Change is Good

January 5, 2010

Yesterday, Colleen and I were walking back from lunch and we ran into one of our staff whom I had not seen since before the holidays.  She had a very good holiday season as she became engaged, bought a new home and new furnishings.  Naturally, she was beyond happy. You could see her happiness coming from every pore of her body.  Her effusiveness while telling us about her latest life happenings, her body language, her eyes…..all spectacularly happy.  It was absolutely contagious.

Around May of 2009, this particular staff member was informed that her position that she has dutifully performed for 10 years was going away due to budget issues.  She was literally handed a new job description.  One that had absolutely nothing to do with the type of work she had been doing.  I was impressed with her positive attitude about this situation then and to say that now would be the biggest understatement on the planet.  She has embraced every aspect of her new position with energy, enthusiasm and flexibility.  It is amazing to watch and I could not be any more proud to have her in our department.

In our conversation yesterday she kept repeating something: “Change is good.  It is hard at first, but you have to go through.  It’s scary, but sometimes when something isn’t working you have to make a change.”  She recognized how much change she has gone through in her professional life this past year, and admits that while it was scary at first, in the end it turned out to be a good thing.

Her feelings nicely sum up my own thoughts about work and life.  Change is good.  We may not always realize it when it is happening, but if we allow ourselves to take a step back, give it some time or space, and look at it objectively we will find something positive.  I’m hoping to continue the trend of positive change that we’ve been riding in ADS for the past two years.  I am hoping that 2010 will be the year ADS kicks ass.  I think with people like this in the department there is no way that can’t happen.

I was going to title this post Compassionate Management, but I think I want to go bigger than just this one aspect.  Confrontation. Most people hate it.  A small number love it, while a much larger number work diligently to avoid it.  Contrary to what people may think, this is not a part of being a manager that makes our year.  We do not relish in it, and it can be an extremely uncomfortable interaction.

A while ago I wrote a post about Giving and Receiving Feedback.  It is one of the most popular posts on this site and it is extremely applicable in this discussion. Rather than re-hash it, I want to expand on it a bit.  As managers we have a responsibility to our superiors, our employers and most importantly, our staff to provide performance feedback and guidance.  Ignoring under performers and claiming blissful ignorance, or covering for those whose work is not up to standard helps no one and hurts a heck of a lot of people.  I come to work each day and have to look each of my staff in the face and tell them I am working hard to help them.  If I chose not to address blatant performance issues I would be lying to them.  I don’t like lying or liars.

Confronting someone about their performance or behavior is not a fun or easy task.  There have been many books written about how to conduct a performance discussion and/or review.  All give solid advice and I have used many of the tips and strategies.  The important thing to remember is that a person needs to understand and accept responsibilty for their performance and behavior.  They need to know how they will be evaluated and that they will be held accountable when issues arise. As managers we need to work with staff to correct or improve performance. We need to provide our feedback in a constructive manner, clearly and concisely.  And most importantly, set expectations and deadlines if necessary.

This is not a joyous or fun part of being a manager.  Confrontation is a part of life – work life, home life, personal life.  At work, it is just abou that.  It’s not personal and should not be taken that way.  No one likes to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear.  No one likes firing anyone.  I would not want to work for someone who enjoyed these types of interactions.

Annual performance appraisal time has come and gone at MPOW and with it comes the ups and downs of giving and receiving feedback. One of the hardest things a manager has to do is provide feedback about a person’s performance. It is especially difficult if the feedback is negative, for aside from the discomfort that comes along with telling someone something they don’t want to hear, comes the potentially unpleasant experience of them telling you all sorts of things that you don’t want to hear. However, there are some tactics you can employ to make the experience go smoothly and help turn an uncomfortable situation into a positive and constructive one.

Giving Feedback:

1. Be Clear: Know what you want to say and make sure you are saying it clearly. Write it out beforehand and practice the conversation that you want to have.

2. Be Specific: Address the exact issues. Avoid generalizations. Give examples of the behavior or performance that needs to be corrected or is at issue.

3. Emphasize the Positive: Don’t let the entire conversation be negative. If possible, emphasize and encourage what is working well. However, do not sandwich negative feedback in between positive comments. This may deemphasize the importance of the areas needing improvement. Begin or end the discussion with the positive.

4. Focus on the Behavior NOT the Person: This is not personal, it is professional. It has nothing to do with who someone is, but about the actions they exhibit while at work. Discuss specific behaviors and cite examples, do not make assumptions about or imply anything about a person’s personality, intelligence, demeanor, etc. The desired outcome of the discussion is a change in behavior, not a radical transformation of a person’s character.

5. Own the Feedback: Don’t pretend to be the messenger. You’re the manager, you’ve observed the areas of improvement, you’re performing the evaluation. Don’t try to kid yourself or your employee by acting like the criticism is coming from someplace else.

6. Don’t Provide Advice: Very often people don’t need advice on how to change poor performance- they usually know the cause and if it is a repetitive problem they have heard all the advice they can hear. Instead of offering your personal insight and advice, allow the person to take ownership of their problem and discuss a plan of improvement. Ask what they can do to change a situation. What can you work on together to reach the desired outcome? How can they work better? What will they do to improve their situation?

7. Discuss Expectations and Timelines: Clearly lay out expectations and the time frame in which to achieve them. Clearly define benchmarks and how they will be evaluated. Make sure that employees understand what is expected of them and that you will be watching for improvement. Make sure employees understand the consequences if they fail to change or improve behavior.

Receiving Feedback:

1. Don’t Justify or Argue your Position: Don’t lose your temper. Ever. Arguing will only make an uncomfortable situation worse and solves nothing.

2. Have Some Perspective: Remember that this is about specific behavior or instances. This is not personal and is not a judgment or indictment of you as a person. You’re having a discussion about how you interact with patrons at a service desk, not about the moral fiber of your soul.

3. Think Before you Respond: Listen to what is being said and consider it before responding. Ask questions, ask for clarification. Don’t interrupt or have a biting comeback for every comment. Consider what the feedback is about and why it is negative. Ask yourself if there is any truth to it before shooting off a response.

4. Don’t Sulk: Act like an adult, not a child. It is perfectly acceptable to give yourself some space while thinking about what has been said; however ignoring someone, sulking, or being nasty are not effective and mature responses to processing and handling negative feedback.

5. Choose Your Path: No matter what is said and discussed, ultimately what you do with feedback is your decision. You can choose to look at it as a learning and growth experience and use it to improve yourself and your work, or you can stew about it and let it consume you. Own your actions and decisions. Be honest with yourself- is the criticism something you have heard before and are struggling with? Do you need assistance in turning performance around? Are you happy in your work environment?

No one likes to hear anything negative about themselves. Giving someone negative feedback is not a fun experience. It is not something managers look forward to doing. The best we can hope for is that we take a bad situation and make it a positive one by honestly discussing issues and working together to develop strategies for improvement.

I was asked if I had any more advice on how to intellectually separate the professional/personal life and deal with the consequences that decisions in one have on the other. I am trying to avoid a lame, cop-out answer like, it boils down to your personality type, but I may not be able to steer clear from there. I thought about this a lot today and I think that there are several strategies that can be helpful here.

The main issue is when we, as managers, are forced to make uncomfortable decisions or move into an arena outside of our comfort zone. How do we not allow those incidents and feelings to invade our personal lives?

Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we are forced to deal with a situation that just plain sucks from every angle and there is no graceful, pleasant solution and we end up taking that home with us.  Through experience I have learned some ways to make this part of the manager job less painful.

1.  Be honest and transparent from day one. Establishing a reputation as an honest, straight shooter who does not talk around a point, nor act evasive when asked a direct question goes a long way when having to deal with an unpleasant personnel situation.  People want to hear the truth and know what is going to happen to them, vague or untrue responses will only add fuel to the fire and can make a situation go from bad to worse in a heartbeat.

2.  Give constant positive and/or corrective feedback. I am constantly amazed when people are surprised that they are getting a less than stellar evaluation or are reprimanded for repetitive unacceptable behavior.  A good manager discusses a behavior, conduct, or performance issue with the staff member the first time it happens and provides corrective or instructive feedback and sets clear expectations for change.  On the flip side, positive reinforcement lets staff know that what they are doing is great and is encouraged.  It is easier to point out horrible customer service when stellar customer service is praised.  If a problem is recurring, it should be dealt with every single time it happens.  If a disciplinary process exists, you may need to utilize it, and no one should be surprised that this is where the issue went.

3.  Maintain trust. Staff are more apt to discuss issues honestly with you if they know that it won’t end up as Monday morning gossip.  This one really speaks for itself.  You can not be a successful manager if you can’t keep private information private.

4.  Accept that people are the master of their own destiny. One of my favorite sayings is that, “I am not responsible for keeping anyone in a job.  I am responsible for coaching, mentoring, providing feedback, setting goals and objectives, and working together with staff to create a positive work environment.  After that, it is on you.”  You can’t force someone to do what they need to do, nor can you force them to change.  All you can do is help provide the tools, incentives, instructions and guidance to help them perform up to expectations.  It is not your fault if they choose not to take advantage of what you are offering and then suffer the consequences.  This is heavily tied to honest, open communication.  You need to make sure that you are communicating expectations and assistance clearly and concisely.  Sometimes referring a person to outside resources (i.e. HR or training & development) is a solution.  Whatever the course of action, make sure you are clearly laying out the path that needs to be followed.  Assist when necessary, but beyond that, you can’t make a person take the path.

5. Have a life outside work. I know this sounds trite and smug, but it is a lot easier to deal with work when you have something to look forward to when you leave at the end of the day.  We have all been workaholics at one time or another.  We have all put in the 14 hour days, but at some point it needs to end and a healthy balance of work and life needs to happen.  Indulge in your favorite hobby, go out with friends and loved ones, go home and talk about something else.  It is often said and it really is true, don’t take work home with you.

These are what I consider the important points when dealing with unpleasant work situations.  Over the years I have learned the value and importance of each of them and put them into practice every day.  There are still days, weeks, situations that leave me feeling quite beat up and bruised, but I get over them relatively quickly.

There was a time in my career when I took these types of interactions seriously to heart and would spend days feeling awful about them.  At some point I learned and accepted all of the above and realized that situations at work die down over time.  They do not define me as a human being, nor do they make a deep statement about my soul and character.  We tend to get caught up in the moment, but in the end, the discomfort does pass.

The good news (sorta) is the more practice you get in dealing with these types of uncomfortable issues, the easier it gets the next time.

Back from the Dead

March 23, 2008

Not really dead, but maybe a little comatose. When we last left this blog it was just before the holidays and their accompanying craziness. So here we are, well into a new year with lots going on and lots on the horizon. I am definitely one of those people who likes the beginning of the year. I definitely look at it as a blank slate, a chance to begin again or start over– a good time for change.

Three months in and there has been a good deal of change in the department. We have had a bit of staff turnover and are in the midst of filling some positions. People view staff turnover in different ways. Some people look at it as a bad thing or a negative indicator. I am not one of those people. I like staff turnover–not all at once, but I look at it as an opportunity to breathe new life into the department. Not to say that those who have departed will not be missed, but it is the chance to see things from a new perspective. To shake things up a little. To make changes and to move forward.

Since I have been here, I have only had the opportunity to hire one new staff member so I am enjoying the chance to hire a few more new staff members. In access services it is really more about personality type than it is experience.  I really like people with fun personalities who  can roll with change and who like working with the public.  That type of personality can come from a wide array of work experience and environments.

Through the Looking Glass: Future Business Challenges for the Academic Library by James G. Neal, Columbia University

Thinking about the experience we have had this week, the metaphor is Alice through the looking glass, us wondering if we could pass through the other sic and experience the business side of libraries. Having experiences with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee through time, played chess with the queen, etc. We spent the bulk of our week talking about strategy, change, culture.

Librarians in the academic environments need to be aware of the business challenges that are facing the university and the library.

Holy cow do we have a lot to think about!!!!!!!! There are many shifting values in the library and we need to use our tools and abilities to change the culture and to personalize the library experience.  Many of the core services and products of the library will remain, but will need to be integrated to provide a more self-service experience for patrons.  James Neal provided us with 30 action items or ideas that libraries need to focus on in the future and now.  Most focused on technology and building more digital services and a robust digital environment for patrons.  The prevailing message, at least to me, from his presentation was that libraries need to become partners, owners and stakeholders in many of the changes and new services and technologies that are occurring.  We need to step out of our traditional circles of influence and look for collaborations and partnerships in places where at one point in time we may not have belonged, but now it is necessary for our input, skills, resources, and talents.

What we feel are the characteristics of Good Managers:

  • humor
  • honest
  • led by example
  • supportive
  • open minded
  • enthusiasm
  • no micromanaging
  • remembers we are people with feelings
  • clear expectations
  • admits mistakes
  • mentor
  • encourages input
  • private criticism
  • direct communication
  • is an advocate

Managers exhibit two types of behaviors:

directive (task): very much about telling people what to do, when they need to do it, etc.

supportive (relationship): help manage relationships

As managers we need to look at staff competencies and commitment when deciding which approach to use.Skilled Communicators:

  • Communicates what in a timely manner
  • allows colleagues to feel good about what they do and how they do it
  • timely so others can make accurate decisions

Think about how you prefer to take in information?  Use what is called the “Z model of decision making.”  It walks you through the different ways information is taken in and perceived.

Our roles and responsibilities as managers should be clear to our staff:

  • define performance results required
  • establish performance expectations
  • provide on-going coaching and feedback
  • communicating goal re-alignment as necessary
  • hold employees accountable
  • provide resources needed for development

When we manage our staff we should make sure that we don’t talk about attitudes and attributes, but about actions.  A lot of what we think of as attitude, is behavior (rolling eyes, huffing and puffing, etc.). There will be a tangible behavioral quality to what people are doing. Our job as managers is to figure out what they are saying or doing and how it affects others.

Feedback is about what people are doing that is making your work harder or easier. Giving negative feedback is harder than positive.  Sometimes it is inappropriate to give positive feedback in front of others. Make feedback behavioral that way it is not personal or vague. Remember you are talking about a person’s livelihood. The intention behind feedback should be to enable success in that livelihood. At the end of the day you are not an ogre because you have to get rid of someone, you are doing your job as a boss.

After you give feedback, listen to the response, if it is defensive resend the feedback message until they get it. Set new expectations and maintain the relationship.

A lot of times you are coaching people to do stuff that you don’t know how to do. Getting people to be successful by setting goals, asking questions, and encouragement. You are not accountable for getting them to do what they need to do, they are. This helps create a work environment where people are comfortable and enjoy coming to work. You create a relationship where a person feels valued and supported and are stretching the boundaries of the person they can be. You are not going to coach anyone successfully if they are not willing to work or accept the coaching.

Coaching is about helping people set goals and improve performance. Mentors help you find wisdom. This is different from coaching. Mentors don’t have to be higher in the organization. You can mentor at different levels.

Everything you are asking your staff needs to be aligned with the departmental and organizational goals. By asking staff members to write goals and objectives, you can see if they are aligned with the department and organization.

It doesn’t cost a lot to appreciate people so try to establish rewards that are not money. Take time to work with your staff.

In times of change, your staff need to know that they are valued, they belong, how they are doing and they have a future. The future may not be in our organization and that is okay.

Another excellent and rewarding day. There was a tremendous amount of food for thought. At the end of the day, I feel very validated in the way I manage my staff. A lot of the techniques I heard today are ones that I have been actively using in my department. The bottom line that keeps being driven home is that management is hard and requires a lot of work. I think the subtext is: if you don’t want to put in the time and effort, you shouldn’t be doing it. As I think about all of the time and effort I have already expended managing my department this year, I can’t imagine not doing this type of work. I feel really good about where I am and where I am going.

Changes in higher education that are affecting the way our libraries operate and provide our services:

  • distance education, not being all in one place
  • interdisciplinary learning
  • privatization of services: outsourcing of services (food services, student records, technology)
  • increasing amount of fund generation
  • more acting like businesses; customer satisfaction
  • “remote” local learner- person who prefers not to be face to face
  • change in expectations of students – how to measure how we impact or act upon these expectations, how do we measure them?
  • teaching and instruction styles – more collaborative, research centered
  • integration of technology and social networking into curriculum
  • experimentation with new tools
  • resource management and negotiation
  • demands on faculty are increasing: 24/7 communication with students, tenure process, etc.
  • staff, faculty and administration buy-in and consensus
  • campus leadership roles are becoming more difficult to fulfill- impacts long-range planning
  • technology is no longer infrastructure, but is a service
  • universities are growing and branching out; pushing their boundaries: research parks, off-site locations and campuses
  • some universities have an expectation or take an active role in the community; sometimes actively shaping them
  • doing more with less resources

These changes are having strong impacts on academic and research libraries.  A few of the ways discussed:

  • student’s expectations of services and resources: “they want Borders”
  • how do we measure these expectations?
  • how do we make these adjustments while maintaining what we do well
  • metrics we look at: gate count, circulation stats
  • recognizing that there is still a user population who want the library to “stay as it always existed.”
  • how can we do both?
  • understanding of the swing in services: traditional versus 2.0
  • recognizing that the library is viewed as a service to those outside the library
  • translating what we do and why it is important into words that are compelling and enable people to understand how we add value
  • more and more of our time is spent on marketing, PR and outreach
  • we are becoming, in many ways, and invisible resource: seamless access
  • making access easier, how we provide it
  • we have competition (Google)
  • what does our staffing/applicant pool look like? are they coming in with the training and/or experiences that we need?

This new reality is providing us as managers with a host of new challenges.  We need to understand and at the very least, recognize these challenges in order to plot our strategy:

  • increase in daily expectations: publishing, managing people, thinking strategically, dealing with services and complaints
  • time management and delegation- reluctance to delegate or when am I delegating too much
  • endless opportunities with technology
  • delegating technology, people understanding new technology or how to implement
  • constant renewal of skills because people are only around for a limited time
  • adjusting teaching, instructional, interaction style for a patron base who seem very comfortable with being extremely interactive
  • competition for qualified staff- both professional and support staff
  • identity crisis of our staff
  • trying to get our staff to do more while their compensation does not reflect the increase of responsibilities
  • sloooooooow hiring process
  • our business is still the same, it is how we do it that is changing and we need the library schools to help us
  • psychological contract we make with our staff, supervisors or institution
  • being able to negotiate the terms of these psychological contract as the focus of the organization shifts
  • people do not develop skill sets because we tell them to – they do so because they are capable of it, or because they feel it is valued

Change is about managing events and emotions. What are the needs that are not being met that we can address in order to help people move forward?

The morning session was pretty energizing and got me in the mind set needed to spend the next five days talking about libraries. I think all of us understand that we are working in a world that is rapidly changing and that these changes affect us on many levels and in some ways that we may never have thought of before.

I think there is a general understanding and agreement that libraries should be or have been run like businesses; or at the very least there is a growing need to start thinking of our organizations in this way. We perform many processes and operations and make decisions that are very similar to those in the business world.

I seriously need to take a long look at the organizational culture of my library. I thought I had it sort of figured out, but I think I have only scratched the surface. I like what I am unearthing, and I think that there is a lot that can be learned and gained from thinking about this more.

We discussed how the way our organizations operate affect our services, patrons, and staff.  We need to look at the way we work and see which processes we can change with little effort and those that require an investment of time and effort in order to improve.

This week I will be attending the TRLN Management Academy in Chapel Hill. I plan on sharing what I learn each day and am hoping that it will be valuable and helpful to all of us in ADS and in libraries. Today’s agenda includes: The Business of Libraries and The Business Case for Diversity. I will post as the day progresses.

A Day In the Life

October 12, 2007

I was looking at my stats yesterday and saw that several people found this site when searching, “what does an access services librarian do.” I thought that was a good question and one I should answer. The short answer is anything and everything that needs to get taken care of. If that sounds like a pat answer its because it is. It is really hard to describe to other librarians, as well as non-librarians, exactly what it is I do all day, everyday. My job description gives some of the details. I “manage a department that encompasses several key public service areas: circulation, reserves, current periodicals, media/microforms, interlibrary loan and document delivery and stacks services.” I do all of those things, but I also do a lot of other stuff that doesn’t really fall into a neat category.

In my previous position (head of access services at another library) I spent an entire day tracking down a ten foot, 4 inch wide strip of wood that was mistakenly removed from the front entrance doors of the library making them unable to close properly. Depending on the size of the library I have either been fully responsible or heavily involved in the security of the building; being the liaison to campus police and the private security company. I’m one of the first people called when there is an emergency or problem (my staff are in the building all open hours).  I’ve cleaned bathrooms and picked up trash, at other libraries I make the phone calls to housekeeping and work with them and facilities staff to ensure that the building is clean and safe. I’ve moved furniture. I oversee a shuttle service. I pushed a golf cart down a ramp onto the back of a trailer last week. The daily activities vary greatly depending upon what is happening in and around the building, as well as with library staff and patrons.

There are some responsibilities that remain the same no matter the size of the library. I manage a staff who work the front line service desk(s) of the library. This requires a lot of coaching, training, problem-solving, motivation, and positive reinforcement. I troubleshoot and solve problems my staff are having with one another, the patrons, the automated system, a policy or procedure – anything that is happening. I oversee time off, sick leave, hiring, firing, disciplinary action. I attend lots of meetings- planning, updating, troubleshooting library services, events, issues, etc.

I write or respond to at least 200 email messages a day. I travel to conferences, write journal articles and book chapters, and mentor new librarians or those thinking about becoming one.

I laugh more days than I don’t. I have more really fun days than I don’t. I interact with almost every department and person who works in the library. I get to come up with wacky ideas for patron services and library events – sometimes we actually implement them. I serve on library and campus committees.

I guess the long answer is that an access services librarian is very busy. I personally feel that with all that activity and responsibility comes a lot of fun and excitement. If you bore easily, than this is definitely the job for you. No day is the same and it never seems to get old or stale.

Maybe Monday I will keep a real day in the life and actually do an hour by hour account of what I do all day.

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