I need to perform an exorcism.  I have evil demons stirring within my department, interfering with forward progress and not allowing innovation and creativity to fully bloom.  I guarantee I am not the only department manager who has had to deal with these demons and I am sure, upon further inspection, you may find one or two lurking in the dark corners of your own departments.

I am talking about those “ghosts of time past.”  You know, those “five years ago we did this” demons.  Those demons of time gone by who still creep into the conversation and thwart all attempts at change and progress.

I have a good number of staff who have been working in the department for many years.  Most of them embrace and roll with change.  But there are one or two or three who just can’t seem to take the leap of faith and trust that while it may not work, it is worth trying.

So how do we deal with these ugly demons?  Is an exorcism really necessary?  In short, yes, sometimes an abrupt, swift, mildly painful, mostly dramatic change (or kick in the pants) is just what the doctor (or in this case priest) ordered to help move change along.

As managers, we can’t force a person’s personality to undergo a radical transformation, however what we can do is force a procedural or environmental change that in turn allows a person to adapt at their own pace.  Sometimes this is fast and sometimes it is not as fast as we would like it.  I have found that if I can make a great case for a change and get good staff buy-in, attitudes adjust a lot quicker than they would normally.

I have also found that being honest helps a transition tremendously.  If it is not going as planned then be upfront and open about the situation and solicit feedback from staff in order to make the necessary adjustments.  Making staff feel like they are part of the process of change instead of dictating it to them yields very positive results and can make the experience a lot less painful.

Still, there will always be one or two people who are still possessed by “the way it was” demon.  A lot of this attitude may be formed by past experiences with new services or procedures that did not go over well.  Never underestimate the traumatic value that one bad experience can leave on a person.  I take the initial hand holding and constant positive reinforcement/feedback approach when dealing with these individuals.  Again, the rate of change acceptance varies from person to person, but this approach makes people feel valued rather than steam rolled.

So what are your approaches to forcing a change and/or dealing with staff who are change averse?

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Management 101

March 4, 2007

I have received several emails asking for some staff management tips.  I am happy to share what I have learned from the really fantastic and the utterly miserable managers and supervisors I have worked with throughout my library career.  Bear in mind, these are just my opinions and what I have found to work. Your mileage may vary and I would love to hear any tips, philosophies or attitudes that other managers would like to share.

1.  Communication is very important:  In my experience a large number of problems or misunderstandings that happen in a department are the result of either a miscommunication or no communication at all.  It is very important for a manager to communicate goals, objectives, desired results, policy, procedures, etc.  clearly and consistently to all staff.  There is nothing wrong with putting your cards on the table, staff will feel more comfortable coming to you with issues, problems, or questions if they know that their concerns will be addressed and that they will be kept in the information loop.  The communcation flow must be two way – you need to make sure that as a manager you ask the questions and get the information from your staff that you need to make decisions or take action.  Try to keep all communication positive, always look at every situation as a learning experience, and not as a negative.  This attitude could be the difference between getting information before a situation becomes a large problem or after.

2.  Honesty is the best policy:  This is pretty self-explanatory.  As a manager you expect honest answers from your staff, so don’t be surprised that the same is expected of you.  Staff respect a supervisor who can admit that when they are wrong or don’t know the answer.  Lying is never a good idea and eventually the truth comes out.  Just don’t do it.

3.  One size does not fit all:  This goes hand in hand with communication.  Managing large groups of people presents many different challenges, perhaps the biggest one is realizing what the most effective method of communication is for each member of your department.  Some people respond well to simple being told what to do and how to do it.  Others need to see the details and desired outcome before they get on board.  Others need to be finessed into doing something.  Whatever it is, one method of communicating is probably not going to work with everyone on your staff and it is your responsibility as a manager to figure out the communication puzzle.

4.  Lead by example:  I know it sounds trite, but it is true.  Be the change that you want to see in the department.  You can’t reprimand ine of your staff for excessive lateness if you yourself are late every day.  If you are trying to create a positive environment in your department, then be positive.  Don’t complain in front of your staff or patrons, look on the bright side of issues and always learn something from every patron encounter or problem.

5.  Don’t ask your staff to do something you wouldn’t do yourself:  This has already been addressed in previous posts on this blog, but this is really the heart of the matter, particularly in access services where we are often asked to do a variety of tasks.  If you aren’t willing to do it, don’t be surprised if your staff resent that they are being asked and expected to do it.  We should not be above doing any task we are asking our staff to do and it engenders good faith, support and respect when staff sees us working along side them.

6.  Boundaries are not a bad thing:  I like having fun at work and joking around with my staff, however there is a supervisor/supervisee line that I am aware of and try not to cross.  I have worked for managers and supervisors that felt it was okay to be my best friend, and looking back it was not the best work relationship or environment for me.  It takes a tremendously acute sense of self-awareness to pull this off and even then it is difficult to ensure that people do not believe there is favoritism or an uneven playing field in the department.   Fairness is important.  Be certain to keep relationships with staff on a fair and balanced level.

7.  Self-awareness is important:  Aside from the above, self-awareness is also important when communicating with staff and when staff is communicating with one another.  It is important to be aware of the words you are saying, tone of voice you are using, or words you are typing in email when communicating with your staff and coworkers.  It is also important to listen to how staff are communicating with one another and to correct any situation or behavior that may be misinterpreted or that comes across as confrontational of belligerent.

Again, this is my short list of tips.  I welcome any and all suggestions and additions.  I know there are a lot of managers and supervisors who read this blog, so please share your ideas!