About Me

My photo
Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Friday, November 14, 2008

What makes a good CEO/director?

The National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, Australia, got a new CEO on Monday: Darryl McIntyre, formerly Group Director of Public Programmes at MoL. Rumour has it that he will make a splash by announcing a pay rise for its staff, which is certainly a good way to make friends, and if staff morale figures into what makes a successful museum/archive then actions like this may be more profound than simple ingratiation (which I'm all for, preferably at the start of the financial year).

But aside from having the chutzpah to buy the love of your staff, what makes a good CEO/director? I've never been one, and nor would I want to be, and I've never been a manager, but through my reading and my life at the bottom of the food-chain I've inevitably formed some opinions - biased though they must be by my specific experiences. Below are some things that I think a good director would and wouldn't do, and it turns out I put quite an emphasis on good communications and building trust, lord knows why.

  • Remain in direct contact with staff.
    The layers of management provide essential filtering, sorting and translating functions in funnelling information about the museum to the director, for that person to use in planning and evaluation (together with their executive team). Yet it's also essential for that top person to make contact directly with people at all levels, in part to test the validity of what they're told by other executives. They need to take focussed and relevant questions to people on the ground, and receive questions and complaints directly; not so that they can fix them themselves, but so that they understand where the organisation's mentality is at. More structured consultation exercises are very useful too, if they are followed up with action, but if not then they are empty and counter-productive exercises that simply increase resentment.

  • Provide vision at the highest level, as well as at the next level of strategic aims and objectives, with links from one to the other clearly explained. It's self-evident that this vision thing is perhaps the most vital part of the director's job, and it's a question of marketing this internally and externally, which means communication above all else (as well as iteration in response to feedback). A persuasive argument is needed to bring as many staff as possible along with you.

  • Be seen as a champion of the museum's mission, not of its functional necessities (financial stability etc.) Essential though these are, it must always be clear that the director sees them as servants of the mission, not the other way around. It's part of selling your plan to the people that work for you, which is all the more vital in a context where the driving motivation of employees is professionalism and belief in the worth of the organisation rather than simply earning a wage.

  • Avoid back-biting.
    It must be tough at the top, and there are surely plenty of nasty and unpopular jobs that just have to be done in order to get the organisation on the right track. Still, there is no point in picking fights that don't need to be fought, in leading where no-one will follow, in throwing your weight around for its own sake. Fear is not respect, it's often more related to contempt. In short, top dog needn't mean queen bitch*.

Obviously there's so much more to being a great director that these factors, I've learnt at least that much from Robert Janes. In any case, I wish NFSA good luck with their new CEO. I hope they get more than a pay rise from him.

* Sam is not actually a bitch but let's not be pedantic.

No comments: