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How Rijksmuseum drastically changed its performance management system

Performance & Productivity


August 13, 2019

August 26, 2020

In a short amount of time, Rijksmuseum went from measuring staff performance using standardized surveys and fixed annual performance reviews to a system based on accountability and personal development. Here’s how one of Amsterdam’s biggest museums decided to put their employees in charge of their own development.

The case Rijksmuseum

In over a decade world-famous Rijksmuseum grew from having 420 to an astounding 770 staff members. After a 10-year period of renovation, the museum reopened its doors to the public in 2013 and as a result, took on over 350 people. With a bigger variety of new and more assertive staff came the need to develop a different way of monitoring performance.

Employees at Rijksmuseum vary from security personnel to scientists, conservators and highly skilled experts specialized in – let’s say – tin bowls from the 17th century. One single performance system to asses employees working in over 160 wildly different positions? Yep. Challenge accepted. Rijksmuseum HR-advisor Bart Schindeler (36): “Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to look at our challenges from a different perspective.”

VIE People HR-consultant Bonnie Luijten (39) recalls her first meeting with one of the museum’s directors. “He asked me what the newest and best performance management system was.” There is no such thing, Bonnie answered. “Every company would be using it by now if there was.” Instead, looking at the true needs and wishes of the organization and at its current company culture is the way to go.  

Ranking and rewarding

VIE and the HR department of Rijksmuseum joined forces and got to work. The verdict: members of each layer of the organization found the current performance management system to be unmotivating, routinely, outdated and unpractical.

Performance was graded on a scale from A to D, evaluated by managers by ticking boxes on a survey. Staff attended a mandatory yearly performance review led by their managers – potentially leading to a raise – and one yearly assessment interview. The system was based on ranking and rewarding.

"We found that some managers find it difficult to honestly asses their staff members. When performance was suboptimal, they ended up ticking the ‘average’ box”, Schindeler explains. Research suggests that also in other companies this is often the case when managers are asked to fill out a survey about their employees. Needless to say, this approach rarely leads to improvement.

Things had to change. And they did

Intensive sessions with directors, managers and employees of the organization followed. More than half a year of research and brainstorms gave rise to a totally different way of doing things. The ranking-system had to go and so did the mandatory performance reviews. Instead, each staff member now automatically gets a raise. No lengthy forms, no ticking boxes, but a personal approach in which the employee takes the lead.

Every team discusses next year’s goals and targets during an annual team meeting. Instead of the team leader, the employee initiates, plans and prepares the one-on-one annual development talk between the manager and employee. A performance review will no longer occur annually, but only when a staff member excels or when things are not going well.

Gradually the museum is changing its’ work culture. An open feedback culture? One bridge too far, for now. Schindeler: “Going from ranking and filling out a form to giving feedback in a face-to-face conversation is a huge step we aren’t ready for yet.” Rijksmuseum staff will slowly ease into the idea by opening up the possibility to give and receive feedback during the one-on-ones.

Surprising outcome

Although the museum is in the middle of its transitional year, the first reactions to the changes have been very positive. So far, almost every department had its first annual team meeting. Guided by a simple form, the board of directors formulate the vision and priorities of the museum, which the department managers translate into team goals for that year. From there on each individual employee decides how he/she will contribute to achieving those targets.  

Barbera van Kooij (57), head of the publishing department was surprised by the outcome. Having her team members reflect on and suggest their own targets based on the priorities of the museum allowed staff to break away from their daily work grind. “Questioning their own ambitions and aims and being presented with the vision and goals of the museum as a whole triggered a feeling of belonging. A true team mentality. Also, my team came up with additional ideas and started taking on extra responsibilities because they felt they could contribute to the bigger picture.”

Curious if Rijksmuseum managed to fully turn its system upside down? Changing systems and mindsets takes time. Stay tuned for the evaluation in 2020.

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