The Cleveland Museum of Art: An Aesthetic Treasure

The Cleveland Museum of Art: An Aesthetic Treasure

Now HR Director at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Sharon did not originally go to school to become a Human Resources professional. She comments that in her day, that would have been relatively uncommon. Instead, she studied law, and after her initial experience and internships, Sharon decided to turn to business.

After being recruited by the Allstate Insurance Company to enter into their Supervisory Training program, Sharon had the opportunity to find out what areas in the business she could supervise, and this led her to Human Resources.

Sharon worked at Allstate for about 10 years, left to start a family, and upon re-entering the work world, she was recruited into the Metro Regional Transit Authority of Akron. Following 7.5 years as their Director of HR, Sharon left to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She gained a variety of experience working as a contractor for the NASA Glenn Research Center for a 5-year term, and then found her current position.

“As my term was ending [at NASA], I searched for a position that would best suit my skill set and my desire to work for a non-profit, and I happened upon the Cleveland Museum of Art – and I’ve been here ever since!”

The HR Role

“People typically see HR professionals as the individual who does the hiring and firing, but it’s so much more than that. One of the things I’m most proud of is being a business partner with our museum leadership. I help consult with all the divisions and departments to make sure the staff is all they can be.”

Sharon touts the amazing group of talent she has in her HR team. These individuals help support staff so they can present the best face of the museum to visitors. Since the museum is not only a community resource, but really a global resource, Sharon and the museum staff look forward to visitors from all over the world. She states:

“The best thing we can do for our staff is to make sure they feel comfortable, not having to worry about whether or not they have benefits tomorrow, or if they’ll be paid for a day off when they’re ill; but to make sure they have the underlying support they need to be productive and putting our guests first.”

Bringing Culture to Life

Sharon and her team know that organizational culture is critical in any business. It’s especially important at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where over the last 10 years, ‘change’ has been the only constant. She remarks:

“We’ve experienced a vast amount of physical change with all the renovations here at the museum, and we’ve had organizational change as well. We want to find out just how our employees feel right now, so we’re getting ready to embark upon an engagement survey for our entire staff.”

And this is perfect timing for Sharon and her team to get a gauge on employee satisfaction and commitment, as they’ll be welcoming new museum director William M. Griswold in the fall of 2014.

Sharon believes that the HR department, with the museum’s leadership, is a pivotal part in making sure all departments are knitted together and striving toward the same goal. Strategic exercises and long-range planning at the museum always focus on a common bottom line: making sure the collection is front and center. Amidst the changes and various operational tasks, Sharon and her team keep in mind the common goal of the museum as a whole, which Sharon states is:

“Being committed to staying relevant to our audience here in Cleveland and throughout the world.”

Engaging Creativity

“It’s always on everybody’s minds to think of new and different ways to do things, and to think outside the proverbial ‘box’. Some of our art is centuries old, so the museum’s task is to find innovative ways to bring that art to life, and to keep our visitors’ attention so they’ll want to keep coming back.”

Sharon comments on the amazing addition of Gallery One, and the incredible technology the museum is now showcasing. Many of the repeat visitors to the museum look forward to the different interpretations offered with the new gallery’s interactive touch screens and iPads featuring educational videos and photo-recognition software. As Sharon states,

“Gallery One has brought all of the museum’s art to the forefront and made it very accessible to every visitor in new and exciting ways.”

By sitting on just about every interdepartmental committee within the museum, the HR team helps connect the dots with employees and trends in their industry. Even though the overriding goal of museum staff is to find new and different ways to show off the vast collection, they also understand the importance of interacting and connecting with their visitors. Customer service skills are a must, and Sharon and her team help the museum staff stay updated on the latest and greatest developments in visitor services. Some of these developments include making the museum and its staff more visitor-friendly, while other developments focus on ecological responsibility, accessibility for those with varying physical abilities or language-barriers, and providing ways to connect with the local community. Sharon sums up:

“In short, our HR team helps our staff know what they need to know in order to do great work here, and to share their passion for art and creativity with our visitors.”

A Diverse Wealth of Talent

Sharon enthusiastically discusses the wealth of talent presented by the museum’s staff. She shares that employees are often also sculptors, painters, sketchers, performers, or somehow involved in other forms of art making.

The staff art show, Sharon explains, has become one of the museum’s feature exhibitions. Usually either in late summer or in the fall, this staff exhibition displays all of the museum’s in-house talent. Located in the museum’s educational lobby, this show changes every year and is quite competitive. Pieces are not juried in the typical sense, but rather selected for variety of subject matter and media.

“You’d be surprised at how many of our employees are artists themselves! Our staff show exhibits a wide variety of pieces… some that are extremely thought-provoking, some are very edgy, but they’re all beautiful. We’re just so proud to be able to say how talented our staff is… and some work here, just for that reason.”

Emerging Trends

“One of the biggest hurdles, I think, for every organization, is going through the regulatory humps and bumps in the road. These items really keep us on our toes, and we have to make sure we’re ahead of the mark so we can plan for our future.”

Sharon comments that for the museum, having the right people in the right job is a continuing trend. She and her team also regularly evaluate the benefits and incentives in-place for their employees, making sure that the right programs are available, and that their pay is competitive.

Other trends that are keeping the museum and its employees busy are the technology advancements to their galleries and the museum structure itself. Making their collection interactive with iPads and large-format touch screens has helped keep the Cleveland Museum of Art ahead of the curve and in the international audience’s eye. Other technology improvements are helping the museum and its staff be as efficient and effective in all that they do and offer.

Sharon’s Advice

Sharon offers that Human Resources professionals need to stay well-rounded and not box themselves in strictly by the confines of the HR role. She encourages her peers to learn more about their business and to really get a good understanding of the products and services their organization offers. She states:

“You need to be conversant. I know the difference between a Monet and a Manet. You need to make sure you’re part of the fabric that makes up your institution, so the staff & the leaders trust you to give them the best possible advice or counseling when that time comes.”

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