The long-serving director of Canterbury Museum is facing widespread staff discontent after an independent report found the institution's leadership to be "authoritarian", "micro-managing", and "controlled by the director".
The leadership style of director Anthony Wright and senior management was labelled "old style" and "very paternalistic" in a 2019 workplace report, leaked to the Herald.
The findings are supported by a number of former employees, spoken to by the Herald, who question Wright's leadership style.
However, the chairman of the Canterbury Museum Trust Board yesterday said Wright is an "outstanding" director who has given 25 years of 'exemplary service" to the museum and has the board's full support.
With a full-time staff of 75, the central city museum, which dates back to 1867, has one of the most remarkable human and natural history collections in the country, with more than two million artefacts, and a focus on the Canterbury district and Antarctica.
But the ex-staff members, speaking under the condition of anonymity, have spoken out over their concerns, including the reported lack of a dedicated human resources (HR) department or HR manager at the museum, which is a registered charitable trust, governed by the trust board.
It comes after a 2019 "staff consultation report" conducted by Investors in People (IiP) - a global accreditation scheme to improve workplaces.
The report is critical of museum leadership, particularly Wright, a trained botanist who has led the museum since 1996, and his alleged "controlling" style.
Leaked to the Herald, it states that the "majority of staff say that current workloads are unrealistic and unsustainable ... staff feel overburdened, stressed and constantly under pressure".
"The majority of staff in all seven discussion groups say the organisation's management style is authoritarian and controlled by the director," it says.
"Many staff feel they are micromanaged for the sake of preserving an 'old style management hierarchy'."
The IiP report highlights the lack of a dedicated HR position at the museum, with staff concerned that human resourcing issues are "currently dealt with by the director".
"Staff enjoy their work and want to be proud of it, but issues of workload, inadequate resourcing, management style, and poor communication cause feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration," it says.
Staff told the report writer they believe that decisions made by the senior leaders and/or director are handed down to managers.
"Because of this they believe managers are 'shut down' by senior leaders/director when they advocate on behalf of staff or when making decisions re work objectives and workloads," the report says.
"Consequently, they believe managers are reluctant to take issues higher as they are under pressure to do what is expected by senior leaders at the expense of the issues raised by staff."
It later says, "Some senior leaders express they are micromanaged by the director and that red-edits to their communications and other documents are disempowering and unnecessary."
The report also notes that staff "consistently report the organisation is not transparent as most decisions are made by the director".
Its main suggestion for improvements was to employ an HR person.
However, the Herald understands that it still hasn't happened - although the board says the museum has "HR capability in-house and use specialist external advice as necessary".
The trust, who Wright reports to, moved away from London-based IiP last year and have since adopted the Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey.
Former employees interviewed during a months-long Herald investigation consistently alleged Wright's management style was "old school" and authoritarian.
They believe Wright is "autocratic", overseeing every decision, sitting in on job interviews and making final calls on hires.
They believe that Wright controls everything – a leadership style that results in staff feeling belittled, undervalued, overworked, yet underutilised.
"He [Wright] doesn't seem to believe that anyone else has the ability to make any decisions," one ex-worker told the Herald.
"So you have a whole tier of good, experienced managers but they're not allowed to make any decisions – not even in relation to who they want to employ."
One ex-employee said they believed that the museum's senior management style is like "stepping back into the sixties".
Another said: "The museum is a wonderful place, an important part of Christchurch, but it could be so much better."
The museum is a stand-alone entity that receives funding from Christchurch City Council, as well as the Waimakariri, Hurunui and Selwyn district councils, for its operational budgets, as well as money from other funders and sponsors, including the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, Friends of Canterbury Museum, and other trusts and private estates.
When approached for comment yesterday, Canterbury Museum Trust Board chairman David Ayers said the board employs a policy of not publicly discussing employment matters "relating to any of our staff".
Ayers said the museum's 2018 annual IiP survey indicated that there were "some areas where the museum could improve its people practices".
An external consultant was commissioned to report on the issues raised in the IiP report.
And in May 2019, when the "staff consultation report" was being finalised, Ayers said that members of the board received "an anonymous letter suggesting that the director did not intend sharing the report with the board".
"Board members received a copy of the final report from the director and were briefed on it at a meeting in early June 2019," Ayers told the Herald.
"The board noted the issues raised in the report but were confident in the processes that management proposed to address these issues," Ayers said.
"This anonymous letter is the one and only 'complaint', either written or oral, that the board has received about the director or a senior leader."
As a result of the report to the board, a group of managers worked with an independent adviser to review and make recommendations to improve internal capability and working practices in the museum, Ayers said, and to "upskill our leaders through coaching and management training".
"They also recommended that we move to Gallup Q12 as the way we measure the impact of people practices on culture and performance," he added.
"At the same time, in preparation for the proposed museum redevelopment, we began a repositioning of our staffing structure, starting with the recruitment of three new senior staff who, with the director, are leading the organisation through the changes required to prepare for the planned building redevelopment.
"One of the major initiatives currently underway is developing a people and capability strategy designed to ensure we have the right people, with the right skills and a supportive working environment."
Ayers added that "more than 75 per cent" of staff attended eight workshops last week which were "positive with a high level of engagement'.
He acknowledged that the 2010-11 earthquakes resulted in staffing capacity being reduced and resulting in "pressure and stress for some".
Wright, who was also approached for comment, said, "I've nothing further that I wish to add."