Writers Note- this is my first ‘tips’ format blog post.  I’m trying this format to present a variety of topics more quickly.  Let me know if you like this format, and I’ll do it more often. 

Team Decision Making

We are operating in a time of fast-moving chaos.  Every day we are making critical decisions in an ever-shifting economic reality.  The majority of conversations I’ve had over the last couple weeks included questions like:

  • Are we going to cancel this program because of COVID-19?
  • Can we afford to continue this program?
  • Can we pivot this program into something digital? And if so, is it worth the attempt?

With volatility comes uncertainty, stress, and anxiety, all of which hinder effective decision making.  Before you have discussions about your plans for individual programs and initiatives, have a discussion about your organization’s mission and current goals.  First, you want to get back to basics and discuss what is important.   Start with your mission and founder’s story.  I like to actually tell stories about my experiences with the founder’s and give firsthand accounts of why the museum is so important to them.  I know we all don’t have access to our museum founders, but many of us have some kind of connection to the people involved with starting our museum.  Even if we don’t, we know the history.  Second, discuss honest short-term goals.   The reason I called them “honest goals” is because you will not have meaningful conversations unless you have honest dialogue.  If your only goal is to make it to 2021 with the lights on, have that discussion.  The point is, if you ignore the elephants in the room that economic uncertainty has created, you will not have meaningful conversations on any topic during a time in which every one of us is making critical decisions.

For more articles on communication during COVID-19, click here https://worldclassmuseum.com/category/uncategorized/covid-19/

Sacred Cows and Decision Making

You are having a discussion about a program the museum has been running for over 15 years.  The program has seen better days, but it has a niche following.  Also, the program takes a lot of staff hours, which presents a challenge because a lot of people are working from home, and several positions have been furloughed.  You have to decide where you are going to make cuts, and this program is high on the list of potential cuts. During the conversation, a veteran team-member says, “I think this program is a favorite of one of our past board members and larger donors.” Situations like this are another reason that a mission and goals discussion can be beneficial in centering your conversation.  If a program is not essential to your mission and does not help achieve short-term goals, you need to take a deep dive into why it needs to be on the schedule in 2020.  There is no place for fluff in the economic reality in which we currently operate.  If you go through the process and decide a program should be cut from the schedule, but you are still hesitant to do it, you may have a sacred cow.  If you are unfamiliar, with a sacred cow, for our purposes, it’s a program that needs to either disappear or be reformed, but a barrier that is not related to operational objectives is keeping it alive.  If the program you are discussing is a sacred cow, you have a responsibility to the museum to have the uncomfortable conversations sometimes necessary to address it.  You cannot waste resources on legacy programs during these difficult times.  Think of it as a tradeoff.  The money and resources you would have invested in that lagging program can go toward other higher yield efforts, or payroll and expenses during this time when every dollar matters.  You may upset a few stakeholders, but difficult decisions are par for the course in museum work especially this year.

The good news is, many sacred cows are often more folklore than reality.  Often our perception of why a program is important is flawed. Similar to the childhood game in which one person makes up a sentence and then each person has to whisper the sentence to the next, often a program’s history has been altered in the retelling and the perceptions that make it a sacred cow are far from reality.  A few years back, I was on a phone call with a museum in Northern California that said they wanted to discontinue their annual fundraising dinner because, between the expense and the staff hours, it did not end up profitable.  When I asked why it was a difficult decision, I was told, ‘It’s our founder’s favorite event.’ After going to see the founder, museum leadership found out that he had no idea that the program wasn’t profitable; he was under the impression it was a big moneymaker.  After being shown the balance sheet, he was on board with canceling it.

Strategy Development in Uncertain Times – Article Recommendation

In the July/August issue of Harvard Business Review, J. Peter Scoblic wrote a timely article entitled, “Learning from the Future:  How to Make Robust Strategy in Times of Deep Uncertainty,” that is a must-read for all museum decision-makers.  Among many topics, Scoblic discusses the importance of scenario planning so your organization can be best prepared to adapt in this highly volatile time.  He also reminds us that we are living in uncharted territory.  My favorite quote from the article is, “At the very moment when the present least resembles the past, it makes little sense to look back in time for clues about the future.”

Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at WorldClassMuseum.com