Employee experience is a key to success: Improving our museum from the inside out

Wendy Pryor, Museums Victoria, Australia


In 2018 Museums Victoria (MV) in Melbourne, Australia re-focused on employee experience as a key input to successfully delivering its ambitious strategic plan. The primary project input was a staff survey consisting of considered and open questions to elicit specific pain points or barriers to getting work done. The survey results were used as impetus for two related initiatives: the Business Improvement Group and the Digital Technology Plan. The Business Improvement Group was defined and animated by a Terms of Reference. Its membership was sufficiently broad and focused to be representative without being unwieldy. The initial portfolio of projects were classified either as quick wins or major projects. Each addressed concerns raised by the staff survey and were scaled to achieve momentum through early, fast achievements. The Digital Technology Plan is a blueprint for the evolution of digital technology. Its purpose is to propose directions for the digital technology backbone such that it enables all the digital activity for MV, and for work tools that are easy, convenient and fit for purpose. The digital workplace is a key domain; it comprises connected staff, data for decisions, tools that work, and digital devices. Each stream of activity has delivered key benefits to staff. By describing the process and highlighting transferable features, as well as lessons learned, the paper presents an example of a scalable approach to back office improvement in museums. Ideally readers will be inspired to begin or to revisit their own digital transformation strategies from the inside out, leveraging new and ever more readily available technologies to improve employee experience.

Keywords: digital, strategy, employee, experience, business, improvement

Introduction to the employee experience

Museums focus, as they should, on developing collections and delivering visitor experiences aligned with their mission statements. Those experiences are delivered by the museum’s staff – their most critical resource – and are often the focus of lively conference papers. But what is the employee experience of working in the museum? How easy is the onboarding process for new starters; what workplace digital tools are available to staff working off-site; how streamlined is the process to procure goods and services; what applications are available to facilitate collaboration? Employee experience is gaining ground as an expression of the relationship between employer and employee. At the same time, organisations are exhorted to craft more consumer-like and efficient workplaces to improve business performance and agility, usually enabled by technology.

In 2018, Museums Victoria (MV) in Melbourne, Australia re-focused on employee experience as a key input to successfully delivering its ambitious strategic plan. The primary input was a staff survey to elicit specific pain points or barriers to getting work done. The survey results were used as impetus for two related initiatives: the Business Improvement Group (BIG) and the Digital Technology Plan (DTP). This paper describes the creation and broad trajectory of these related initiatives. Based on lessons learned, the paper concludes with a list of strategic, structural, and cultural considerations that may be useful for other organisations wishing to achieve business improvements through the lens of staff experience.

Museums Victoria and the context for change

Museums Victoria is the largest public museums organisation in Australasia. It comprises Melbourne Museum, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Scienceworks, the Immigration Museum, the world heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building, and two off-site stores. The collection of more than seventeen million objects covers natural sciences, Indigenous cultures, social history, science, and technology. Our 600 staff and hundreds of volunteers welcome two million visitors annually to our venues. Our digital technology portfolio encompasses multiple websites and online experiences, in-gallery multimedia, IMAX cinema, on-site and online retail and events, restaurants, a theatre and car park, business systems, applications and tools plus all the enabling network, telecommunications and data storage infrastructure; this creates an interesting and diverse digital environment.

Museums Victoria’s Strategic Plan 2017-2025 defines our goals and objectives to create a museum organisation that ranks among the world’s finest. Our vision comprises two statements:

People enriched by wondrous discovery and trusted knowledge

Society compelled to act for a thriving future

Of five strategic objectives, “Museums Victoria is a sustainable and thriving organisation” became a key driver for our business improvement initiative. Further, our Strategic Plan identified key enablers that included developing our people, enhancing our culture, and investing in our technology. The arrival of an enthusiastic and accomplished Chief Operating Officer (COO) brought renewed energy and focus to business improvement. An organisation restructure resulted in the creation of two digital departments: Digital Life and Technology Strategy and Delivery. Broadly, Digital Life’s portfolio encompasses the visitor experience within and beyond our walls. This allowed the Technology Strategy and Delivery department to hone its vision for the digital technology backbone (Information and Communications Technology or ICT) plus employee experience through its delivery of work tools, services and applications. The combination of strategy, support, and structure was the beginning.

A considered start to business improvement

Our new COO created a Business Improvement Group, familiarly known as BIG. Its scope included opportunities, both digital and non-digital, to make large and small improvements to existing business processes and systems with the intention to oversee the identification and removal of the barriers to getting our work done to increase our organisational agility. Its genesis was a direct response to staff feedback on outdated systems.

BIG’s intentions were articulated and guided by a formal Terms of Reference which stated that BIG will:

  • Explore opportunities for large and small improvements to existing business processes, projects, and systems
  • Explore new and innovative business processes, projects and systems
  • Recommend projects for investment to MV’s Executive Leadership Team
  • Oversee and guide approved business improvement projects across all MV sites and operations
  • Communicate MV BIG priorities and their status to staff.

BIG’s objectives stated that it aims to:

  • Support the delivery of all aspects MV’s Strategic Plan 2017-25
  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of MV’s current business operations and the utilisation of human and financial resources
  • Champion the update of MV’s systems, policies, and processes to ensure that they remain contemporary and staff frustrations are minimised
  • Enhance MV’s people and culture
  • Drive MV’s information management and technology strategy and planning
  • Ensure that staff have access to excellent training when and where it is needed
  • Mitigate MV’s exposure to corporate and strategic risks
  • Establish strong governance and ownership mechanisms for projects.

BIG’s membership was drawn from senior leaders across the organisation. Meetings, chaired by the COO and generally attended by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), were initially scheduled monthly and then settled into a pattern of bi-monthly (every two months). We planned to welcome guests and observers for information and project reporting. Our first meeting in July 2018 had a clear agenda, and that was to consult our staff.

An informed start to business improvement

An online survey was immediately sent to all staff. The introduction explained the role and objectives of BIG and encouraged staff to provide as much feedback as possible over the fortnight the survey was open. The questions, designed to elicit detailed, descriptive and personal responses, were largely open ended and free text.

The questions included:

  1. What is the most annoying system or process you are required to use or follow at work? Please explain your answer.
  2. What is the most cumbersome piece of technology, software, or online application that you use at work? Please explain your answer.
  3. If you could digitise a single system or process at work, what would it be?
  4. What technology, process, or system is missing for you at work?
  5. What is one improvement that we could implement quickly?
  6. As a… I want…So I can (This three-part question was an opportunity for staff to write a mini story about a specific change that would make a positive difference. For example: As a project manager, I want endorsed project management principles and templates so I can efficiently manage projects in a standardised way that is understood across all departments. It yielded some interesting responses but probably added too much complexity to the survey).
  7. What piece of advice would you give to help the Business Improvement Group maximise its impact?

We were fortunate that our audience insights specialist lent expertise to the survey creation, advised on its analysis and contributed a comprehensive final report complete with graphs, word clouds, raw scores and representative responses.

BIG survey results inform next steps

Almost 150 staff responded with gusto, clarity and eloquence. Although responses in the free text fields required intensive classification and coding, the results were richer and more diverse than could have been achieved by merely ticking pre-identified options. Nevertheless, the key results were clear and unequivocal. They were also fairly unsurprising because they reiterated and intensified earlier anecdotal feedback.

The graphs and charts generated from the survey results made colourful and compelling viewing for an all-staff presentation a few months after the survey was completed. We learned that our most annoying system or process was procurement; a decision was taken to implement an eProcurement system – moving from antiquated requisition books. Procurement was also, inevitably, the system that staff would most like to digitise. Our most cumbersome software included our ticket selling system; its replacement was prioritised also. The technology, process or system missing at work was collaboration tools. BIG had found its program of major projects.

The free text responses added nuance that was beneficial to identifying our program of achievable projects. For example, we learned that our intranet needed revival, both its content and its technology. We started with the content; this was an easier and cheaper challenge and would be an important step towards a future intranet technology upgrade. Other examples were to simplify the system of financial delegation and the procurement policy – also requiring effort but no capital budget. These, and other in-house projects, became BIG’s Quick Win projects.

A summary of the advice BIG received from employees was to prioritise, plan, and deliver; communicate with staff; listen and consult to develop solutions and, above all, choose something to do and get on with it – revealing some scepticism about the success of BIG. While staff appreciated that they were the target market, they also acknowledged the need to manage change and bring them along for the improvement ride; even change for the better can be arduous.

We now had evidence, enthusiasm, a portfolio of projects, and an oversight group. Our final ingredient was templates for consistent use at BIG. We chose two: a project charter document and a project status report. A new project charter is presented to BIG for information and approval at the start of each project. Its content includes project objective, scope, responsible officers, deliverables, measures of success, budget, key stakeholders, risks, related and competing projects, governance and schedule. The project status report template includes traffic lights (red for risks and roadblocks, amber for potential risks, and green for on track), encourages standard reporting on schedule and budget yet is customisable to suit the scale and scope of each project.

Project charters and status reports are distributed prior to each BIG meeting. Brevity is encouraged because BIG is more interested in the progress of a program of work than the minutiae of individual projects. Management and governance of individual projects remains with each project’s manager who generally attends BIG to present their status report.

Digital Technology Plan and inspiration for the digital workplace

The BIG survey results were a key input to the new Digital Technology Plan 2019 – 2025. The DTP was our next opportunity to highlight business improvement and employee experience in the context of a blueprint for the evolution of digital technology. Inspiration abounds for the DTP in papers by McKinsey and the Word Economic Forum about the Fourth Industrial revolution, in technology surveys and rankings, publications from the Center for the Future of Museums and digital technology predictions across a range of industries. Beyond lists of new technologies is vision, perhaps of a hyperconnected workforce of the future where virtual reality, big data, Internet of Things, chatbots, driverless vehicles and virtual assistants create a smart workplace where work becomes a thing rather than a place.

Further, optimising staff experience (in contrast to visitor or customer experience) is gaining currency as a differentiator for organisations wishing to attract and retain scarce staff resources. Thanks to radical transparency enabled by a connected world, the concept of glass box brands means that internal culture can influence the way consumers feel about an organisation because outsiders can more easily gain visibility of the people and processes inside.

Yet the Digital Technology Plan is not naïve; it assumes that at Museums Victoria the pressure to be first applies more to visitor-facing experiences than to staff experience. The latter must be efficient, fit for purpose, reliable, secure, and cost effective as a starting point. A second assumption is that visitors will be the ultimate beneficiaries of frictionless back-office technology and transactions. So the DTP is both aspirational and malleable; it is as ambitious as resourcing allows. Each digital technology project in the roadmap must align people, process, technology, data, and communication to achieve maximum benefit for the humans using the digital technology.

The DTP’s overarching model of Tech@Core recognises that digital technology in its broadest sense is a key enabler for the work of Museums Victoria for visitors and employees. Beyond this model the Digital Technology Plan comprises three primary domains: digital workplace, digital backbone and digital decision-making (governance). The digital workplace is of primary relevance here.

Employee experience delivered by the digital workplace

Digital workplace, as articulated in the DTP, assumes:

  • MV staff will thrive with information and services that they can easily access using any device at any time. They will become more efficient and responsive using digital tools and processes that are respectful of their time.
  • MV staff need data and information to be available in a way that contributes to informed decision-making. That means information comes from trusted sources, is accessible and provides the basis for evidence-based insights. Information should be consistent, easy to use, secure and integrated.
  • An ecosystem of work tools will contain cost, improve productivity and streamline collaboration and co-creation.
  • MV staff should be offered a choice of contemporary devices to facilitate their work wherever they will be most effective.

Digital workplace comprises four components: connected staff, data for decisions, tools that work and digital devices. Each component is defined and supported by a list of headline projects (although each component is infinitely extensible and new projects will continue to emerge). Below is a summary.


Component Definition Example projects
Connected staff Staff are seamlessly connected to work tools and each other Strategically release Microsoft 365 (M365) productivity suite to facilitate staff co-creating and sharing, initially through foundation applications such as Yammer, Teams, Exchange, OneDrive.

Deliver a secure mobile desktop application to facilitate work from anywhere in an MV-like environment.

Data for decisions Reliable and relevant data is available for evidence-based decision-making Strategically introduce a business intelligence tool with training to enable data-driven interrogation.

Implement a comprehensive search function across all MV data stored in Sharepoint/M365 and on premises.

Tools that work Applications and software are connected, fit-for-purpose and easy to use on any device Implement a new ticket selling system

Implement eProcurement such that transactions are streamlined and trackable.

Digital devices Staff have equipment to meet their work needs Introduce a Mobile Device Management tool to increase workplace flexibility, mobility and security.

Investigate the most cost-effective provisioning of selected digital devices, including maintenance and repair.

Table 1: Components of the digital workplace with definitions and projects

The three largest projects (M365, eProcurement and the ticket system) were identified by the BIG staff survey, each established its own project governance and measures of success, but each reported into BIG. The Digital Technology Plan was signed off in late 2019. Then came COVID-19.

COVID-19 case study on the need to adapt

When we closed the doors of our museums in March 2020, we could not anticipate that they would remain shut for 33 weeks, notwithstanding a two-week window when we reopened in June. At the peak of the pandemic a state of disaster was enforced in our state of Victoria. In Melbourne, our capital city, exercise and shopping were limited to within 5 kilometres of our homes and a curfew was implemented from 8pm until 5am every day. Throughout this time staff were required to work from home as access to workplaces was severely restricted based on a permit system.

A project to roll out Microsoft 365 productivity tools was in flight, but by no means completed, when work from home commenced. The project vision was “to improve the digital workplace by offering a range of productivity tools which enable collaboration and the ability to work anywhere anytime”. How prescient this was!

Our key quality considerations for the M365 project were user experience; data availability and retention; governance to guide a robust rollout; and, to avoid perfection paralysis, authority to move forward as soon as the new products were as good or better than the current state. We articulated scope, listed deliverables, scheduled tasks and planned communication. The project team piloted the use of M365 Teams for the project’s delivery.

Preparatory technical activity included a cybersecurity assessment of our platform, firewall update to accommodate increased internet connectivity, analysis and allocation of licences, introduction of multi-factor authentication, data governance plans and partial migration of Exchange email to the cloud.

We also conducted, very early in 2020, an online survey. This survey sought information from staff about when and how they share documents, communicate inside and outside MV, schedule work, and hold meetings online. Over 100 staff responded. Many asked for MV supported collaboration tools (rather than free cloud offerings) and the chance simply to use them. The survey assisted us to plan the order in which we would release the new products supported by face to face training on-site.

The sudden dispersal of staff to their homes required a hasty rejig of our plan and reprioritisation of our product releases. We focussed on Microsoft Teams as our video conferencing, collaboration, and communication platform. The key project adaptation was that all the training for Teams was delivered remotely using Microsoft Teams. This required participants to establish access to Teams before the training by following detailed instructions supplemented by patient support from our Help Desk staff.

Online training was offered to all staff over 14 sessions. A specialist external trainer was supported by the project team to help demonstrate functionality such as Chat, learn together as issues were raised, show commitment to the products and to support trainer and trainees by sifting and responding to questions. Ongoing support was delivered via online drop-in sessions; a Yammer channel sharing tips, updates, user guides and training videos; and ad hoc assistance from the Help Desk staff. Well over 100 Teams have been created; the adoption of all new products (including Exchange, OneDrive and Yammer) following training climbed rapidly and has remained stable.

Was the project as neat as the description above? Of course not, we scrambled. However, our initial planning was not wasted; we re-thought and reordered our schedule. The project’s genesis from the BIG survey and the DTP was already strong but became even stronger as the need for remote collaboration and meeting tools suddenly increased. We acknowledged the need, identified in the BIG staff survey, to bring staff along for the ride by paying attention to change management and communication during a very tumultuous time. The take-up and willingness to learn probably increased in the exceptional circumstances.

BIG meetings continued remotely during work from home. The M365 project continued to report into BIG until the final closure report was presented in October 2020. This signalled that the project deliverables had been achieved and business as usual was in place.

The new work tools contributed to MV’s ability to launch Museum at Home, an award-winning online hub that brought our collections, programs, and experts to over 20 million people across Australia and around the world. The technology also enabled weekly Town Hall gatherings for all MV staff that contributed to maintaining strong esprit de corps for our distributed workforce.

Current, steady state

BIG and the DTP, powered by a staff survey, have delivered three major projects and several smaller initiatives. Each major project was impacted by the pandemic and the requirement to work from home. Maintaining momentum was assisted by BIG’s ongoing oversight.

BIG has settled into a cadence of meetings whereby project status reports are gathered and circulated for review prior to meetings, project managers attend as guests to present their reports. Support from our CEO and COO is visible and strong, BIG members remain engaged. BIG has gained traction and a reputation for getting things done. This has increased confidence to tackle new projects.

Business Improvement Group is not an especially visionary name, nor are all the projects innovative. Implicit in the approach is that incremental progress, no matter how mundane it may seem, can result in measurable savings, increased agility and enhanced experience for staff. Each achievement is worthy of celebration to build momentum to tackle even more improvements.

Transferable insights

What are the possible transferable insights from this back-office initiative to improve our business and the digital workplace? How might these be applied to other organisations? Below are suggestions, under three key categories, to consider when commencing such an initiative.

Strategic: acknowledge the need

These activities will establish the impetus and define the trajectory for business improvement:

  • Acknowledge and articulate in corporate documents the strategic importance of internal processes, systems, and applications as foundations for organisational efficiency and ease of use as contributors to positive employee experience.
  • Create a project roadmap but be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. COVID-19 was a perfect example of the need to adjust our approach and manage staff expectations. It also reinforced that the digital workplace and digital tools were more important than ever.
  • Plan well ahead for successive budget cycles to maintain a flow of digital investment in operational efficiency and avoid mad dashes to replace outdated technology.
  • Lead from the top; overt and consistent involvement of senior executives demonstrates commitment to the improvement initiative.

Structural: make success possible

These activities will contribute to creating a consistent and sustainable approach to business improvement:

  • Create a balanced and sufficiently senior stakeholder group to spearhead your business improvement initiative. Clarify its role and the role of members in a Terms of Reference. This document creates a still point against which to assess the success of the initiative and can be tweaked as needed over time.
  • Develop standard, succinct templates with headings to elicit the most important information needed to assess the viability or progress of projects. Our project status report template streamlined reports into a consistent format such that BIG members were more likely to read them prior to meetings and thus contributed to productive meetings.
  • Create and maintain a predictable meeting schedule and format. This helps to manage the expectations of group members and guest project managers. It also ensures that project reporting is regular – and project managers will be keen to demonstrate progress.
  • Choose projects that can be delivered so that nobody is set up to fail. This may initially necessitate hard decisions on allocation of resources – both staff and budget – and prioritisation of smaller projects, such as process improvements, that can be delivered in-house.
  • Maintain focus on drivers and goals; we were able to refer to our original BIG staff survey of pain points as impetus for the projects we then committed to deliver.

Cultural: harness enthusiasm and diminish scepticism

These activities acknowledge the importance of organisational culture, as lived by staff, as a key ingredient to acceptance of change:

  • Asking for staff input, provided it’s acknowledged and acted upon, can be a powerful tactic for engagement.
  • Report progress. Regular, content-rich, succinct reports to staff will contribute to the normalisation, acceptance, and support of the business improvement initiative.
  • Share and celebrate achievements, no matter how small. This helps to build momentum and gain support for the business improvement initiative.
  • Manage change. This applies to individual projects as well as a program of business improvement initiatives. Communication, training, consultation, and management of expectations will be important for gaining adoption of a change, even if it’s an improvement.
  • Maintain and demonstrate enthusiasm and optimism. The attitude of the business improvement leadership can influence staff acceptance and involvement.

Start somewhere and keep going

One paper can never describe the complexities and wrinkles of delivering a program of projects over a two-year span including 2020, the year of COVID-19. But it’s only now, after two years on this trajectory, that we can begin to assess and evaluate our progress.

All organisations are similar in that they wish to be better, yet different in their starting point and aspirations. Fortunately, business improvement is scalable and endless. Having goals such as improved efficiency, increased agility and enhanced staff experience will help to filter, focus, and measure business improvement initiatives. Operational efficiency and improved employee experience should ultimately contribute to a superior visitor experience. The most important step is to start, anywhere that suits your organisation – and keep going. Successful delivery is addictive and compelling.

Further reading

This is a small selection of reading that inspired this paper.

Bersin, J., J. Flynn, & A. Mazor. (2017). The employee experience: Culture, engagement, and beyond: 2017 Global Human Capital Trends. Consulted January 8, 2021. Available https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2017/improving-the-employee-experience-culture-engagement.html

Devine, C. (2020). Inspiring the Digital Landscape: Re-imagining Museums and Libraries post COVID. Webinar, September 9, 2020. Consulted January 8, 2021. Available https://microsoftedu.eventbuilder.com/event/29041/recording

McKinsey & Company. (2020). How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point – and transformed business forever: October 5, 2020: Survey. Consulted January 8, 2021. Available https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-covid-19-has-pushed-companies-over-the-technology-tipping-point-and-transformed-business-forever

Mark, C. & M. Cotton (eds.). (2021). “Sweet teams are made of this.” In Fjord Trends 2021, 28-39. Consulted January 8, 2021. Available https://www.accenture.com/nz-en/insights/interactive/_acnmedia/Thought-Leadership-Assets/PDF-3/Accenture-Fjord-Trends-2021-Full-Report.pdf

Meyers, M., et al. (2016). Employees as customers: Reimagining the employee experience in government: How design thinking and customer experience tools can help attract and engage public servants. Consulted January 8, 2021. Available https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/public-sector/treating-employees-as-customers-in-government.html

Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond. Consulted January 8, 2021. Available https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond

Cite as:
Pryor, Wendy. "Employee experience is a key to success: Improving our museum from the inside out." MW21: MW 2021. Published January 11, 2021. Consulted .