To be or not to be? Shakespeare’s HRD on the future of the arts

Shakespeare's Globe's HRD reveals how his HR team kept morale up throughout the pandemic

To be or not to be? Shakespeare’s HRD on the future of the arts

When it comes to iconic landmarks, you don’t get much more awe-inspiring than Shakespeare’s Globe, the Arts and Education charity founded by Sam Wanamaker over 20 years ago, located on London’s Bankside.

The Globe is a faithful reconstruction of the original Elizabethan playhouse that played host to Shakespeare’s works some 450 years ago – and is situated just 200 yards from its original setting.

Nestled on the banks of London’s River Thames, the attraction draws thousands of tourists, patrons, school-children and academics from all across the world – keen to  see Shakespeare’s plays in a setting that would have been familiar to the theatre-going public at that time.

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And The Globe isn’t just a theatre – it’s also a centre of excellence in learning for schools, higher education and academics and is home to an incredible archive of printed and also digital materials.

However, even such an iconic, world-famous venue and tourist attraction isn’t immune to the effect of COVID-19.

The arts industry has been one of the hardest hit since the pandemic began - with many popular theatre and music venues being force to close in order comply with government guidelines and restrictions on mass gatherings and large-scale entertainment.

We spoke to Andrew Lawson, who leads the People Function at Shakespeare’s Globe, to hear how his team are keeping up morale during these challenging months.

"Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York"
-Richard III

“First of all, we're trying to stay really positive,” Lawson prefaced.

“Because of the lockdown, we’re having to abide by certain restrictions. However, we believe that tourism and our audiences will return – after all, this is London and there is pent-up demand for entertainment and a respite from the grimness of world events.

“We are hoping for a growth in staycations to replace overseas tourism as England’s capital starts to revive –  and although it is extraordinarily difficult to predict exactly when demand will return to normal, we’re hoping for a bounce back next summer.”

The arts have been penalised more so than any other sector, as social distancing led to the closure of popular theatre and music venues. But for Lawson, it’s all about keeping people engaged, informed and connected when it comes to any changes.

“What we've tried to do throughout the lockdown is aim to keep everyone up to date. We’ve had to furlough 85% of our staff – but we still want to stay in touch and many employees have been feeling isolated, missing their colleagues and their workplace.

“We’ve provided free access to some of our digital content and back catalogue - as well as running a regular video update from our chief executives on how things are progressing. It’s also important to us that we keep our employees abreast of any reopening and recovery plans as well as updates on industry news and changes to policy such as the furlough scheme.

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“Closer to Christmas we’re planning some shared theatrical events that we can watch together – although sadly it won’t be at the Globe itself which remains ‘dark’ until we can re-open safely. 

“Line managers have also been keeping their own teams updated and connected via our virtual meeting platforms and we hope that later in the year we’ll be able to share better news about our plans for next spring. I can’t say it hasn’t been challenging but we’ve also invested in a very good employee assistance scheme including access to counselling and financial advice as well a digital well-being app to support those who need a daily focus on their wellbeing and mental health.

“What we can't do is paint a pretty picture when it is very, very challenging right now.”

“Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars”
-Julius Caesar

Lawson’s passion for the arts shines through – even in these difficult times.

Working somewhere as breath-taking as Shakespeare’s Globe is something of a dream for many – and for Lawson it was a case of passion meeting profession.

“I’d had numerous roles within retail, hospitality, telecoms, fine dining restaurants and bars both in the commercial and charity sectors, some were start-ups and some large established global brands,” he told HRD.

“I was made redundant from my last role in the hospitality sector and took some time to take stock of what I really wanted to do next. I knew that change, transformation, culture, inclusion and organisational development were high on the list when I was looking for my next role.

“I’ve always loved the arts having been a regular theatre goer, so when a position at Shakespeare’s Globe incorporating all of those elements became available it was a clear choice.

“I went to see a show in the candle-lit Sam Wanamaker playhouse one summer’s evening. It was just awe-inspiring. I thought at the time, this is absolute magic – this is exactly where I want to be.

“I walked along the bankside of the Thames after my second interview, just looking out over the river, and I was sold. It’s been the most incredible role I’ve had in my career to date.”

“Well, sir, learn to jest in good time; there's a time for all things”
-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Musing over his time at Shakespeare’s Globe, Lawson has many reasons to be proud. By April he’d completed the third year of a comprehensive, three-year people plan – re-constructing the HR function and putting in place a platform of new systems, structures and people skills in order to deliver the plan.

From a superb HR team to a diverse program of work, it’s clear that people strategy at the iconic theatre is second to none.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve delivered over the past three years – re-imagining recruitment, investing in training and learning, implementing a new people system, better job design, a new online learning platform and we even developed a unique apprenticeship model – a real partnership between the learner, line manager, the college provider and our on-site mentors,” added Lawson.

“This model has actually been adopted elsewhere once they’d heard about our success.

“On top of this, we’ve invested significantly in leadership development and inclusive leadership training for our executive teams. We’ve been very busy – but there’s still so much more we want to achieve.”

“The future in the instant”
-Macbeth

And looking ahead to 2021? Lawson believes it’s all about building on their already stellar employee programs.

“We’ve just about completed our business recovery plan as we work towards re-opening,” Lawson told HRD.

“Right now, we’re thinking about re-induction, diversity and inclusion and anti-racist work practices, defining the future culture we want to create – supported by a set of core values and all the other myriads of ways we can thrive in the future.”

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