Flexing Your Talent

Liz by the beach

Liz Johnson, Consultancy Manager for the National Trust reflects on flexible working practices in museums, and explores how we can move current policy into meaningful practice.

I believe in the mutual value of flexible working for the employee and the employer. Flexible working is for anyone, and is defined as a working pattern which suits the needs of the employee. You can find out more about it at www.direct.gov.uk/flexibleworking

In November 2017 I chaired a session on flexible working in the museum and heritage sector at the MA conference. It all went very well, good discussions and engagement and so forth. But the funny thing was that there had been a session on it the year before too and not much had changed in the time between.  So a group of us decided to see what we could do. How could we make flexible working the norm in museums?

I’ve changed jobs in the last year. I’ve gone from working in a policy organisation (Arts Council England) to a practical, operational and charitable organisation (National Trust). There are many parallels for me – no longer thinking one step removed from the delivery of art and culture, but getting stuck right in to doing it. Or stop talking, start doing. I wrote another blog about what it was like to change jobs and try to have a flexible working life.

So why this blog and why now?  Part of our campaign, Flexing Your Talent #flexingtalent is about sharing stories of practical examples with people, about encouraging people to talk about the benefits of flexible working and asking for input: what would help make this a reality?  It’s national Flexible Working Week 26 March- 1 April 2018 so you’ll see me and others on Twitter talking about it.

Flexible working matters to me on a number of levels. It matters personally because it helps me keep different parts if my life in balance: family life, work life, my house renovations, I could go on… I’m learning, painfully slowly, that keeping those things in balance is really important for my mental and physical health. And when all of those things are in place, I’m able to deliver my best in all of those different contexts.

It matters to me as a principle of equality, of fairness. I’m lucky to be able to use my talents in a varied and interesting role which suits my training, experience and skills. I can only do that because I work for an organization that supports flexible working and I had the confidence to broker it when I got this new job. But how many organisations are not open to flexible working? How many talented people feel restricted in their choices of where to work?

And it matters to me because I think museums are missing out on great talent- which would be good for them, good for our audiences and good for business.  Half of my team members have flexible working arrangements and our levels of creativity are greater because they can work with us.

The Mendoza Review of Museums (Nov 2017) states that ‘There are two pressing issues regarding workforce: the need to diversify in order to help attract more diverse audiences, and the need for excellent leaders with the right skills to guide museums… Diversifying the museums workforce is important both in terms of creating equality of opportunity and also in making museums more relevant to their community and to modern society in general. A diverse workforce helps attract larger and more diverse audiences by generating more creative and inclusive programming.’ [page 57-58]

Looking back, there are many ways to address this, and there have been many ways by which organisations, sector bodies, programmes and schemes have tried to affect change – but this change has been slow.  Now is the time to think of other ways that can work alongside traineeships, volunteering, and other targeted programmes to support people coming into the sector, remaining in the sector and also progressing within the sector.

Looking forward and focussing on flexible working, making it more of a reality for the sector rather than an aspiration, moving it away from a policy and into practice, can make a significant difference to representation in all aspects of our sector and the lives of our workforce.  We’re starting this #Flexingtalent campaign by having conversations, providing space to share experiences, opportunities to develop skills, and learn from others.

If you’re interested get in touch @lizmuseums


Culture Now Meet Up – East Midlands


Come along and flex your networking muscles at the first of several informal Culture Now meet ups.

Our mission at Culture Now is to give a voice to early and mid-career museum professionals and to encourage networking across the board. To achieve this, we’ll be working collaboratively with various people and organisations to host informal networking meetings across the country.

For our first, we’re partnering with Jodie Henshaw and the Museums Association Tweet Up at Melton Carnegie Museum on the 14th March.

When: 14th March – 6pm till 9pm

Where: Melton Carnegie Museum, then onto the Ann of Cleves Pub

Meet at Melton Carnegie Museum at 6pm for a tour and insights from the wonderful Zara Matthews, Market Town Museums Manager. She’ll be talking about the incredible work the museum has been undertaking over the last 12 months and some of the challenges it has overcome through the ACE Resilience funded ‘Market Town Museums’ Network’.

After that we’ll be heading to the Ann of Cleves pub (a 10 min walk away, and very close to the train station). Here we can chat about the great things we’ve seen in Melton, and put the world of early to mid-career museum professionals to rights. The pub does great food, and we’ve got a table booked from 8pm.

If you’re driving we’d recommend parking at the pub. For more details on getting there and where to park, and to learn more about MA Tweet Ups click here.

Everyone is welcome, if you’d like to come along just turn up or feel free to drop us an email.

From doer to thinker – Enablers Assemble!


Sarah Hartshorne, Museum Development Programme Officer for the East Midlands reflects on the challenges of transitioning into mid-career.

When entering mid management one of the hardest balances is to shift gears between grafter and enabler. Often when starting on the career ladder you’re keen to showcase your abilities through high quality and high volume work. It’s what singles you out in a world saturated by temporary and project based contracts and an overqualified workforce.

Becoming a regional Museum Development Officer (MDO) was a real step change for me. Previously I’d managed several departments in a bustling historic property and was constantly working at the operational front line. (I was the lucky person whose phone rang when the bats had got in at 10pm, just as I was pouring a glass of red wine on a Saturday).  Now as an MDO I hold a strategic position and I’m primarily a facilitator for museums, and an enabler of people and projects. Which I should point out, I absolutely love. However if the museum front desk is the coal face, then I’m now several steps removed and I’ve found the transition an unexpected challenge.

On a practical level it’s hard to flick the switch in your head from proactive problem solver, to strategic thinker who often delegates. Delegation is a skill that we don’t value as much as we should in the sector. To delegate effectively and genuinely is a challenging thing. It takes trust in yourself and your team, as well as generosity. This also needs to be balanced with remaining in touch with what it’s actually like on the front line, something which I’m trying consciously to remember the further away from my operational experience I get.

I’m extremely lucky to have a very supportive manager who has allowed me to address this through lots of continued professional development, a position I know not everyone shares. There isn’t a current training course on my radar which focuses specifically on how to move to mid management which is where I intend to spend a good chunk of my career – if you know of any I’d love to hear from you. I’ve looked in a variety of places for support. Particularly helpful to me was the AIM Enablers programmes which looked at strategic delivery and its wider issues at length. Furthermore I’ve become a trustee and also continued to volunteer in an operational capacity, all of which I’ve found helped give me my ‘doing’ fix.  I’ve also collected a group of peers along the way that I can call on for support outside of the work setting; you’ll know them as the brilliant Culture Now team.

I wanted to use this blog to share some of the lessons I’ve learnt whilst making this transition. The most important one is to take time. This may sound a simple lesson but it’s been one of the hardest to really embed into my practice. In the past to have an ‘office-day’ was a laughable pipe dream, and now it’s where I spend at least 2 days a week. In reality this means don’t feel you have to respond to emails on the same day, prioritise effectively. When asked to take on a challenging task, ensure you build in thinking time as well as preparation for strategic meetings. Delegate wherever appropriate, and really mean it when you do. Also ask and give feedback with generosity to your team and peers, challenge and professional oxygen can sometimes be exactly what you need.

So if you’re finding transitioning to the middle of the career pyramid a challenge, don’t worry you are not alone! For me it took deeper self-awareness and a commitment to continued professional development. I’d urge anyone reading this to really think about their own development and how it helps to foster these softer and non-museum focused skills. I still haven’t cracked it completely, but I’m looking forward to growing in my role and hopefully continuing to improve along the way, as that’s the one thing I really can’t delegate.

Culture Now – An Introduction

Culture Now is a new national network founded with the purpose of supporting mid-career heritage professionals who wish to challenge established thinking and make a change.

Launching in November 2017 with activities at the Museums Association and hosting #MuseumsHour, Culture Now’s ambition is to create a national network which supports those new to the sector through to mid-level professionals. It is a platform to exchange ideas and develop strong professional connections across the country, whether remotely or in person.

Founded by heritage professionals that recognise the limited opportunities to influence change and comment on the issues that affect us all, Culture Now with funding from Museum Development in the North West and East Midlands want to work collaboratively across the cultural sector to provide a platform to represent, articulate and promote the views and ideas of early to mid-level professionals while supporting and sharing professional development and networking.

Culture Now is looking to grow its professional network and to hear the ideas of people that would like to be involved with the group. If you are interested, participate with us at the Festival of Change, follow us on Twitter @_CultureNow, visit www.culturenow.org.uk and subscribe to our blog or email thisisculturenow@gmail.com

Notes to editors

  • Culture Now is made up of a group of professionals from across the UK’s museum and heritage sector
  • Attached photos are Culture Now logos
  • Further information about the network can be found at www.cutlurenow.org.uk
  • Funding is provided by Museum Development North West and Museum Development East MidlandsCulture Now media contacts
  • For more information please contact the Culture Now team at thisisculturenow@gmail.com