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.

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My current place of work is the first library I have worked in that has had 24 hour service. We are open 24 hours Sunday-Thursday. I was quite surprised when I started in January at the actual number of people who are in the library at 2, 3, and 4:00 in the morning.

To cover these service hours my staff work across three shifts: day, afternoon/early evening, and overnight. We have an excellent overnight crew and the past few weeks have really highlighted how capable they are.

Surely there is a different atmosphere in the library during the wee hours of the night and morning. And though during this time we are only open to students, faculty and staff, there are unusual incidents that take place. I have yet to hear about a true safety or difficult situation, most of them have sort of been extremely funny.

Now that classes have begun and the students have returned there has been a steadily increasing number of them in the library at night. While idealistically we would like to think that most of them are coming in to study and do work and are coming to us after classes or dinner or whatever, the reality is that a small number of students do come into the library straight from the bar or party.

We are one of the only places on campus open 24 hours, so students come in to get away from their dorm room or because they want to be someplace with other people, or they just don’t feel like going home yet, and yes, most of them do want to study and do school work. But it can be funny when a well meaning, harmless, intoxicated student comes into the library and tries to pull a prank or does something ridiculous.

And when we see that happening, we have to intervene or ask someone else to. The majority of the time it is a harmless prank or just drunk stupidity. And to be quite honest, some of the drunk stupidity is downright funny.

But the staff has to take it seriously and act professionally and in the best interest of the library, other patrons and of the individual at hand. Knowing that I have very capable people dealing with this while I am at home sleeping, allows me to actually sleep.

Something else to think about when working in customer service.

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?