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American Association of Museums

We Can’t Keep Our Mouths Shut

The following article was requested and written as a Display Case piece for the American Association of Museums May/June issue of Museum Magazine. You can check it out on page 29 of the hard copy. The magazine is one of the great perks of being an individual member of AMM. You can become one here. (There are all kinds of other perks, too!) Special thanks to Editor and Chief, Susan Breitkopf, for contacting me and also to Susannah O’Donnell  of AAM for her terrific edits. I’m excited to have the opportunity to also share the article here.

 

Generation Y. Millennials. Generation “Me.” The Obama Generation. However you identify these 20-somethings working in your museum, one thing’s for sure: We function differently than older generations in the workplace. Members of Generation Y (born roughly between 1980 and 1992) have a different value set and method of communicating than the generations that came before us. In fact, if you are a Traditionalist (born 1927–1945), a Baby Boomer (born 1946–1964) or even a member of Generation X (born 1965–1979), you may find that the behavior and priorities of members of Generation Y are directly at odds with your own workplace desires—or, at least, in direct odds with business as usual.

If anything, the sheer size of Generation Y makes Millennials hard to ignore. By 2008, there were 77.6 million members of Generation Y, outnumbering the 74.1 million Baby Boomers.

So what do Millennials want from the museums that employ them, and why should institutions care? Studies have found that our generation has some tall orders that are likely to cause a bit of cross-generational clash. But while these starry-eyed, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, cannot-keep-their-mouths-shut 20-somethings may have a thing or two to learn from older generations in the workplace, we bring with us a new way of thinking that can benefit any organization—and museums in particular—if given the chance.

 

Generation Y employees want to be included in important conversations regardless of their position within the institution … From a young age, members of “Generation Me” have been encouraged by elders to speak up and contribute—and we’ve been rewarded for our input. (On our Little League teams, everyone got a trophy, not just the MVP.) This egalitarian approach may perturb members of older generations who are accustomed to authoritative relationships within the workplace and value the hard work associated with moving up the organizational ladder that they climbed in order to participate in such decision-making discussions.

but they also bring transparency and accessibility to organizations, which will likely have a positive impact on the museum industry. The social media revolution is in full force, and many Millennials would not recognize a world without cell phones and the Internet. With increasing connectedness comes increasing information-share, and in the current market, incredible value is placed on brand transparency. Accessibility has always been an important aspect of museums’ missions, but it is becoming increasingly critical as social technology, online engagement and crowd-curated exhibits take hold of museum audiences. Most Millennials have communication and transparency hard-wired into their nature. And because we use these tools to communicate with friends and family, we often know how to utilize them with the sincerity that is required for building a strong brand.

 

Generation Y employees value mission and mentorship over money, challenging traditional workplace motivators … That may not sound like a culture clash, but it certainly makes the priorities of Millennials a bit tricky to understand, particularly for goal-oriented Baby Boomers who are accustomed to utilizing monetary reward as a motivating force. Tracing the annual Universum IDEAL Employer Rankings reveals a startling trend in Generation Y’s ideal employers prefrences. While the 1999 version of the survey found that Generation X wanted to work for large, private companies like Microsoft or Cisco, Generation Y prefers working for public service organizations. They don’t call us the “Obama Generation” for nothing: Working for an organization we believe in is often every bit as important to Millennials as the price tag on a starting salary. Because of our generation’s desire to achieve and be recognized, mentorship is also an important aspect of the ideal Millennial work environment. Mentorship takes time, though, and time translates to money for older generations. Making time for the mentorship of Millennials is not always a high priority for busy professionals.

but these values also represent a natural alignment with your museum’s public service goals. While adjusting to these “softer” workplace desires may require some effort within the museum, having energetic employees motivated by public service is sure to work in the organization’s favor. Don’t get me wrong: Millennials have more debt and student loans than any generation that came before them, so warm fuzzies aren’t going to cut it if we cannot pay our bills. Those emotional rewards, however, motivate us and provide what studies have shown is often very high on our workplace wish list: personal fulfillment by making a positive social impact.

 

Generation Y has a reputation for “overshare” and treating employees equally, even the CEO … Generation Y is often regarded as an “oversharing” generation, seemingly tweeting about every dinnertime meal and putting countless photos on Facebook for the world to see. Another habit contributing to our overshare reputation is the perhaps too casual way in which Millennials offer up input to leaders in the workplace.  In fact, Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, cited overshare and addressing all employees casually as two “not-so-smart” mistakes that Millennials commonly make in the workplace in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. Being social means sharing information with your friends- and online, Generation Y has a lot of them. Millennials are a social bunch and, not surprisingly, surveys have shown that members of this generation prefer to work in groups and share information. Similarly, Generation Y has been found to value teamwork and organic workplace structures. Members of Generation X and Baby Boomers may find this particularly odd, as they’ve been found to generally prefer working independently and have championed workplace autonomy.

… but overshare keeps upper-level management aware of industry trends, and collaboration increases opportunities for competitive advantages. According to writings by Brian Huffman, a professor of management at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, CEOs and upper-level management are nearly always the last to see big societal changes coming; the front-end folks see it first. Considering this, it may help that the front line has a big mouth. With social technology bringing about almost constant changes in branding, marketing and community engagement, Millennials can be a key resource for institutions wrestling with the misconception that museums are organizations frozen in time. You might still cringe when a millennial offers unsolicited input to the department director, but it can help to share different points of view. Studies have found that organizational collaboration helps dodge management groupthink and, in general, makes organizations stronger.

 

So, what’s the value in taking note of the workplace desires of Generation Y? A simple response may be, “Because they are the future leaders of your museum, whether you like it or not.” But that’s not a particularly compelling answer. A better reason is that competitive organizations are becoming more transparent, public-service oriented and horizontal in structure, with value placed on increased communication. The evolution of these business practices reflects the values of Generation Y.

Can members of Generation Y be a nuisance in the workplace? Maybe. Despite our reputation for over-confidence, we certainly have a lot to learn. But Millennials can also be invaluable members of your organization who help weave the fabric for a strong and strategically sound museum. Each of our respective generations marches to the beat of its own drummer. Though the Generation Y workplace beat is a bit more casual and dissonant than others, we still have the interests of the museum at heart and an aim to make a lasting difference in the communities we serve. And that’s pretty cool, right?

Posted on by colleendilen in Generation Y, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, The Future 2 Comments

How Regional Associations Are Models for Museums of The Future

Folks engaging and learning from one another at last week's CAM Conference in Pasadena, or a peek into the future?

I’ve noticed that a great deal of my favorite resources come from national, regional, or local associations. This makes sense to me. Professional and organizational development is their thing, right? But if you think about the role that these associations play in their communities, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to conclude that the museum of the future is a regional association.

The California Association of Museums shared their new strategic plan during the CAM Conference in Pasadena last week. When Phil Kohlmetz, the CAM President was speaking, he mostly used the future tense, describing what the organization will be because the plan is in its first of five years. But in actuality, he was pointing out how the association has adjusted and arranged priorities to strengthen what it actually is. During their presentation, I thought simply, “If all cultural organizations adopted these areas of focus, then every cultural organization would be a high-impact organization.” Take a look at the focus areas that make up CAM’s strategic alignment:

  • Build capacity
  • Heighten advocacy
  • Foster community

Perhaps national and regional associations, being connector organizations made up of individuals who can maintain a day-to-day bird’s-eye view of the industry, are terrific models for museums’ strategic futures. Even if they didn’t take up any new practices or adjust to the times, the past and present function of associations may be similar to museum functions of the future.

Looking at attributes that make up national and regional associations reveals that what associations are now, and what museums may be in the future, may be close to the same thing. As such, examining the goals and operations of associations may be a helpful exercise for nonprofits preparing for the future.

National and regional associations actively have aimed to:

  • … Exist as connectors. Between every session at the CAM conference, the organization provided an opportunity for networking and building connections. They put on breakfasts, lunches, even an ice cream social! The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) actively conducts meet-ups to get folks connected. Associations bring in different speakers and writers to offer different opportunities to connect, and, like a museum, they bring in people eager to learn and explore. Like museums and other cultural organizations, associations aim to get people to interact and learn from one another.
  • …Create horizontal professional communities. Most associations that I’ve come across have committees. The American Association of Museum’s (AAM) committees are the first to come to my mind as an example- probably because they have so many of them. Within these committees, folks are invited to engage equally and contribute to the conversation. Organizations are becoming less vertical (hierarchical) and more horizontal in the way that they operate. They are welcoming more voices when making important decisions and they are working more often in groups. National and regional associations have been putting like-minded folks in groups for years in order to support one another and help come up with industry solutions.
  • …Cultivate professional development and encourage skill-building. The nonprofit sector is notorious for ducking out on providing employees with professional development opportunities. For associations, professional development and skill building is front and center. It’s not a surprise: cultural nonprofits that follow the lead of investing time and energy into their people will develop stronger, more valuable people and build a more successful organization.
  • …Share resources and strengthen their communities. Museums and cultural organizations aim to educate in order to build more vibrant, healthy communities. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) invested the time and energy to develop a format for online engagement during their 2010 annual meeting. The organization realized the location barrier that existed; not everyone can be in Oklahoma City, but everyone at a cultural organization could likely benefit from involvement in the conference. They paid attention to issues threatening their ability to share quality resources, and they employed new media solutions to create an interactive platform to keep the information flowing, and people conversing. Speaking of which, most associations have the benefit of being able to…
  • …Pay attention. They have a macro-view of the community they serve and industry needs. If you have your eyes open to things happening in the outside world, then you are better able to adjust. Moreover, you’re more likely to see changes coming and ensure that you’re organization doesn’t get left behind.
  • …Create a hub. Do you remember a few years back when marketers would do whatever it took not to link to another webpage? The fear seemed to be that if the web user clicked on something else, they’d leave your page. There’s no way to know if they’d come back. At the CAM conference, Maria Gilbert of The Getty said simply, “create a hub.” Make your website (or your people) the go-to for desired information, and folks will come back. Regional associations have been creating hubs long before the boom of online engagement.
  • …Welcome evangelists. Like me, because they know that if I can find a way to get to the CAM conference, I’ll likely learn something and share it with my friends and networks. Similarly, many associations give out fellowships or scholarships that allow young professionals and students to attend events. This is a great idea because young people are using social media the most to create online content. Cultural nonprofits (and public sector entities) should do this too. Know who your evangelists are and make it easy for them to help you spread your message- online or otherwise.
  • …Master the market. What I mean by this, really, is that they function based off of traditional utility functions. This isn’t new for museums, which do the same thing. They produce goods and services that are desired by a population, and they make a portion of their revenue from “selling” their product to donors. This is worth attention, because an organization that does not utilize the market or work to sustain itself would be a bad example of an organization to mimic.

Perhaps association organizations are museums that are not place-based or artifact-based, but people-based. That may be the reason why some of their traditional functions serve as good models for future cultural nonprofit operations. As society continues to evolve to be more social (or anti-social, depending on what you think about online communications) and participatory, the traditional practices of association organizations become even better models. Perhaps they aren’t ideal (how do you incorporate ‘place’?), but they may be a cheat-sheet about how to think about the future.

What do you think? Can museums of the future learn a thing or two from national and regional association organizations? Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Community Engagement, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, The Future 1 Comment

4 Valuable Online Resources for Museum Futurists. No…Right Now-ists.

There are six practices of high-impact nonprofits, according to Crutchfield and Grant’s findings in their book, Forces for Good. One of the central six? Nurture Nonprofit Networks. It means share knowledge (grow the pie, work together for change…) Knowledge sharing is a practice that nearly all of the world’s most impactful nonprofits have in common.

Nurturing networks and spreading best practices is one of many things that sets the nonprofit sector apart from the private sector, and it may be one of the biggest differentiations. You won’t catch Thomas’ English Muffins freely giving away the secret to their “nooks and crannies” just to bring the entire world (competitors included) one step closer to creating the perfect English muffin. If they can’t do it, they don’t want anyone else to do it. But nonprofits will put themselves out of business if it means bringing the world one step closer to a common goal.

People are becoming a bit like organizations as individuals build personal brands and play important roles in information dissemination to advance social change. A museum must be conscious of its brand and the professional advantages supplied by the institution. But a museum should not overlook the more personal/professional advantages that can be leveraged when museum employees have the tools they need to connect and engage with other professionals If nurturing nonprofit networks creates high-impact nonprofits, then certainly nurturing nonprofiteer networks leads to even higher-impact nonprofits.

These are four basic online resources for arming museum professionals with the social technology tools needed to embrace new media and encourage both sector transition and innovation:

 

1. MUSEUM 3Museum 3 is a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring the future of the cultural institution sector. Since it began in 2007 as a social network, Museum3 has grown to almost 3000 members from across the world. In 2010 Museum3 incorporated into a not-for-profit organisation. This has allowed us to plan for extended services including conferences, masterclasses, public talks, new partnerships and new cultural products including podcasts and vodcasts.” One of the reasons why I think that this site is so cool is because it’s international. Talk about sharing the knowledge.

 

2. MUSEUM-ID: Another cool connecting site is MUSEUM-id, which is also run through Ning and called an “ideas exchange and social network for museum professionals.” Let’s not go nuts here- neither of these social networks is booming with the activity of your Facebook or Twitter feed, but when you consider that these social spaces exist to exchange ideas with similarly-interested professionals, the spaces are pretty darn cool and extremely useful.

 

3. MUSE TECH CENTRAL: How did I find the leads for so many of these innovative museum social technologies? I started out on Muse Tech Central. I adore it. Muse Tech Central is the Museum Computer Network project registry and it’s a gold mine of museum inspiration. It’s pretty simple, too: it is a list of new and ongoing technology-based projects taking place in museums.

 

3. CFM’s RESEARCH ROUND-UP: Recommending AAM’s  Center for The Future of Museums to museum futurists (right now-ists) is like recommending Mashable for a social media fan; it’s been done and you probably already know a lot about it. Yes, the blog is awesome… but have you checked out their Research Round-Ups? They have everything from academic findings to news articles to essays to commentary. It’s a great complement to the weekly Dispatches from the Future of Museums that you can sign up to have arrive in your inbox, but I don’t see the Research Round-up celebrated as frequently. Knowing what research has been uncovered can be a powerful tool for your museum. Why reinvent the wheel? It helps to take a look at what we’ve figured out thus far.

 

Getting involved in these networks and checking out these websites probably shouldn’t replace normal social media activities like engaging professionals in your network on Facebook and Twitter- but it’s a great start and a terrific complement to those efforts. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that keeping an eye on these resources will keep you smarter than the average museum social media guru. Not to mention, they’ll keep you thinking, questioning the future, and preparing for new ways to engage audiences online.

*Header image from The Nonprofit Quarterly

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Leadership, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 2 Comments