Decision making in a museum

By April 10, 2019 Features

By Peter Midnight, Pacific Locomotive Association

Reproduced with permission from the PLA’s Club Car newsletter, this story struck the HRA editor as a practical description about how decision making really works in a well-run museum.

Nominations will soon be open for several positions on our Board of Di­rectors (including mine). The members of our board are not the masters of the organization nor entirely slaves to it, but we are responsible for coordinating the budget and other matters that affect the overall operation. Membership on the board is just one more of the many roles you might be inclined to play in the operation of the PLA. Even so, there is a path to that role, and like most roles in PLA, that path begins with membership in PLA, itself. 22 new members are taking that first step this month, toward whatever their roles will be.

Certainly, the Board of Directors has unique influence within PLA, but that is not where the day to day decisions are made. Everyone of us actively involved in any part of the operation is respon­sible to the rest of us for what they are doing and, to a great extent, for decid­ing how it gets done. Therefore, when you are thinking about what else you might like to be doing in PLA, it makes sense to consider what details of how things are done feel the most important to you. If you particularly care about how much we charge for tickets, for example, or when we run steam, or what color something is painted, then you need to find out where in the orga­nization those particular decisions are made and then consider becoming one of the people involved in making those decisions. There are official commit­tees and department heads, just as there is a Board of Directors, but very often, the people actually making the decisions that leave a lasting mark are those who will do the work that those decisions pertain to. When someone is willing to do the work, that weighs heavily toward approval of that per­son’s judgment regarding the details.

No one gets to decide about every­thing that matters to them. None of us can be everywhere and do everything that is really important to us personally. Just as in any other institution, we each are likely to see some things being done within PLA that we believe should be done differently. That is something we each just have to accept. The futil­ity of trying to change how something will be done after a plan has already been worked out and approved is a real fun suck that we all need to learn how to avoid. Any of us can find an ac­tive role in PLA that makes good use of whatever our own individual talents and abilities might be and that also gives us some influence in a part of the operation that feels especially import­ant to us. That is how we can help to make sure at least that part gets done right. That is how we can each feel we are contributing something of real val­ue and making a real difference. That is a part of the magic of PLA that could lie ahead for any of those 22 people named above and it could be there for you, as well. I hope you, too, will make the most of this very special opportuni­ty for yourself.

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