Seven Stories: Leadership and Culture

In 2015, Seven Stories successfully revamped its building in a major capital project, funded by an Arts Council England Small Capital Grant, and grants from a number of trusts and foundations.

Alongside it, the museum made changes to its front of house structure to help strengthen visitor services. The work affected all teams, some people changed roles, and it also meant closing the museum for three months.

The capital project came in on time and budget. However, coming out of this stressful time, some concerns were brought to light around behaviour and culture that were affecting the ability of some staff to do their work well, and having a negative effect in some areas of the organisation and its operation. The issues came to light through the organisation’s regular line management and professional development processes, as well as through confidential reporting of concerns.

The Chief Executive, Kate Edwards, and trustees and senior colleagues set to work on a revised HR strategy, accompanied by a programme to shift the organisation’s culture and strengthen its leadership at all levels.

“We referenced best leadership and change management theory and practice, including the Hallmark relating to Leadership and Culture, in defining our goals, and training and development that would take a coaching and personalised approach to change management and engagement,” Kate says.

The process to devise then implement the HR strategy and cultural changes has taken two years; some new members of staff have arrived and others have been involved in professional and skills development.

The new programme is focused on a person-centred approach. For example, everyone will have shared learning objectives for the organisation, as well as individual ones, and how progress towards them is monitored will be agreed with staff.

There is also renewed emphasis on communication and collaboration across the organisation and developing leadership capability beyond the senior team, so that people are empowered to make decisions themselves.

Other strands include more cross-organisational working to encourage enterprise and better use of Seven Stories’ assets; greater promotion of professional and personal development so that people are aware of their own and others’ strengths but also causes of stress; closer alignment of activities, projects and personal goals to the objectives of the organisation; and setting priorities for training, coaching and mentoring investment.

Kate says: “The AIM Hallmarks underline the importance of leadership and its role in fostering a positive culture, both in the actions of leaders and in the distribution of leadership roles to others. It is something that we have recognised is vital, at all levels, if an organisation is to fulfil the potential of all its people and to liberate them to be as creative and effective as possible in their roles and collectively.”