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HR -- Center Stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

August 1, 1997
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
Just off the shores of Lake Erie it stands-a 150,000 square-foot behemoth dedicated entirely to the likes of rock and roll wizardry and spectacle. Founded by a group of influential music industry figures in 1983, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation selected Cleveland, Ohio, for its permanent home in 1986. When the foundation broke ground four years ago, its founders had to build everything from scratch, including a human resources department.

As the contractors dug in June 1993, Anne Alexander, director of HR at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, crammed a shovel into the ground to build the organization's HR department. Alexander, an attorney, put her legal skills to work, as well as her HR expertise and her love of the product. And by September 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum stood tall, as did its HR department.

It's a nostalgic yet "hip" joint, and for that reason, Alexander can cross "hiring" off any problem list she may have. With more people looking to get in than at a Rolling Stones concert, recruitment is never an issue at the museum, and here Alexander explains why.

How did you end up with this particular job in this industry?
A little bit of knowing the right people and a little bit of just being in the right place at the right time. When I came aboard, a lot of HR issues kept developing as a result of hiring a lot of people. All these people kept asking what their benefits were, and no one could answer. I'm an attorney, and the museum's executives wanted somebody who had some legal background because there were a lot of labor-relations issues emerging.

What's your HR background?
I worked in the hospitality industry in HR for about three years. It's interesting how the experience I gained has transferred here because our big focus at the museum is service. It points out how certain backgrounds can transgress across many different industries. Mine certainly did.

Then I went back to a Fortune 500 company shortly after, where I focused on employee relations and employment discrimination. I concurrently attended law school and started here. Overall, I received about eight years of strict HR experience and then experience with labor negotiations.

How do you view the role of HR today?
I look at HR as having to ensure that a satisfied employee equals a productive employee, which equals visitor satisfaction, which might equal visitor loyalty, which might equal repeat business, which equals increased revenue. I think HR needs to be cognizant of what the mission of a particular institution is and work toward achieving it in a proactive way as opposed to being a support entity. In the past, I think HR was looked at as being just a service and support department.

What challenges do you feel are universal to HR?
The biggest challenge is understanding the convoluted laws that are passed. In particular, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Then you throw in workers' compensation. When I talk to other people and other HR professionals, we say how we'd love it if the government could just make the rules more clear-cut.

Why do you suppose the foundation chose Cleveland as the museum's site?
I think Cleveland has a lot to offer. There are major sports teams and a very strong cultural base that the city strongly supports, whether it's the orchestra or the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland really supports those types of arts, as well as our museum. The museum has a strong visitor base from Cleveland and the surrounding states.

Was it difficult to start a museum from scratch in 1995, from an HR perspective?
That was an interesting challenge from our preopening standpoint. I was part of the museum about a year-and-a-half before it opened. It was very interesting to watch how the staff planning was in early 1994, and how it ended up in September 1995. It was different than we had anticipated. Before the museum opened, no one really knew what to expect.

This is a museum, but it's also looked upon as a tourist attraction, and it gets a large amount of visitors. With the traffic flow and the physical space inside the museum, we had to look at a lot of ways to strategically space our visitor service staff. The preopening staffing was a challenge. If we look at it in 20-20 hindsight, we would've done it completely different. But I thought we did an OK job.

Because of the nature of the museum, I imagine you wouldn't have many problems finding applicants.
We don't have any recruitment problems. I think what's unique is that we always have a great applicant pool. We get a lot of unsolicited resumes. And when we post or list jobs, we're always sure we'll get a significant response. That's really nice because we can really get the cream of the crop, and when we look at the top five candidates, any one could be dynamite. But the initial experience is much easier than I've experienced in other places. And that's probably because of the name attached to the museum.

Do you get a wide range of applicants, or mostly "rockers"?
We get a wide range. That's because I think the museum is perceived as a pretty glamorous workplace. When it comes to looking at employees, the appreciation of the music, the knowledge and the enthusiasm is absolutely a bonus, especially considering the kind of environment they'll be working in. To a certain extent the knowledge is essential, but they also have to be skilled in other areas.

With such a wide range of applicants, what kind of employees, service and skills do you look for?
I look for an individual who's enthusiastic about the subject matter-rock and roll. It's a busy institution with a relatively small staff. Out of the 100 or so employees we have, probably about 50 percent are on the museum floor greeting visitors, providing security and so on. We won't hesitate to put one person in different positions at the museum. It's better when people know different jobs. Everybody wears different hats, so we look for people who are capable of doing more than one thing and carrying several different levels of responsibility.

Are you much of a rock and roll fan?
Yes, of course. When I interviewed, I was asked that. We get a lot of applicants that come in, and they think because they're big rock and roll fans, that's a step in the right direction-and to a certain extent it definitely is. They have to have an appreciation for rock and roll, which I certainly do. But at the same time, they have to be able to do whatever it is we're hiring for.

Any brushes with stardom?
Yes, but they're definitely brushes. I saw Michael Jackson and the artist formerly known as Prince at our induction ceremonies, which were in Cleveland, in May. That is, I saw them from 100 yards away. They were surrounded by their entourages. I've really just seen a lot of people, but I've never really had any one-on-one interaction, I have to be honest. I could make something up, though. But if I did, everybody here would know I was lying. I don't want to go and start rumors of Elvis sightings.

Workforce, August 1997, Vol. 76, No. 8, pp. 27-28.

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