In early 2009, the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) – which consists of the Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum – was facing a crisis: the Auditor General had identified human resources as an area of risk, and the Corporation found that it needed to find more efficient ways to leverage resources and expertise.
The transformation of the CSTMC would be no easy task: there was a lack of synergy between the three museums, there was no sustainable financial plan in place, and the Corporation did not have a sponsorship strategy. It was up to Denise Amyot, newly-appointed CEO, and the senior management committee to reassess the needs and identify strategies. After consultations with a variety of stakeholders and employees, they came up with a five-year plan for transformation.
The team identified several problem areas and instituted a number of HR-driven policies to rectify them: a new performance management process, which includes mid-year performance evaluations for staff and leadership teams; a clear succession plan in which staff are identified for promotion or alternative work in yearly reviews; coaching; and committees for employees, by employees.
They also established a Recognition Awards Program, which celebrates employees at all levels of the organization. The program has two components: by employees for employees, and by management for employees.
In addition to the HR transformation, the CSTMC launched the Let’s Talk Energy initiative, headed by director general Ellen Burack, with a goal of engaging Canadians in a dialogue about energy use and demonstrating new energy technologies that Canada is bringing to the table.
The CSTMC built three permanent exhibits – one for each museum – on the subject of energy production, consumption, and conservation; developed several travelling exhibits; delivered initiatives for youth; and created a network of partners in each province and territory.
There were several factors that contributed to the success of the CSTMC transformation project, which Amyot says should be adopted by managers who are heading similar initiatives.
Celebrate staff accomplishments
Much of the work that went into transforming the CSTMC’s HR processes revolved around making staff feel like their contributions mattered. The Recognition Awards Program that Amyot introduced was the first the Corporation had ever seen and it helped staff understand the value of their work to the overall goals of the organization.
“It’s a source of pride. It provides a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction,” Amyot said of the program. “It’s an incentive to take risks and to not hesitate to go beyond what is asked. It’s a way to recognize great work done by the teams. It gives visibility and recognition.”
Much of the Corporation’s problems stemmed from a lack of staff engagement. Things markedly improved for the CSTMC after a system was introduced to ensure that staff knew the goals and understood their responsibilities. The payoff was measureable.
“We decided to apply to become a top employer,” she said. “And in that, we became the first national museum to receive that title.”
“Don’t hesitate to be bold and innovative, and to take risks,” she advised. “Don’t hesitate to go beyond what the job demands, because at the end of the day, you know you can invent what is needed, and then it becomes the norm.”
As a result of the Let’s Talk Energy initiative, the CSTMC has reached over 650,000 visitors annually, with over 12,000 taking part in the energy literacy quiz at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum. Over 28 institutions have joined the Let’s Talk Energy national network, including Mexico City’s Museum of Interactive Economics – the initiative’s first international member.
The Corporation’s HR transformation project succeeded in raising the staff engagement level from 37 percent in 2011 to 56 percent in 2012, and it continues to grow. It established new intermediary positions to encourage retention within the Corporation and fill jobs for new needs. Staff has been empowered to show leadership – they have built working groups that recommend approaches on visitor experience, entrepreneurship, and digitization to senior management.
Denis Amyot and her team were recognized at the CGE Leadership Summit last year. The Auditor General gave the Corporation a positive assessment in 2012, and it has also been recognized nationally and internationally. Most recently, it received the Builders Room Award at the 2013 Pollution Probe Gala.
In June 2013, Amyot was appointed as CEO of the Association of Community Colleges of Canada.