I am often asked what’s the hardest part of being a manager and my response is always, “having to have ‘the talks.'”  I’m referring to those difficult conversations that no one likes having, but are necessary in order to improve performance, service, morale, attitude or any other host of issues that need to be brought to someone’s attention.  It is a lousy thing to have to give someone negative feedback, but with practice and time it gets easier.

The problem is though, as managers we are entrusted with the contents of these discussions.  We are expected to not speak about the details with other people who are not directly involved.  We are expected to maintain our staff’s privacy.  In my opinion it is one of the basic tenets of good management and professionalism.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work both ways.

We have all worked in places and/or with colleagues who talk about everything. They spread their own business and sometimes the business of others around.  This is their choice and if they want people to know what is happening, then it is on them.  The problem that arises is the very same one that happens in schoolyards everywhere: the story never stays the same and becomes something very different and sometimes much worse than what it actually was.

Managers do not have the luxury of stepping in and correcting inaccurate details when they overhear them.  We can not make announcements “setting the record straight.”  We can not and should not participate in conversations about discussion we’ve had with our staff.  Consequently, a lot of misinformation gets passed along as fact.  We may seem like we are ignoring problems.  We may be described as “disinterested.”  But that is far from the truth.  Actually we are treating you professionally and maintaining your privacy.

If you’re like me, someone who has a difficult time allowing misrepresentations of what I’ve said persist in my non-work life, knowing that this may be happening and recognizing that you can’t do anything about it is one of the most difficult pills to swallow.  But you do because it is the right thing to do and because you recognize how destructive this can be and you don’t want to add to the problem.

Good managers maintain professionalism even when it’s the last thing they want to do.  Ideally this would work both ways, but in reality it doesn’t.  Good managers keep working to get to that ideal place.

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.

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.

Presentation by Dr. Jose Picart, Vice Provost for Diversity and African-American Affairs, NCSU

Libraries continue to struggle with the idea of being a business or adopted a business model.  One of the facets of this model is to figure out where diversity fits and how we can customize our products and services to our different patron needs.

The biggest challenge is trying to define and understand what is diversity.  A few definitions from the group:

  • a gathering of differences and similarities
  • recognizing and accepting (if not agreeing) what ways we are different from one another
  • valuing and blending the differences
  • broadly defined, has benefits and challenges, results from the interaction between people who are difference and everyone is valued, respected, and included.

Once we understand what diversity is, we need to know how is presents itself in the library:

  • patrons: students, faculty, staff, alumni, affiliates, etc.
  • staff: faculty, professional, para-professional, clerks, etc.
  • subject expertise or specialty
  • gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
  • public services versus non-public services
  • administration versus the rest of the staff
  • tenured versus non-tenured
  • digital divide: those who have their own technology or possess high skills versus those who don’t
  • MLS versus non-MLS
  • day versus night staff
  • undergraduate versus graduate students

Libraries perform many functions and hold similar values to businesses:

  • excellent customer service
  • budget and fiscal responsibilities
  • facilities management
  • connecting people with information resources
  • rapid turn around time or delivery or materials
  • instruction, reference, ILL, printing, photocopying, document delivery, lending, borrowing
  • off site shelving/storage
  • managing these services
  • interacting with vendors- publishers
  • partnering with other campus units or consortia
  • training and staff development
  • publicizing events and services: blogs, wikis, web sites, campus and/or library orientations
  • outreach
  • public services referrals
  • mission/vision/values/strategic planning for the future
  • internal and external customers
  • competing for donors or funding
  • valuable campus real estate
  • services which we don’t make, but actually lose money providing
  • provide IT support

We also have mechanisms in place to tell whether or not we are doing a good job:

  • patron feedback
  • circulation/gate count/download statistics
  • financial support from campus and/or donors
  • new services
  • staff turnover and retention
  • attendance at events or classes
  • number of ILL requests processed
  • turn around time of material delivery
  • partnerships and collaborations with other organization both on and off campus
  • expansion of collection or numbers of volumes sent to off site facilities

I really enjoyed this presentation and it got me thinking a bit broadly. I am not sure if this is really the “matter of survival” that is being portrayed?????? I may argue that more problems are issues are centered around situational or position than with diversity. I think we need to listen to the voices that we may not have been paying attention to previously, and that will help us drive change or re-shape our environments.

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.

It’s actually very simple

September 22, 2007

I have been involved in a number of discussions lately centering around morale, personal interaction and perception of staff. These conversations have been at best enlightening and at worst somewhat disheartening. I’ve been known as Miss Polly Positive for some time which I’m guessing has a lot to do with my attitude and outlook and also my unwavering desire to believe the best in everyone. Well, I think that desire is starting to waver slightly.

Really, I am more disappointed than anything else and this is not such a let down that the fundamental core of my being is altered in any significant way, if anything it has made me more aware and sensitive of my actions- in a good way and I am looking at it as a not-so-gentle reminder of the way the world is. See, that is me being Miss Polly Positive (she ain’t going anywhere).

Foolishly, I really believed that the way I treat people is pretty much the way everyone else does. You can all stop snorting now.

Okay, so it isn’t. I had some very candid discussions with my staff and learned a lot of valuable insights into their daily work lives. I took a lot of mental notes, and then went back to my office and did a brain dump. While there is/was a lot going on in these discussions, I am going to share what seems to be the simplest and most important issue.

People like to be acknowledged. I don’t mean acknowledged in terms of accomplishments. I am talking about acknowledged as another human being on this Earth, standing 3 feet away from you, who you see on a daily basis. The bottom line: smile or say hello. It goes a tremendous distance in making another person feel like they exist. And it is actually quite difficult to feel like you matter when you are repeatedly treated like you are invisible.

There are people who work in my library whose names I still don’t know because I don’t work closely with them. However, I know they work in the library because I see them on an almost daily basis and when I do I smile or say, “hi, how are you?” I didn’t realize doing that was a big deal until more than one person told me it was.

My recommendation for Step One in creating a change in climate, morale and staff perception: say hello to your fellow coworkers. Smile, nod, wave.

It makes a huge difference and makes people feel happy.  And happy people will communicate, share, be open to change and discussion, and ultimately be more productive.

When I Can’t Be Transparent

September 6, 2007

I am in full support of the transparent library concept and try to apply the ideas into my management style. I am a huge fan of open communication and the encouragement of discussion. I also like the focus on trend spotting as a means of innovation and improvement. I encourage my staff to come to me or their supervisors with ideas for improvement and with problems or issues that they encounter in their daily work.

However, I have noticed a similarity in the one on one conversations I have been having as of late and I am wondering how other people in my shoes have handled this.

I am having a lot of discussions about what can generally be described as personnel or performance issues. I am pretty positive that in the working world the complaint or sentiment of, “I work harder/faster/better/more than so and so” is universal, and while that is not the entire message I am hearing from staff, it is a part of it. I think the basic disgruntledness I am hearing has to do with issues that they perceive as not being dealt with or are being allowed to persist. It goes without saying that these issues are all personnel and performance in nature, so therein lies the rub.

How can I be transparent in my communication with my staff when the nature of such issues requires my discretion?

I was kind of joking around this week and remarking that I should send a mass email out on a weekly basis listing, in detail, everyone infractions and what type of reprimand they received. I am pretty sure that would cause a revolt.

I take staff privacy extremely seriously and do not share the details of their performance with anyone who does not have to know (namely each other). I respect everyone’s privacy, but I can understand how since no one knows the intimate details, they may assume that nothing is happening.

So how do you reassure while being discrete? I have my list of non-committal stock answers that I have been using and it seems to assuage each situation, but I wonder if there is something else I should be doing.

When it comes to reprimanding or better yet, addressing and working to change poor performance or work habits the responsibility is really on the individual to change. My responsibility is to address the issue and then to follow-up as necessary. If the performance does not improve there are definite paths I can take with noticeable outcomes.

But it is really that beginning and middle time in that spectrum where it seems really nebulous to everyone and it can seem like nothing really has been done and no changes are being made.

I place privacy and discretion on a higher rung than transparency. I guess this may be a battle that has no clear winner?

It really comes down to simple mathematics and bang for buck. When I started my current gig I joined ALA after not having been a member since I was a library school student 6 years ago. Since my career up until now was in medical and health sciences libraries I was an active member in MLA and my regional chapter. I didn’t really see a purpose or need to continue my ALA membership and honestly, when I renewed my membership in February, it was done so rather reluctantly. I am still far from convinced that the $90 (it may have been more) I paid to renew is worth what I can get from the organization.

I am at a point in my career right now where I am happy and where I want to be. What I am looking for from a professional organization goes beyond networking and focuses primarily on professional development. I want the opportunity to attend (virtually or physically) workshops and presentations that directly relate to what I do every day in my workplace. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that coming from ALA. There really is not a lot of programming devoted to circulation, reserves, ILL, staff management and customer service and this influenced my decision not to attend the annual conference.

Actually I broke down the expenses and compared it to the conference program. Here is what I was looking at:

  • 3 nights in a hotel ($199/night): $597 plus tax
  • conference registration (I wanted to see most of the program before registering so I waited): $200-$260.
  • travel (gas & tolls): $100
  • food/drinks/misc.: $100-$150

Grand Total: $1047 (this is using the low end of anything that had a range) plus tax

While it is true that my institution would reimbure me for some of the expenses I just don’t think that for me it is an efficient use of funds since after looking at the conference program, the sessions that I can say I would definitely attend are:

Saturday:

  • Leadership or Management:Which is it?
  • Diplomacy 101: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Sunday:

  • Transforming Your Staff
  • Moving Mountains: Exciting Trends in Library Delivery Services

Since these two are at the same time, I would have to decide one over the other.

Monday:

  • Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Any More!

This is one session that I am sad that I will miss as from what I have read it sounds very promising.

Now, before we all start arguing, I am not casting judgement on any of the other programming or assuming that it would not be interesting and informative. My point is that for me, these are the sessions that I find relevant to my daily work. I know I would find other sessions to round out my days and many of them would be interesting, however, for me, the expense is not worth it.   And yes, if I had started my job and joined ALA before the deadline for presentations I would have submitted something related to access services.  Unfortunately, I started around the same time as the conference deadline.

Instead of spending my money on the ALA annual conference, I have decided that the Brick & Click Libraries symposium is much better suited to my interests. This is a one day, academic library conference (they had me at one day!) happening at the Owens Library at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO this November. Since it is a smaller and one day event, the programming is broken down into concurrent sessions throughout the entire day. After reviewing the program I was able to find a presentation to attend during each session:

  • Are we having fun yet? Putting fun into the workplace!
  • The Impact of Usage Statistics
  • Wikis are Better: Transitioning from Static Research Guides to Wikis
  • Measure for Measure: Developing an Assessment Plan for Access Services
  • Digg This: Tagging and Social Collaboration on the Web
  • Enhancing Library Services through Support Staff Training: A Unique Approach

Cost of Attendance:

  • registration: $125
  • 2 nights in a hotel ($42/night): $84 plus tax
  • roundtrip airfare: $160 plus tax
  • care rental: $80
  • gas: $50
  • food/drink/misc.: $100

Grand Total: $599 plus tax

There are probably many sessions at the ALA conference that cover the 2.0 topics that I plan on attending at Brick & Click, but it is the sessions that are primarily about access services and staff training and development that make this conference valuable to me. And I can get what would take 3 days to see at ALA in one day at Brick & Click for less money.

My point in this post really has less to do with the cost of being an ALA member and attending the annual conference, and more to do with the fact that as a librarian who works in access services, I feel extremely underrepresented in my professional organization. Yes, before you even post it in the comments, I do plan on getting more involved in ALA, but I am not encouraged by what I see. I am a member of LAMA and of their Systems and Services (SASS) committee which encompasses access services, but I see little to no discussion happening. The other factor that I believe comes into play here is that most people who work in circulation, reserves, ILL and document delivery are paraprofessional staff who don’t belong to ALA or attend the annual conference. For some it may be the cost of membership, for others it may be that they don’t feel welcomed. Whatever the reason, I don’t think the number of ALA’s paraprofessional members are a true representation of the number of paraprofessionals in libraries.  We need some sort of group that is inviting to all professional and paraprofessional circ staff.  Something to rally all staff behind and to churn out more programming of our own. I want to be an involved and interested member of my professional organization, I just want more encouragement and interest from the organization’s end.

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