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Film: How staff engagement creates success in Museums

This presentation on how staff engagement creates museum success was presented at MuseumNext Dublin on 19th April 2016, by Eleanor Appleby from Jane Wentworth Associates.

Eleanor: Hello, everybody. I’m Eleanor Appleby and I work for Jane Wentworth Associates, which is a brand strategy and staff engagement consultancy, specialising in the cultural sector. But before we start, I just want to say who here is a director or a senior manager? One, two, oh, good, yes. Okay, quite good turnout, okay.

Who’s not one of those people, who I might just call ‘general staff’? Who’s just general people, general people? So quite a lot of general people. Of course, directors and leaders are staff and senior managers are staff so I’m not discounting staff but when I’m talking to you in different groups, that’s kind of who I mean.

So just think senior managers and directors, I just want you to take a moment to think how many times this year have I told my staff of the vision for my organisation? How many times have you told them through any channel? Have I written it on a corporate plan? Have I sent it out on a document? Have I done it in a speech? Have I put it in a communication to staff? Have I actively put it in some sort of communication? How many times this year? Write it down.

Staff, how many times has your director or senior manager or leaders told you what the vision for your organisation is? Can you think how many times? If you’ve just … well, think of it, if you’ve just joined, think of an organisation you’ve worked for previously. How many times did you hear it? Do you know what it is at all? So remember that.

So this is all about inside out. I used to also work at the V&A I should say, so very much for 12 years, experienced working inside an organisation and now working with a consultant outside, so for me it’s very much an inside-out experience as well, but I hope you’ll feel this presentation really touches on things that we’ve been talking about all today because for me I think if you’re going to engage with visitors and audiences, you need to first engage your staff.

I think the best asset any museum has is their staff. We’ve got fantastic objects, amazing environments but really it’s nothing without the people who bring those objects and share them with the public. People who work in museums are experts. They’re really passionate about the subject matter and I know [Delia] said it’s a really point, not as diverse as they should be, but they still are very diverse in their thinking and the types of people that they are, the types of jobs they have in these museums, and they are very clever people and they really need to be all brought together, and you need to work really well with them to help them do their best.

But it’s all very well; how to get everybody working at their best? Well, I think you should do it through staff engagement, fostering staff engagement because otherwise everybody’s going to be going off in different directions, doing their own thing, and it’s about bringing all these really, really clever people together for the good of your organisation.

What are the benefits of engagement? Well, engaged staff are really invested in their work, they really care about it, they’ve got a really strong sense of purpose. Why do we get up in the morning? Why do we go to work? They’re motivated and they’re proactive. They’re the sort of people who try and sort problems out or say this went really well; I’m going to do it even better, and they also really, and it’s really important, they’re the people who make the right choices for your organisation.

In a large museum, could be 700 people all making different choices on a daily basis. You need them to be making what we consider the right choices – how are we all going to work together to make this organisation, this museum as good as it can be, what’s the right programme to put on, what’s the right way to display these objects, what’s the right fundraising campaign to do? You need people making the right choices.

And there’s a lot of evidence of the benefits of staff engagement. This is compared to other organisations, organisations with high levels of staff engagement compared to those without, twice net profit, 12% increased customer satisfaction, 59% increased productivity and innovation, 40% lower turnover because, of course, if people are engaged and enjoying their work and motivated they’re less likely to go off sick, they’re less likely to leave the job and go to a new job so you build loyalty with your staff as well. 35% efficiency. Better health and safety. These statistics are from the corporate world but they’re absolutely as relevant for the not-for-profit sector.

And we’re also looking what is the sort of success criteria we get in the museum? Happy, motivated staff – fantastic. Who wouldn’t like that? Who doesn’t want to work somewhere where you’re not happy and motivated? Bear in mind in museums we’re not generally there for the money so we need to feel good about being at work and enjoying ourselves at work. It’s true. Come on.

What about coherent visitor experiences? Everybody’s working together well; they’ll be putting on the best things for people. The shop will be fantastic, the café will be fantastic, the exhibitions will be fantastic, the public programme will be fantastic, the puppet programme will be fantastic, the research output, everything will make sense; it will all come together to create a really great experience for visitors.

And ultimately, all the things we’re after, we’re going to get increased audience numbers because people think that place looks great, I’m going to go. We’re going to get increased income in the shop or the café or the tickets or the fundraising offer. We’re going to get bigger donations and people want to partner with us more, and we’re also going to increase our reputation. Reputation’s one of the most important things a cultural organisation has and it’s so important to build it and that’s what brings people to you, that’s why they want to be involved with you. So that’s why it matters I think.

And I was … this presentation seemed to all be about why self-engagement is a good idea but actually I don’t think I need to tell you why it’s a good idea. We want to go to work and have a good time and be doing our best, so actually I’m going to spend more time talking about what we do to engage people, what the processes are, and step one is thinking what do I want them to engage with? If you’re just saying oh, their job, we’re not thinking big enough.

I think we need to get people to engage with what you’re all about, what’s this organisation, this museum all about, and we are looking here at the idea of the whole experience, and in our work we usually find the best way to do this is to boil it down to four key items – what you’re all about, signified by four key ideas: what you do, what you offer the public, what the public or any stakeholder gets when they encounter you, why you do it, your purpose and that’s obviously, I think you recognise, that’s where your mission statement comes in, that’s why we all get up in the morning and go to work. How you do it, your values, what do we do here, how do we behave in this organisation? What’s important to us? And where you’re going, your vision.

That sometimes gets missed off the list but it’s one of the most important things. Where do we want this museum to be a 10, 15, 20 years’ time, and have I explained it to people? And you really want to get a very clear articulation of this, and if you’re comfortable with the word ‘brand’, I would say this is your brand strategy. It creates your brand. Your brand, as we were hearing earlier, is what everybody experiences about your organisation, it’s very much about your reputation so the brand strategy, these four ideas underpin what everybody in your organisation does and it really influences how people experience you.

So I thought it would be useful to show you an example of a museum’s brand strategy. This is the Philadelphia Museum of Art one. It’s quite simple ideas. They’re very short sentences because we need staff to remember them and they summarise slightly longer ideas but nothing very extensive; it’s really got to be very snappy because we need people to remember them on a daily basis. They offer the society a surprise around every corner because they’ve got incredibly diverse and important collection. The values – they want to be open, connected, vital and provocative. The purpose – they want to people to see the world anew and find the art anew. People come and really encounter the art and engage with the art and have an experience, and their vision is to be Philadelphia’s place for creative play.

So this is all looking good. I’ve got my brand strategy. I’ve worked it all out with people. How am I going to get people to engage with us? What does brand engagement, band strategy engagement look like? Well, we’ve got a process and I would strongly urge you to follow each section of this process when you’re working on this sort of activity. The brand engagement process has four parts. We need people to hear about the brand strategy, what you’re all about; we need people to understand it; we need them to believe it; and then we need people to be able to act on it.

Now, that’s not going to happen automatically. You, as an organisation, as any member of staff, and it’s not just for senior managers, it’s any member of staff, you need to put things in place to make these things happen in your organisation, otherwise that brand strategy, that what we’re all about document just sits on the shelf and everybody just goes about their business in the normal way because I am talking about change, and we talked about change this morning, we are about trying to change things for the better in organisations and things like this really do sit at the heart of change as well.

So what are you going to do to get people to hear about it? You need to explain why; explain why have we got a brand strategy, why is it important, what do the four elements come into play, when do we use them? We need to tell people about it; tell people about it all the time. Just think back to when I asked you at the beginning how many times did your boss or your director tell you what the vision is? How many times have you told your staff?

I’m thinking about the V&A and I think five, six, formal times a year, not bad, maybe my boss is very good at talking about it so maybe another five, but probably ten still wasn’t enough; we probably could have told people about it another ten times because people are busy, they’re rushing around doing lots of activities so we need to tell people, we need to tell them through every channel we’ve got, all the different ways, on the intranet as a screensaver, we need to send it out on postcards, we need to put at the beginning of the corporate plan, we need to mention it when we’re doing presentations and speeches. What we’re all about. We’re trying to achieve this together, everybody.

Another thing you really need to do, as well as writing it and sending it out through those sort of channels, you need to line up the touch points, staff touch points, we’re talking about visitor touch points. Staff touch points are things like what someone gets when they start at an organisation. Thinking at the V&A, when we started on this process the V&A’s vision was to be the world’s greatest museum of art and design – pretty big but quite exciting to be part of, and we’re, like, that’s great and we’ve got values are things like generosity and imagination, and we were looking at all our staff touch points and we thought about our staff, what you got when you started and you got to think of the staff induction workbook, and there was this massive thing, A4 folder, there you go, and it was full of rules and rules and rules about the museum, very strict, lots of writing about IT and why you mustn’t do this and why you mustn’t do that.

I thought that is the least generous imaginative, beautifully designed thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just the most depressing thing when I start work, and we thought what can we do and we just revisited it, we redesigned it, much shorter, more friendly point of view, chattier approach, still the same rules but you don’t have to have four pages saying don’t look at this on the internet.

Redesigned it, beautiful pictures of the objects in the collection and of course the first thing we talked about tin it was welcome to the V&A, we’re going to be the world’s greatest museum of art and design so it set out all those big ideas upfront. We gave it to the staff when they started and they were like oh, thank you very much, that’s lovely. Now I know where I work, and I’m working somewhere that’s very exciting.

So thinking of all those things, all those other ways, it’s the form as well as the content. Thinking also about staff parties, what’s the moods by those; the staff socials, the sports activities; how are all of those communicating to your staff what you’re all about? Really important one, and we were talking earlier about back of house, a museum who shall remain nameless, had the worst back of house experience I’ve ever seen in my entire life, went in to their staff entrance, which is also where their visitors come, was a massive traffic cone; just by the desk was a really nasty pen to sign in, and a thing for stern internal mail with a lolly stick just in the bottom and this is the most depressing experience.

A, how do your visitors feel when they come, your guests come, what are you saying about yourselves to your guests with this experience? B, what are you saying to staff about how you value them and what’s important, and it was really interesting to me, nobody who worked there had moved that traffic cone, nobody had taken it upon themselves to think this isn’t good enough, we are not a traffic cone, miserable, sad, poster sort of organisation. It sent such a strong message to the staff. So those things are really, really important.

Then we need to start to understand. We told them all about it and we’ve got to them understand. Now, if you were clever, the first way to get them understanding it is to involve them in working out what you’re all about in the first place. You should absolutely have involved your staff in the brand strategy creation – what we are, why we do it, how we do it – because then they will be absolutely on-board with the whole process, but of course there’s people who come and you haven’t done that with, so they need to … you’re encouraging people’s input.

Then you’re, of course, encouraging two-way conversation – comment and questions: what do you think about this, does it make sense to you? And a really important process, go around and allow everybody to explore what it means in practice in their department, and every department has a role to play and it’s really important that everybody gets to go through that process.

We had a great time with the Philadelphia Museum of Art; we went around every department, said to finance, right, how are you going to manifest these ideas in your work, and they were thinking about being a surprise around every corner and bringing art to the heart and they said we write the cheques, we send out cheques, we could print a picture, an object picture on the cheques or a quote from an artist on the cheques that we sent to suppliers. Yes, you can, that’s absolutely superb!

Finance department communicating about this organisation and what it’s all about for the channel they have, for the audience they have, and if you get every department just thinking of one or two things like that, don’t really cost any money, every department will be communicating about your organisation, every department really starts to understand the role they have to play, especially ones who possibly get left behind on this process: security, finance, HR, back of house – every department has a role to play so it’s very important to explore with them what it looks like in practice, in their work.

Then people need to believe. Now the top priority for people believing, so you’ve got it all lined up, you’ve told them about it, they’ve understood what it means in practice, they’ve thought of some things they want to do, but if you are the boss, and this is specifically for bosses, you must role model it because people are nervous of making changes. You have to give them confidence that they can make those changes.

You have to show how you are making changes, how you will not put up with people who aren’t generous in their behaviour. You have to call out ungenerous behaviour or if you say we’re about being open, you have to do some things about being open. You say because we’re about this, I’m going to have an open house in my office once a week or whatever it takes. You have to be seen to lead the way. You have to role model. It’s not about what you say; it’s about what you do.

Manifesting commitment short-term, you’re looking for short-term wins and you’re also looking for long-term commitment. People want to see the strategic activities put in that budget for the long term, but they also want to see short-term activity, and you need to put some new systems in place. You need to ask your staff, what’s stopping us getting here? Why can’t we get there? And people say, well, it’s because of this and this and this. Right, let’s try and fix those. Let’s try and remove some of those barriers and try, and therefore, we can all go forward together, so listening to what people say, putting in new practices to help everybody get there, and doing things like putting the values and the appraisals, you need to really make sure everything is being covered off, every channel you’ve got.

And the final part of the story is that people then act, fantastic, I’ve got it, I believe it, I’m going to do this thing, I’m going to sort out my cheques with the visuals on the back, then you absolutely, I’m jumping ahead, you have to recognise that and celebrate and say fantastic, it’s exactly what I’m talking about. Everybody, look what they’ve done; this is exactly what we’re talking about. Nice presentation from the staff member concerned to other staff members. Less hierarchical is always better. Peer to peer, look how we did it in our department. We did it by ourselves. How do we feel? What was the outcome of what we did? Everybody would like that. It’s fantastic.

We’ve seen that time and time again, people feel so pleased when they’ve been able to take action so you’re recognising, you’re celebrating, you’re saying this is the sort of thing I mean, and I think we’ve been talking a lot about empowering audiences but it’s absolutely about empowering staff; empowering them to take action, to sort things out, to say yes, this is what we’re all about, a broad structure but within that, you do your thing, bearing this in mind and I trust you to do it and to think of really exciting things.

And I think things like that, what we saw this morning are the result of that kind of empowerment where staff think I’m going to sort this out, based on what we’re trying to achieve. Absolutely, delegating and empowering your staff, recognising and celebrating, and then of course you’re also evaluating, you’re saying, well, we did all these things, where has it worked, what didn’t work, that’s fine, it’s good to try things out and test things out, keep building on your success, keep changing, just incrementally. It’ll make a huge difference.

Now, you’ll probably say to me, that’s all very well, all the staff in the room, I’m not a boss, these things all to do with bosses, what am I going to do with it, but A, one day you probably will be the boss so please remember this for when that happens, but also we can all influence our colleagues, we can be an internal leader with our colleagues, we can say, well, I’m going to live by the values and I’m going to base my ideas on this brand strategy and hopefully even just the things you do will influence colleagues and you’ll show how change is possible.

It’s very difficult in a big organisation but it is possible, just bit by bit. But at the same time, this is just for bosses. I said I’d say in my summary of my presentation the most important thing bosses can do to get staff behind them? Any ideas? Okay, here it comes. Do not say things and not do it yourself – ever. You have to walk the talk. Otherwise nobody believes you. You must do it yourself. You must be seen to do it. You must find something to be seen to be doing, even if it seems a bit weird. It makes a huge difference.

And it’s not going to be easy and it’s actually the difficult things that are the most important. Anybody know who this is? Suzie knows probably. Who is it? Mark Jones, assistant director of the V&A, so Mark Jones, he’s the director of the V&A during its extraordinary transformation where it put on a million visitors from about 2003 to about 2013, about a million visitors while grant and aid and income is going down from the government.

And he’s quite a self-effacing person. He wasn’t very good at getting up and having big speeches to staff but he stood by his beliefs and he said if we’re about being a museum of art and design, we’ve got a couple of galleries that really don’t fit with that idea and although, of course, there was a huge fuss and people were really upset about closing those galleries, he said they don’t fit in with the story of art and design that we’re telling, and he explained that to people, and people respected him so it was actually the difficult decision but it was the most important and people thought, yeah, he really is serious about this, and that’s I felt as a member of staff, he really is serious about this because he has taken a difficult decision to communicate what we’re all about.

So in summary, tell your staff what you’re all about, you engage with them about it and you show them how they can be empowered to do it in their work. They will then go off and create this amazing experience for your visitors because they’ll be really into it and they’ll be enjoying themselves and they’ll be thinking collectively how can we make it as good as possible, bearing in mind what we’re trying to achieve and that will create museum success and it will be worth it.

This presentation on how staff engagement creates museum success was presented at the MuseumNext conference in Dublin on 19th April 2016, by Eleanor Appleby from Jane Wentworth AssociatesTo stay informed about our International Museum Conferences follow MuseumNext on Twitter or like MuseumNext on Facebook.


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