Blog

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

Melton

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!

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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

Can I Emerge Now?

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Simon Brown, Curator of Collections at Newstead Abbey, reflects on how his career has reached the point at which he now finds himself.

After three years of university, eight years of taking whatever opportunities I can grab, and innumerable short term, part-time contracts, I have this year been appointed to my first permanent position as a museum curator. It’s a wonderful, exciting, challenging job.

At the same time, I have been thinking about just how difficult it is to establish yourself in this sector. A recent Museum Hour on the subject of emerging professionals made fascinating and often depressing reading. People are applying for dozens of jobs a week all over the country, or are volunteering while working full time in the hope of a break. Even that holy grail of a first job is never permanent or full time.

An emerging museum professionals group has just been established for the East Midlands, and last month held their first meeting in Nottingham. It was inspiring, as it always is, to spend time with such an enthusiastic, capable group of people, all full of ideas for how we can better serve the public.

I didn’t attend the meeting in the belief that I could count myself among them, only to lend support and to offer encouragement.

These experiences have thrown stark light on just how hard I have had to work to get to the position I am now in. There was a period in my life when I had three casual museum jobs, each for two days a week. I volunteered with a curator for an afternoon a week. I played in a band, playing three nights a week. I even managed to see my wife occasionally. I loved all of it, but it left very little room for anything else, and I was earning very little.

This is not a sob story and I wouldn’t swap any of it. I worked on the documentation of hugely significant, designated collections. I worked front of house in several bustling, brilliant museums, learning how the public use them and how we can make them better. I dressed as a Siberian bear for a fashion show at a gallery opening. Everything about working in museums is absolutely brilliant.

What I now know is that having done this huge amount of work over several years, it is only now that I can view myself as no longer emerging, but emerged.

But emerging is not the same as arriving. And the challenges don’t go away, they just bend to a different situation. And in order to meet these challenges, I believe more than ever that we all have a responsibility to our colleagues, both above us and below us in the payscales. We have a responsibility to support each other, help each other learn, and to make our museums better. That is the next challenge, and it is a privilege to take it on.

@simonianbrown

Looking Beyond the Crossroads

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Alex Bird, Sector Development Officer – Museum Development North West urges us to look beyond the crossroads and identify how Culture Now can help the sector navigate this changing landscape. 

It feels like the sector is at a crossroads for a number of reasons. The funding cuts over the last few years have been brutal and pushed many people to leave museums to pursue roles in different sectors causing the much publicised outcry about the loss of expertise. There also seems to be a changing of the guard with the appointment of Maria Balshaw as Director of Tate and Tristram Hunt at the V&A being the most talked about of the last few years.

The loss of expertise within the sector is worrying many people as the concept of the “lifer” is something that many people don’t necessarily have the opportunity to be in this day. With an increasing amount of fixed-term and zero-hours contracts the loss of expertise is inevitable but what can we do to retain people within museums?

CPD is the key to a successful workforce and workforce retention. A well-trained and well-networked workforce more than likely equals innovative practice, job satisfaction and above all happiness.

Arts Council England have recognised the changing landscape and have called for more multi-skilled people in their Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK museums workforce saying museum work is increasingly becoming multi- skilled with more emphasis on business skills allied to individual specialisms. Although not mentioned explicitly in the museum literature, this perspective resembles the ‘T’-shape model of skills; a popular concept used in other sectors.”

The loss of expert “lifers” means that the sector is changing and it has to replace the out-going skills with other skills now needed more than ever. With the reduction of specialist curatorial roles people are having to enter the sector via different routes and with different skills; skills such as project management, strategic planning, partnership brokering and networking are now a necessity to ensure the sector is buoyant, innovative and resilient. Yes the collections skills and expertise are still needed. It will always be needed within the sector but the “T-shaped” individuals mentioned above are now a crucial element of the workforce.

Not all people have the required skills though and CPD opportunities now go beyond the more traditional museum skills and support the development of those now required, yet I’ve spoken to many people who have participated in a vast number of CPD initiatives and haven’t been able to practice their new found skills in the workplace. We recognise that there are barriers facing people implementing new skills and we’re keen to hear from the network so that we can support the sector to change how its workforce is developed and how the skills are embedded in the workplace.

What barriers are you facing and how have you tackled them? How should the sector change in order to retain its workforce? What aspect of museum CPD needs to be challenged?

This is what Culture Now is about. It’s about sharing ideas, networking and giving a voice to those not leading organisations by questioning established thinking and influencing change. All feedback will be confidential but will be used as evidence to encourage change.

To get in touch please visit the contact page on the website and share your thoughts.

A change is as good as a break?

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Katie Ann Smith, Senior Youth Education Manager and previously Heritage Engagement Manager at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution speaks about the challenges of creating a diverse career in the sector.

Years of studying, volunteering and an infectious passion for what I do has landed me slap bang in the midst of a career cross roads. There is so much talk about diversity, appreciating diversity in gender, ethnicity, sexuality to names a few but we also need to talk about employment diversity. Taking an opportunity to do a little side step myself, this year I took the plunge and ventured into the world of education. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to gain a different perspective, understand what it is I love doing and devote some well needed time to focus on me.

However, whilst I’m sure this will benefit me in the long run there is a real risk of getting trapped in a more secure sector and little support (unless you make it yourself) for staying relevant and up to date with the sector. Which leads me to ask the question: should we not be encouraging diversity by providing support mechanisms for professionals to change their focus, even if it’s on a temporary basis?

It’s pretty much been a full time job for me to stay relevant and engaged with the sector, taking time off for meetings, covering conference costs (which I am no longer eligible for funding for as I’m out of the sector) and finding the resources needed to fully commit to developing my ambitions whilst still being amazingly kick ass at my day job. I can see how easy it would be to take the ‘easy’ route, and drift away from the sector, utilising my skills, enthusiasm and experience as a part time hobby at best, with casual museum visits and going for the odd drink with my museum pals (whilst hiding my envy behind my glass of red wine).

Taking this side step has equipped me with so many new skills, an understanding of a different sector, a new team and networks, broader partnership work, engagement with younger audiences (previously I’ve always been more involved in the collections and curatorial elements of museums) and the headspace for me to understand what exactly it is I miss about working in a museum. This last point has probably been the most revelatory for me over the past 6 months, and really what has given me the energy to pursue my career in the museum sector.

The reason I’m writing this is because if we are truly committed to diversity then I believe it is important we encourage our staff and teams to understand new perspectives, to take those secondments, try something different and work outside our sector, not just recruit people into our organisations with no museum or heritage experience from these sectors.

By letting our teams experience a life beyond the arts, we will be making ourselves more relevant, gain new experience and open doors for the sector to work in different areas. Organisations should be mapping out other sectors and see where we could gain useful expertise? 12 months working in health and wellbeing for the NHS? Youth services? Or how about the financial sector? Museums should not be operating in isolation and we will learn much more from speaking to people in the room next door to us than we ever will by continuing to talk to ourselves.

As leaders, we need to support our colleagues to take on new challenges and welcome them back into the museum and heritage sector with open arms, brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm for what we do, having had a chance to make a change, take a break and think differently. We should not be isolating them as they take what is a very daunting and isolating leap of faith into a brave new world and make it increasingly difficult for them to remain ‘relevant’ to our work.

I’m yet to make my move back into the sector, but the one thing I do know, is that I’ll be an even better leader, manager and collaborator for this experience.

Chatting shop: the importance of developing ourselves

Charlotte Pratley, Director at Culture Syndicates CIC, reveals the ideas behind Culture Now and requests your help in creating this new support network.

Many years ago, a group of tenacious museum lovers formed a group to support their career development. Those individuals went on to become some of the most influential people in our sector, including David Fleming, Director of Liverpool Museums. At the famously bleak end of 2016, a new support group was born. We even managed a Chinese and a tour of Manchester Museum from 5 year olds taking part in Museum Takeover day.

Like many CPD activities, chatting shop with old and new heritage buddies couldn’t be directly attributed to revenue so I’d had to argue my case to go. Yet, as I’m reminded every time I step out from behind my desk, the inspiration and knowledge exchange that comes with making connections was invaluable for my personal and professional development. Naturally, that extends to my organisation as I bring new ideas and perspectives back to the office.

As the sector settles into its post-recession form, we’re learning that a dynamic, networked and entrepreneurial workforce is needed. Character Matters found that the resilient museum of the future will depend on nurturing workforce cultures of curiosity and self-efficacy yet the most commonly cited reason for workers not accessing Career and Professional Development (CPD) opportunities is “I am too busy/I have no time.” 71% of heritage workers self-initiated their CPD in full or partly despite low confidence across the industry in career development (1).

Google spend millions on developing and retaining their workforce. Admittedly, their 2015 turnover was almost nine times that of the UK heritage tourism sector but we need to learn some lessons on good business here. They found five common elements of high performing teams (2 & 3):

  • Psychological safety (being listened to and supported to fail openly)
  • Dependability (people can be relied upon)
  • Structure and clarity (everyone understands their roles, plans and goals)
  • Meaning (everyone has a clear sense of purpose)
  • Impact (everyone believes their work has a positive impact on the organisation)

In times of trouble, it’s not hard to understand why these suffer. However, creating an outstanding and relevant arts sector will rely on investing in workforce development. Funders and policymakers are giving us clear steer: projects that do not relate to diversifying and developing our workforce, in order to build solid businesses, will not be funded.

The Culture Now steering group are seeking to create the sustainable arts landscape of the future. We’re supported by our organisations and policymakers, including Arts Council England and the Museums Association. Our organisations are making significant changes on a local scale. For example, Transport for London run fantastic programmes to develop freelance staff and recruit more diversely; Museum Development run training directly informed by a business diagnostics tool for museums; and Culture Syndicates undertake valuable consultancy work that act as paid training opportunities for sector entrants and beyond. But these deep programmes of engagement cannot support the broader heritage workforce.

In particular, we’ve noticed that emerging to mid-level career professionals lack support in heritage and the arts. Culture Syndicates’ interns reported a variety of struggles, such as how hard it is to form networks when you are starting out or coping with rejection from job applications. Fortunately, Alex has brought us together to address these such issues with the creation of Culture Now; a platform for emerging to mid-level creative professionals to make change; a network for support and knowledge sharing; and an advocate for better workforce development.

We want to signpost existing opportunities so that we aren’t duplicating activities. We want to elevate the needs of the workforce in policymakers’ agendas. We want to meet up, have a drink and chat culture. So what does that mean we do? Well, we’re not sure. We can tell you our opinions (and will hopefully get a chance to do so soon) but we’re aware that the best way to start is to better understand the problem. So over to you – what issues are affecting you in your career in the cultural sector?

References

  1. BOP Consulting & The Museum Consultancy, 2016. Character Matters: Attitudes, Behaviours and Skills in the UK Heritage Workforce [online]. Available at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/ACE_Museums_Workforce_ABS_BOP_Final_Report.pdf [Accessed 25.01.17]
  2. Dubner, J., 2016. How to be more productive (rebroadcast) [online]. Available at www.freakonomics.com/podcast/how-to-be-more-productive-rebroadcast/ [Accessed 20.01.17]
  3. Ambler, G., 2016. Google identifies five norms that make up successful teams [online]. Available at www.georgeambler.com/the-five-norms-that-makes-for-successful-teams/ [Accessed 20.01.17]
  4. Oxford Economics Ltd, 2016. The impact of heritage tourism for the UK Economy [online]. Available at file:///C:/Users/N0661672/Downloads/20160927_-_the_impact_of_heritage_tourism_on_the_uk_economy_-_final_repo.pdf [Accessed 25.01.17]
  5. Statistica, [date unknown]. Annual revenue of Google from 2002 to 2015 [online]. Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/266206/googles-annual-global-revenue/ [Accessed 25.01.17]