A Case Study of Iolani Palace
Officially the former residence of Hawaiian royalty, Iolani Palace is now a living restoration and museum for a proud Hawaiian national identity. In 2013, the Palace faced the same challenges as many museums: how could staff do more with fewer resources, especially when competition for those resources was pitting departments against each other? How could they be better partners in their communities? How could they work effectively with their boards of directors?
These challenges compounded internal problems such as poor communication and silos. Teams allowed their personalities and biases to shape interactions. Meetings were more like negotiations – with leveraging and posturing, winners and losers – than effective problem-solving sessions. Seeing themselves as having competing goals, departments tended to clash. For example, the curatorial and security departments became highly territorial. They both tried to protect the museum the way they saw fit, without trying to understand the other department’s role.
Performance metrics reflected these conflicts: the Palace had high numbers of visitor complaints, budgets in the red, and poor staff morale.
The Director of the Palace, Kippen de Alba Chu, was introduced to Arbinger in 2015. He saw immediate personal benefits and believed that creating an outward mindset culture could help his team overcome the challenges they faced. After completing the Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset workshop and its Train-the-Trainer component, Kippen began facilitating Arbinger’s material for Palace staff. He started with the senior-most team and cascaded the workshops downward. After about a year, he held a follow-up workshop that reviewed the materials and asked managers to share stories of successes, failures, and lessons learned from the year. Later, Kippen introduced the Outward Mindset Skills for Leaders performance management system to the organization.
The changes in organizational mindset and culture have been astounding. Although some staff chose to leave the organization – which often happens as a natural outcome of these shifts – most employees have found the outward mindset concepts hugely beneficial. For example, communication has become much more effective. Employees focus on the problem at hand, rather than the needs or identities of the problem-solvers. As Kippen said,
“It’s not that there’s more communication now, nor is it taking longer. It’s that the communication is on a deeper level. It solves the problems instead of merely repeating complaints. People still get emotional; they still argue; tears are shed sometimes. But we move through the problems. They don’t define us or stop us; they help us find better solutions. [Staff] tell me that subsequent conversations go more smoothly because they’ve gone through the hard stuff already.”
The curatorial and security departments better understand one another’s roles, needs, and challenges. They’re curious about each other and want to help one another succeed for the benefit of the entire organization.
These improvements in communication and collaboration have already generated upticks in business metrics. For example, the Palace has significantly improved accounts-receivable for group tour bookings. This metric indicates the ticket office is handling reservations better and providing higher-quality customer service.
And overall business results speak for themselves: ticket sales are up; budgets are in the black; staff turnover is lower; morale is higher.
The Palace had its best year ever in 2016, in terms of number of visitors as well as income. And they are tracking even better for 2017.
The staff excitedly talks about monthly performance. They are proud that when other museums continue to struggle, they are not. This is not out of hubris, but a realization that the Palace had struggled for so many years because of an inward mindset. Knowing this is an ongoing journey, the Palace continues to use Arbinger every day to improve inter-departmental communications and relationships, as well as fostering greater collaboration.