the company. They gave their external arts consultant a position within the company to help run the project marking him as a permanent, internal employee. The project was then tasked with helping undertake some of the business’ key problems. Through employee surveys, Unilever management was able to see the benefits the program had across the organization in terms of a better company culture. 

Another recommendation is to build open communication between the higher-level management and the artist, so the latter can help them understand what was happening. Often it is hard for managers to grasp the essence of the workshops their employees are going through. The lack of understanding can reduce the success of the project, and sometimes results in its cancelation.

But, seeing their management get involved gave employees the freedom to throw themselves into the intervention. By managers encouraging separation from the regular work process, employees were able to truly express themselves. Although they were still at work and on the clock, the normal rules of the business were suspended for that time. There was no fear of being judged or reprimanded by higher-ups, allowing them to make the most of their time with the artists. 

These cases saw varying levels of success. The employees of one company said that the intervention helped create a bond between each other over a shared desire to help the community. Another one helped foster communication between employees by encouraging them to create physical artworks that could spark a conversation in the hallways. 

 

College of DuPage Art, Spring 2018 | COD Newsroom | Source: Flickr

Lack of Commitment: What NOT to Do

 

“Mainstream consulting projects tend to offer the client a sense of clarity and certainty, in artistic interventions, managerial intent…often goes unstated.”

(When Top Management Leadership Matters: Insights from Artistic Interventions)

 

Employees felt the exact opposite for the disappointing cases, where higher-level management was not as hands-on. While management supported the initial idea to have an arts intervention, that was the end of their interest. 

They did not become involved once the intervention started, and in one instance, delegated the coordination of the project to an engineer. 

In these examples, employees said they were able to individually benefit from what the artist brought to the table, but they did not feel like there was a shared benefit across the organization. In one case, two employees actively participated in a photography installation, which led to their personal realization that they had been too stuck in their routines. 

But without cohesive encouragement and communication from management, they felt as though they could not properly discuss it with colleagues, so they were the only two that felt that way. Unlike the beneficial cases, employees did not feel comfortable enough to fully engage or were not interested enough in what the artist brought to the table. 

Problems like these could mean that the possible lessons that could be learned from these projects fall flat. They signal a desire to improve, but a lack of commitment to get there. 

 

L’Art Urbain En Construction | Photo: Fred Romero | Source: Flickr

Commitment to an Artistic Mindset

 

“The primary conclusion of this study is that the arts can be a valuable resource for conceptualizing leadership challenges in new ways.”

(When Top Management Leadership Matters: Insights from Artistic Interventions)

 

And the commitment doesn’t end with the attentiveness of leadership during these programs but continues after the trainings are done as well. They must make sure that they continue to implement the practices they learned to keep this mentality among their employees.

It is also important for companies to follow up with their employees afterward to make sure they have continued success. A reflection among employees will help an organization determine what was learned and how to keep the momentum going. And after investing time and resources into workshops and interventions, wouldn’t it be and have to undergo another workshop. 

But following up can also mean a variety of other things. It can mean repeating the intervention to keep expanding on these new skills or even displaying any physical art that was made to encourage discussion among employees. Little actions like these show that management is supportive, and encourages company-wide action of an artistic mindset.  

 

 

To learn more about leadership and arts applications in business, check out our blog!

 

-Marisa Cedeno

 

References:

[1] “New Study on Design Thinking Adoption in Organizations.” MS Strategic Design & Management, Parsons School of Design, 21 Oct. 2015, sds.parsons.edu/designmanagement/new-study-on-design-thinking/.

[2] Why Business Needs the Arts. Arts & Business Report. 2004. https://www.culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/ArtWorks-Creativity-in-Business-1.pdf

 
[3] Berthoin Antal A, Debucquet G, Frémeaux S. When Top Management Leadership Matters: Insights From Artistic Interventions. Journal of Management Inquiry. 2019;28(4):441-457. doi:10.1177/1056492617726393

 

 

 

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