Client Partner Spotlight: Speed Art Museum

Edited by Heather Hise
Vice President, Marketing & Communications

Editor’s note: Recently, my colleagues DeVon Hankins and Emily Karem wrapped up a project for strategic plan alignment with the Speed Art Museum. I had the privilege of interviewing them and their client partner, Raphaela Platow, director of the Speed, on how that plan will guide the museum’s next phase of service to the community.

The foundation for the plan and the Speed itself is based on the critical components of equity, inclusion, and belonging. The plan incorporates goals for turning their culture “inside out,” which include physical changes to the museum that make it more accessible, inclusive, and welcoming for all visitors. The Speed team considered how to shape spaces of belonging, such as adding seating areas in different parts of the museum, renovating the café and entrance, and developing the outdoor art park.

Please enjoy this lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Raphaela Platow, left, and DeVon Hankins.

Heather: Raphaela, why did you choose to bring in Ashley|Rountree as a partner in this process?

Raphaela: At the Speed, we were all in total agreement that we needed a plan, and that everyone had to have ownership over it. I thought about the notion of “power over” and how we could shape culture that moves away from that idea and instead toward a model that is more cooperative and collaborative. Of course, it was still important to have order and define everyone’s role in the process, but I knew it couldn’t be an imposition from above.

I think strategic planning is a time when there’s tremendous value in having a neutral third party as your partner. It allows the organization’s leader to step back, evaluate, and see the team’s performance. How well are people collaborating? Where are there disconnects?

Heather: How was the team at the Speed involved in the process?

Emily: Raphaela, you involved significantly more people than most leaders do in strategic planning, but it really proved to be an asset to the final product that there were so many different hands on the plan.

Raphaela: You’re right. I truly believe the further removed you are from the work, the less you understand it and its details. It was important to me to have the people who will execute the plan in the room, and for the leaders to see they could gain so much by listening and truly understanding what everyone is contributing. That was the intention behind it.

DeVon: I agree, the level of involvement was unique to the Speed’s culture. We understood that this was a way for the strategic plan to reflect your internal culture and to demonstrate that the Speed is an organization “owned” by the community.

Heather: Raphaela, how did the process align with your leadership style?

Raphaela: My leadership style is to integrate and collaborate across the entire institution, and those values are reflected in the strategic plan narrative but are also something that we live internally on a daily basis.

DeVon: From the beginning, I took note of the level of willingness to dive into what you’d created in previous strategic planning work. We had to unpack it and refine it, and commit to having sometimes-sensitive conversations about how to deal with “elephants in the room” so you could execute the new vision you had for yourselves. It takes courage, and the Speed was willing to do it.

Raphaela: That is so powerful and true. It does take courage and trust. I try to live out the notion that every idea, comment, and perspective is a good one, and I try to leave my own judgments, assumptions, and attachments at the door. The team really had to navigate through the process which allowed me to see their incredible talents and where some opportunities are. Sometimes without realizing it, I jump in and supplement where I feel like I need to, and that distorts the picture. It was incredible that you and Emily held that space for me to be on the outside at times and do a lot of learning along the way. I learned a whole lot about my team. They’re all so different and had so many interesting insights along the way.

You came in as great leaders and adapted to our style, approach, quirkiness, and different personalities. It can get a little messy at times, and it’s important that that happens, too. So I thank you for allowing me to let everyone figure it out, even when it got messy or frustrating. In the end, it all came together!

Heather: How will the strategy impact the Speed moving forward?

Emily: Raphaela is very open and she encourages that from her team as well. This strategic plan is critical to moving the Speed forward and it was clear from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a case of “going through the motions.” She gave her team the sense of, “We are doing this and it’s going to lead us into our future.”

DeVon: You have to be visionary but also walk with your people. Raphaela, you really gave your colleagues and stakeholders a chance to step out of their comfort zones and take advantage of that space to fall forward. It would’ve been easy to put the safety net under them by offering up direction and answers to tough questions, but to become the leaders they need to be to execute the plan, they needed to go through that journey.

It was great that you were vulnerable yourself. More than once, you admitted you didn’t have all the answers and asked for everyone’s expertise to help find those answers. The team understood they had value. Your willingness to say, “I don’t know it all,” made room for the team to step in and show up. They felt valued because they knew they were being heard.

Raphaela: What you call vulnerable, I just call honest! If I really don’t know something, I don’t feel the need to cover it up. Today’s problems are so complex and complicated, nobody can have all the answers.

Emily: That’s a special trait to be able to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

DeVon: It gives you a chance to say, “There’s no wrong or right way. So let’s throw everything on the table and collaboratively distill it so we get the best way.” Everyone can own this plan because they contributed to it. It’s so critical to give your people room to do what they do and ensure they have the tools and resources they need to be successful. You did that really well and then stepped away to allow them to have those team conversations. And you also trusted them to come up with sound solutions.

Raphaela: How we work internally absolutely informs how we show up in our galleries and to the outside world. The strategic plan pulls that together from the inside out, and the way the whole plan was created reflects our values that are external facing. We are thrilled with the progress we made together—as a team and with Ashley|Rountree—and I am confident the Speed is set up for many good things to come as we look ahead to our next century of service to this community.

Interested in learning more about Ashley|Rountree’s strategic planning services? Contact DeVon for a conversation!