A current employee of Canterbury Museum – the under-fire Christchurch institution accused of having an "authoritarian" and "micro-managing" leadership – has spoken out to deny the museum's claims that improvements are being made.
The Herald yesterday revealed that long-serving museum director Anthony Wright and senior management were labelled in a 2019 workplace report "old-style" and "very paternalistic".
The report, leaked to the Herald, highlighted staff concerns over museum leadership, particularly Wright, a trained botanist who has led the museum since 1996, and his alleged "controlling" style.
The findings are supported by a number of former employees who told the Herald during its months-long investigation about their concerns, including the reported lack of a dedicated human resources (HR) department or HR manager at the museum.
However, the chairman of the Canterbury Museum Trust Board, a registered charitable trust that governs the museum, responded yesterday to say that Wright is an "outstanding" director who has given 25 years of "exemplary service" to the museum and has the board's full support.
The chairman, former Waimakariri mayor David Ayers, said while the museum's 2018 annual Investors in People (IiP) survey indicated there were "some areas where the museum could improve its people practices", changes had since been made.
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".
"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," Ayers said.
"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."
However, after the Herald's story was published yesterday, a current museum staff member came forward, wanting to give their side of the story.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, they said there still was no HR department.
But the board says the museum has "HR capability in-house and use specialist external advice as necessary".
The current employee believes nothing has changed over the last two to three years, despite the IiP reports and the new initiatives highlighted by the board.
There were was a downcast mood amongst staff, they claimed.
"It's very down," they claimed in an interview with the Herald.
The staff member believes "it's run the same way it's always been ... It doesn't matter how many reports they do, nothing changes".
"Everything has to go through the director," they alleged.
"It's not an open environment. Ideas are not encouraged, people aren't encouraged to get better. Whatever abilities you brought into the job aren't utilised because the management structure is such that they don't recognise the skills you come in with."
The worker believes there is no creative spark, claiming that people "aren't confident to raise new ideas when they know it'll just be shot down".
"Everyone is very flat – the team is not happy," the staff member claims.
Ayers told the Herald this week that "more than 75 per cent" of staff attended eight workshops last week which were "positive with a high level of engagement'.
But the current staff member said since the IiP reports there are "countless meaningless meetings" which, they say, doesn't fill staff with confidence that anything will change.
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.
Christchurch City Council, which has four councillors sitting on the trust board, yesterday refused to get involved.
A spokeswoman said: "It wouldn't be appropriate for the council to comment on this, given the Canterbury Museum is an independent organisation reporting to its own board."
Museums Aotearoa, a Wellington-based organisation which advocates and supports museums, galleries, and heritage properties, was aware that Canterbury Museum had enlisted three senior staff members recently.
But executive director Phillipa Tocker said funding pressures are an increasing challenge for museums, especially in a global pandemic.
"It's a real challenge across all our sectors to maintain the work we do without over-taxing staff," Tocker said.
Wright was also approached for comment this week but said he had nothing more to add to what the board responded with.