The 50 or so Zoom participants had the opportunity to hear from a selection of inspiring GLAM professionals: Honiana Love, Tumu Whakarae of Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision; Courtney Johnston, Tumu Whakarae / Chef Executive of Te Papa; and Dan Daly, Team Leader of South Library, Christchurch City Libraries.
Courtney has been in her role for about a year and began the year focusing on recovering from bruising restructures and prioritising staff welfare. She spoke about the pandemic and lockdown having collateral benefits, for example staff looking after each other, which has helped with institutional healing. I really enjoyed her tip about ‘notice, name and navigate’ what is going on for you – it’s a great way to slow yourself down and gain control over feelings. I also enjoyed that she takes the time to find joy in a ‘selfish’ task – helping out with botany specimens.
Honiana is also relatively new to her role, after having been acting in the position for a while. This year the organisation has sped up its digitisation, and checked in a lot about what tasks it should be doing. They’ve also received a lot of funding to carry out one of the biggest digitisation projects in New Zealand, which means the organisation is now managing a much bigger budget. They’ve also restructured – but is there ever a right time to do this? Honiana also made an excellent point about carrying on initiatives that have been effective this year into more ordinary times, for example ensuring that we are keeping up open and honest communication.
Dan complimented us all for doing amazingly this year – and we all really are! He is a values-driven leader who hasn’t changed his approach to leadership this year. He is still accountable to his team as well as his managers, and focuses on being a clear, honest communicator. Apparently he enjoys dysfunction and managing change, something he’s had experience of during Christchurch’s earthquake sequence. He believes in celebrating wins, and making things achievable by breaking them down. I know I’m very fortunate to work alongside Dan!
This was a quick whip through a really thought provoking session, and if I have whetted your whistle do take a look at the full video on YouTube.
- It is very important to speak frankly about wellbeing and mental health – and as a leader, the ability to be raw and vulnerable can be immensely helpful in terms of connecting with colleagues, to unite teams, and to ensure people remain focused.
- The Covid crisis changed how a lot of work was done across all the GLAM industries; speeding things up toward digitisation and placing emphasis on the immediacy of the operational, aside considerations regarding changed strategic direction. Leaders and teams had to be very agile, and adapt to various contingency plans – which often meant heightened need to prioritise projects as well.
- Focus on value as being key to team-wide success and resilience: falling back on basic organisation and human value – and ability to be empathic to all staff.
- To be successful in wholly operational requirements, it is advised to divorce from the strategic approach. I.e. focus on what can be controlled, and acknowledge what can’t be; if staff are left to speculate, it can linger in worst case scenario mentality (which is most often than not, not the reality).
- Communication style is really important; building trust with the team and checking in with all team members. Never take the value of communication for granted.
- Ensuring the communication is two way: to see this as relationship building, and to keep it going. Some teams had a 10 minute social catch up before addressing business, which meant that it created connection before diving into work.
- Resilience can be a combative word. What is it, how is it built and what does it look like… making sure it is enacted and encouraged with empathy. Reference was made to the connotations of the word ‘resilience’; is it confronting? Does it mean, ‘suck it up and get on with it?’ Resilience must be built with compassion and sincerity amongst staff.
- A good tip to foster resilience was to make things achievable for staff: concentrate on achievable goals and outcomes, and celebrate success – it makes sure people feel valued, engaged and productive – even if confined to their home and in a state on uncertainty.
- As a leader it is important to ensure that the team is equipped with the right tools to make headway on their tasks and on their projects. This may mean recalibrating your leadership approach to be more flexible, and more supportive through different means. If a colleague needs longer to complete a task, then that is the reality, and it is the duty of care for the leader to provide the environment through which the team can flourish, even when in confusing circumstances.
- GLAM sector and Library industry is a profession of care: focus on culture, identity and learning, and the meaning that drives us forward as a sector is rooted in this, but this also means that this is the very thing that can drive you down personally – staff are often incredibly invested in their work, and in the service they provide, in their community, and it can be detrimental if these feelings run you down in times of crisis – especially when most things are out of anyone’s control.
- Good advice is to always communicate from your highest point of clarity: start with what you know, and acknowledge things you don’t know. I.e. it may not be known when lock down will finish, or if we will get locked down again, but it is known that we can man our emails and enquiries from the public, from home.
- Remember that everyone is engaged in the best of intentions, and that they mean well; reach out to people for personal support too, as we are all in it together.
That however much our leaders, at all levels of our organisations, demonstrate innovation, flexibility, empathy and resilience, it doesn’t void how difficult this year has been. Their words and actions certainly help to create a positive support structure. However, these words only skim over the significant impact that COVID-19 has had on our workplaces, our resilience and the ongoing expectations of the public we cater to. New Zealand’s relative physical isolation has created an insulated limbo in which we live and work and this nibbling uncertainty has taken a toll.
So thank you to Courtney, Honiana and Dan for helping me to reflect on a tumultuous year. This year has taught me that we are now able to bring our whole self to work whether that is digitally or in person. And this shift towards creating more empathetic workplaces has both been a struggle and liberating. I no longer feel like the weird one for sharing how I feel because of this change. But it is still hard.
Courtney Johnston noted that managers needed to be more open and vulnerable, and faster to react to staff needs. Anxiety and low energy levels were prevalent, and Honiana Love reminded us of the importance of evaluating and assessing workloads (Were they reasonable? What is too much? Should we be trying to do this?). Dan Daly talked about controlling the practical things to help his team work and to get them what they needed.
The speakers emphasised that communication was key, even though there may have been nothing particular to communicate. Touching base was important, as was communicating the same information in various ways to ensure it got through to staff and building trust through two-way communication. Good communication helps to build resilience in staff, which in turn feeds into better mental health. Checking in with staff and colleagues was highlighted. I know that this was important in my workplace too: the management team met daily at 9am and sent an email to all staff shortly after. We knew where we were, what was going on, and how everything was being managed.
Courtney Johnson suggested we should “find a small selfish pleasure inside your job and make the time to do that, to consciously find the joy inside your job so you don’t feel guilty not meeting all the needs around you”. In the time of a pandemic, with so much pressure, this was wonderfully inspirational.