Tuesday 19 July 2011

The Poetry Society and organisational behaviour, again

The Euro is in crisis mode.  The US faces budget deadlock.  News International’s scalp count keeps going up.  The Arab Spring is in trouble.  The world population is about to hit 7 billion.  Only three more days until the PoSoc EGM. 

Romantic ruin no.4, again
This post is an update on one I wrote a few weeks ago about the Poetry Society resignations.  For anyone new to this blog: I don’t know any of the people involved, but I have an MBA specialising in organisational behaviour and will write from that perspective.  I can only draw on one side of the story – the one outlined by Kate Clanchy some way down this page on the requisitioners’ website.  We haven’t been told the other side.    

Kate says she has verifiable information (not from the director) that the PoSoc board met in April in closed session, and decided to change the organisational structure at the top of the Society so that the editor of Poetry Review would report straight to the board.  Previously, the editor had reported to the PoSoc director. 

The director was told about this afterwards – after news of the increased grant from the Arts Council, which was a big success for PoSoc and for the director.  She resigned, and the board decided against a hand-over; instead they kept her out of the building and cut off her email.  
Romantic ruin no.3, again

£26k has allegedly been spent on legal fees, even though PoSoc already had an HR indemnity policy.  The director hasn’t taken legal action so far, but this could cost a lot more. 

I don’t have views on the structural change itself; I don’t know enough about it.  But if the account above is accurate, there are problems with how the change was carried out:
a)   Management.  Even at junior level, it’s good practice to consult staff before changing who reports to whom.  That way, one gets their input on the changes, and it’s more likely they will accept them and be prepared to work well in the new structure.  At top level in a charitable organisation which is membership-based and receives public funding, not to consult seems extraordinary.  It’s without common sense.  It sends the message that the board lacks respect for top staff, doesn’t value their opinion and thinks it can treat them like children.  It is very likely to cause personal resentments.  It may demoralise other staff. It will look odd to the outside world.  It is probably legally questionable.  I could go on. 

b)   Policy.  This is less clear.  Perhaps the board prioritised the requirements of Poetry Review over those of the rest of the organisation; they share resources.  PoSoc’s charitable objects are: TO ADVANCE PUBLIC EDUCATION IN THE STUDY, ENJOYMENT AND USE OF POETRY”.  Of course Poetry Review plays a part in these.  But there are other good poetry magazines; the educational work PoSoc does, and for which it got the increased Arts Council grant, is its main contribution to Keeping Poetry Alive.  One should beware, though, of scenarios that involve conflict between two polarised views of PoSoc’s future: see the (now ex-) director’s comment on the Eyewear blog.  What is clear is that the board’s actions have put at risk PoSoc’s ability to secure and spend the grant. 

c)   Money.  £26k is a lot for a charity to spend on legal advice.  It would be good to know what it was for and why. If the bill goes up and the Arts Council grant doesn't materialise, PoSoc's future must be in doubt. 

(A side issue is that the Poetry Review editor’s tenure, originally for three years, was made permanent in 2009 without this being announced.  Three years seems too short and forever too long for the PoSoc magazine.  Either way, it’s odd that no-one was told about the change, but this fits with the pattern of poor communication.) 

Romantic ruin no.1, again
What next?  The EGM is on Friday.  People are concerned that the board, having failed to be open with members so far, will react defensively to what no doubt will be a lot of pent-up frustration and may hide behind legal stuff.  It has not yet, despite the wording in the requisition, conceded that a vote of confidence may happen. 

The board may already have lost members’ confidence irrevocably (maybe more than is justified, but as they haven’t told us anything, how do we know?)   PoSoc’s staff are unhappy.  A couple of staff, the PoSoc president, a vice-president, the chairman of the board and another board member have resigned.  I wonder what the Arts Council is thinking about it all. 

In case of a no confidence vote, Kate Clanchy has got together a list of distinguished people who’d be willing to serve on an interim board until the next AGM in the autumn and to work with the former director, who could be brought back to carry out her plan for the grant she won.  They’d surely have the Arts Council’s confidence.  This may lead to accusations that a coup is being planned, but voting something down isn’t enough.  The voters-down would need to offer an alternative, and the Poetry Society needs to be able to carry on, not least to finalise the grant.   

Romantic ruin no.2, again
Anyone who can’t come to the meeting on Friday but wants to vote can appoint a proxy.  You can do this by email, and the deadline is 2pm on Wednesday.  See here for how.  That link also has various people who’ve offered to act as proxies.  I’m one of them; you can contact me at fionamoore dot aetos dot freeserve dot co dot uk if you’d like me to act for you.  The proxy form can be downloaded from the Poetry Society website. 

I’ll put any further updates in the comments below, as I still don’t want this to turn into a blog about the Poetry Society…

1 comment:

  1. Small update on tomorrow's EGM, with thanks to the Society's staff, helpful as always:

    The hall has space for 296 people. Also 3 wheelchair spaces. The timing as given on the agenda is flexible, and the hall is booked until 5pm.

    Look forward to seeing people at the midday picnic in Lincolns Inn Fields... as I typed that it started raining, hard. Forecast for tomorrow is better though - sunny intervals, no rain. Let's hope the same applies to the meeting.