QVMAG NATURAL SCIENCES STAFF
Working with the staff of Natural Sciences at the QVMAG was difficult. Core work was more than a decade behind, morale and productivity were at a rock bottom, infighting was rampant, and time off was rarely accounted for. I was brought in as an agent of change to inspire and revitalise the department back to Council's operational expectations. It was impossible.
Four technical staff worked within Natural Sciences. They were all part timers, adding up to barely 2 1/2 full time positions. Their average length of service was over 20 years, and one of them had been in the job for 33. Two of them lacked degrees in formal scientific education. None of them, to my knowledge, had worked in major mainland or overseas museums, and as a result, their experience was quite narrowly constrained.
Over their long tenure, these staff had managed to mould the section to meet their needs, and fiercely resisted change.
Links from this overview page drill down into the problems I encountered as an agent of reform. Staff spent their time on personal projects and often unnecessary busy work, rather than adopting the Museum's work priorities. An incredibly large volume of petty and ridiculous complaints were made against me, some are outlined here while the rest are being prepared for upload.
|Annette Vains||Craig Reid||Judy Rainbird||Tammy Gordon|
I was hired in to the position of Head of Science, to revitalise a dysfunctional and aimless department. What I found was far worse than I could have imagined.
Core work (e.g., specimen registration and processing, specimen maintenence, and exhibition participation) had more or less ground to a halt for over a decade, staff were each having a go at each other's throats about whatever they could drum up, standard procedures developed by some were outdated and so cumbersome as to be boycotted by others, unsafe practices were commonplace, and refusing to account for large amounts of time off was the norm.
Volunteers who had much to offer were unwelcome, and only those "in the in-group" were granted the privilege of being allowed to participate (that is to say, you had to be someone's friend to be welcome). Two such unwelcome people included Mr Jeff Campbell, a highly skilled and valuable botanist, and Ms Jane Taylor, a keen and knowledgeable recent University graduate. Jeff was given a series of meaningless 'busy work' tasks when I invited him back, and Jane was subjected to an array of ridiculous complaints when I recruited her. Both these people had a lot to offer the Museum, and neither deserved this sort of treatment.
Breaches of Good Science and Public Trust
I believe that some very serious breaches of good museum practice are taking place at the QVMAG. Some of the more memorable things that I tried to fix, but was sacked before I was successful, included:
- Important unregistered specimens (including thylacine material)
- Discarding data from specimens brought in by the public
- Truly massive backlog in unregistered specimens
- More than 80% of the collection unidentified
- Refusal to account for time off
- Refusal to follow safety procedures
- Woefully inadequate specimen security
These things NEED to be investigated and resolved. These things are, at the very least, carelessness; at the worst, they can lead to theft. In all cases, they are breaches of the public trust and serious malpractice.
See my page on Please Explain for more detail on these issues.
What did staff spend their time doing?
- Downloading pirated videos
- Playing solitaire
- Busy work: Re-labelling filing folders
- Busy work: Re-arranging and re-labelling the collections unnecessarily
- Meticulous notes about other people's actions and inactions
- Unbelievably petty complaints about my fingernails and unrinsed coffee cups
Well, wasn't this just bad management?
No, far from it. You may well ask why, as a manager, I allowed these practices to happen, and why my supervisor tolerated them. The collapse in Natural Sciences that ran from April - December 2009 and resulted in our sackings the following year, was the result of my staff's increasingly violent and under-handed resistance to necessary reforms. We did try to deal with their resistance, only to be met with an amping-up of that resistance.
Enormous steps were taken by a lot of people to try to resolve this situation (e.g., The Australian Services Union, Newport and Wildman Mediators, Buck International (professional coaching), the Human Resources Department, the General Manager, and a parade of counsellors and GP's). Unfortunately, the process underway under Frank Dixon (our General Manager at the time), which would have resulted in a sensible and productive resolution, was aborted with the arrival of Robert Dobrzynski in May 2010. We were playing by the rules and trying to rebuild the department, but unfortunately the other side wasn't (e.g., not following the EBA dispute resolution procedures, not accepting the mediation process, etc.).
Throughout the hundreds of pages of written complaints that I was given access to on 23rd December (about four hours before I was fired), the number and detail of petty and vindictive gripes is simply unbelievable. Click here for a synopsis of some of the more ridiculous, and click here for a list of downloads of my staff's own documents that will probably make you laugh or cry, depending on whether you A) care about professionalism in the public service, B) seriously enjoy Fawlty Towers, or C) are a Launceston Rate Payer.
Among some of the more bizarre subjects that made their way into complaints against me:
- My well manicured fingernails (which allegedly kept me from doing meaningful work)
- My tattoo (of Darwin's tree of life, which was interpreted as sexual harassment)
- My word choices for familiar address (e.g, Dear team, Kiddo, Comrade, and the like)
- My left breast
- My personal relationships
One of my friends commented about a year ago that even Dr Phil could not have resolved this situation. Another of my friends more recently said that Buddha himself could not have found peace. And the previous General Manager, Mr Frank Dixon, commented that you couldn't get my staff to work in an iron lung. Well, I will hold onto these sentiments as I try to rebuild my tattered career.