This week Museum Human looks at capabilities (not just skills). Which matter more for a museum?
I think of capabilities as different than skills—to me, the latter are focused on individuals, while the former are about the overall ability of an organization to tackle problems in particular ways. You could say that workers who gain skills might leave the organization in search of places where they might better use these skills—or get treated better for doing so—while capabilities never leave the org (though they could result in staffing changes; toxic orgs gonna tox.)
For all its ethical issues and problematic clientele, McKinsey produces a good group of newsletters, which strike me as a bit less leader-focused and more holistic. Perhaps consultancies push organizational vision along with their leadership lessons?
These pieces ran over a period of time, but they were bundled in a recent newsletter, so I'm treating them as this week's readings. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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What this means for museums: institutions are particularly poor at follow-up and implementation, which is what staff look for. Museums sometimes aren't even sure what metric they should use to measure the success of new capabilities, just that they want their people smart. This is something to look out for with DEAI and antiracism action plans.
This McKinsey article from last February goes deeper into organization-wide skills (so, by my definition, capabilities) and therefore re- and upskilling. What does the organization need to do which it can't? How can the org address this with its current workforce, rather than just firing everyone and hiring new people with the desired abilities?
What this means for museums: can cultural institutions look to their current workers (and those who were laid off) to meet skills the leaders feel are missing? (Do leaders even know what skills their institutions already have? Do they know what work actually gets done?) If museums don't take a more proactive approach with their workers and work, then there won't be an institution left to rue the missed opportunity.
What this means for museums: ffs, stop overworking your workers! Leaders, when there's too much to do for the staff you have on hand (or who are allowed in the building), don't make your first thought, "let's make exceptions to our worker capacity rules," make it, "it looks like we're trying to do too much." Later this week, I'll have a longer piece on the cult of busyness.
“People will say trustees can pay for this. What planet are they on? Why is it the trustees’ responsibility to pay 100 percent of expenses for public institutions? That attitude is conflicting at best. It’s misinformed to think that every museum has a board full of billionaires.”
Even if we accept this take from museum directors who favor aggressive deaccessioning, have they tried involving more of their staff in the kinds of endeavors which are considered sexy enough for funding? What if staff salaries and unsexy maintenance projects were made part of the cost of exhibitions? This evolution of "indirect cost sharing" could finally do away with the idea that there are curatorial cores and front-of-house peripheries to museum work. If leaders can't inspire the funding classes or public sector to accept this view, maybe different leaders—or a different idea of leadership—is needed. At the very least, as pointed out by Joan Baldwin in the latest Leadership Matters newsletter, there needs to be an atmosphere of authentic, not performative, transparency:
Transparency doesn’t just mean reporting that certain objects are leaving the collection. Transparency means openness about mission, about why a particular piece no longer fits. Those conversations must happen internally before they happen externally, as the director, curators and board work to understand a painting’s meaning. Where does it fit in the collection? Is it an only child or does it have siblings either by the same artist or in the same period? What artists are missing from the collection? If a painting is sold, what would the museum add, and why? And on and on.
Instead we have a clandestine atmosphere of dueling and partial narratives that have done as much to roil museum workers as the deacessioning decisions themselves. Staff know that these decisions are part of the same package as layoffs and overwork.
Enjoy the links!
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