I’ve been involved in some great management conversations lately that have me thinking about two sort of related, but not entirely related ideas:  the management double standard and the idea of a halo.  Allow me to explain:

Management Double Standard:

In discussion, someone made the observation/point that an employee asking a supervisor/manager certain types of questions (for example: “Why are you working this shift?  What are you doing?  Why did you talk to that person? etc) can seem over the line and bordering on being a “busy body.”  I think the point is valid, but I also think that as management you can’t really fight or win that battle 99% of the time.

Rands in Repose sums it up best: “”Leadership is not just about effectively getting stuff done, but demonstrating through your composure that you aren’t rattled by the freakish.”  I’m gonna tweak/interpret it slightly differently: as a manager I accept that my staff are human.  They make mistakes, they have faults, personality quirks, intepret things differently that I do, see things that I don’t see, are fallible.  Simple, right?  This applies to all human beings.  We all have our “things.”  Except when you’re in a management position it suddenly seems like you’re not a human being anymore.  Whether you like it or not, you’re now in a position of authority and are seen as such.  There is very much an expectation that you will have the answers, solve the problems, make the decisions, do it right the first time and not make any mistakes in the process.  You also may not be able to have feelings about certain issues or events, and whether you do or don’t those feelings will most likely not be taken into consideration when you’re interacting with others.

Okay, so that sounds kinda awful and bleak and terrible.  It’s not always like that.  It really and truly is not.  But, there are some days, some issues, some events that make you feel like that is terribly true.  The bottom line is a good manager will remember that her staff are human beings who have faults and foibles and quirks. And that these characteristics influence behavior and performance and while performance expectations must be met, behavior is something that we can’t control or regulate.  So we accept.  With that acceptance must also come the acceptance that we (management) may not be given the same treatment or pass and that is okay because whether we like it or not, it comes with the job.

Halos

In previous POW I’ve heard the term “halo” tossed around a lot when describing someone’s work or performance or general attitude.  As in, “they still have their halo.”  The gross implication is: this person has not screwed up royally yet to lose their halo.  I kinda call bullshit on the concept.  I know I’ve made epic mistakes, screwed up, handled things the wrong way, and made the wrong decisions in my work, but I’ve yet to feel like “I’ve screwed up royally” to the point that my boss and/or my boss’s boss think I suck.

Here’s my take on the “halo” phenomena:

Everyone has one.  You start out with it.  You wear it.  You break it in.  It gets tarnished or bent from time to time, but it can be polished off and fixed. How?  You own your mistakes.  You get things done.  You fix problems.  You’re a team player.  You’re a positive influence.  Etc, etc, etc.

What you don’t do is make poor decisions.  I’m not talking about making the wrong decisions.  We all make wrong decisions.  I’m talking about poor decisions.  There is a slight difference.  The wrong decisions kinda just happen.  You get misinformation.  You interpret a situation incorrectly.  You just make a decision and it turns out to be wrong.  Poor decisions seem to either happen with a lot of thought or absolutely no thought behind them.  These are not the types of decisions that you make in the daily course of your work.  These are those decisions that you make that can affect you and your reputation in your POW immediately or over time.  Decisions like talking about certain aspects of your personal life with co-workers.  There is a big difference between talking about your kid’s soccer game versus how drunk you got at the bar last night.  Think about it.  Which one would you prefer to be spread like wildfire throughout your POW?  The soccer game has no gossip potential.

I’m not saying that sharing yourself with colleagues is a poor decision.  What you choose to share may absolutely be.  Here’s the rub: perception matters.  Perception is what your colleagues/staff/administration often have to go on.  You’re not going to lose your halo because you made the wrong decision.  You may very well lose it because you made a poor one.

Advertisements

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.

I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts folder for a while now.  One of my new year’s resolutions was to work through or delete draft blog posts.  This one seemed important enough not to delete and it came up in conversation this afternoon.

Ideally we strive for a healthy work/life balance.  We all want to come home at the end of the day, unwind, do our thing and not have to think about work until the next day.  Depending upon your job, acheiving a happy balance is either easy or difficult.  A lot of times when starting a new job it’s very difficult to have a healthy work/life balance, but eventually as you learn the ropes and work gets easier, the scale evens out.

Social networking has thrown a bit of a wrinkle into this equation.  All of us seem to be online 24/7, whether updating our Facebook status, tweeting where we are eating dinner, posting pics of our pets to FriendFeed – whatever your social network of choice – our lives, both professional and personal are available for all to see.  This is both good and bad.

Good:  We can connect with others professionally and personally.  We find people with similar interests.  We feel connected to a larger community.  We can learn from one another.

Bad: As managers our staff can read these updates and posts and while our intent may be one thing, their reading and interpretation of it may be entirely different.  Not. Good.

So what to do?  Do we censor our online selves?  Do we only post off the clock?  Do we nuke our social networking profiles?  My answer to all of these is an emphatic no with a word to the wise:  be mindful.  We don’t need to censor ourselves, but we may need to choose our words more carefully.  We may need to consider the time we are posting.  Does your Facebook status of, “Don’t mind me, my head just imploded” refer to that staff meeting you had an hour ago?  Well, even if it doesn’t your staff may think it does since you posted it after the meeting.  Yes, there are coincidences in life, but most people don’t think of coicidences first, they think the worst case scenario.  Usually the worst case scenario involves you, the manager, being upset at them, the staff.

Our online personas tell a lot about the people we are and what we are doing and thinking.  As a manager, you need to keep that in the back of your mind at all times.  Perception is important and when it goes bad, it is hard to repair.  There is a time and a place to share thoughts and feelings about work, be mindful of what you are sharing and when.

I am the oldest of four children.  I have one sister who is three years younger than I am, and two female cousins, one 4 years and the second 10 years younger than myself.  I say that I am one of four because in grand, old school Italian style, our families (my mom and her sister) lived very close to one another and my grandparents.  We were raised as a four-pack and did everything together – vacations, birthdays, weekends, weekdays, after school, Sunday dinners, you name it, we did it together.  When I was 13 our grandmother moved into our house and still lives with my parents.  Us kids thought this was great because now we had Nannie’s cooking every night and she dropped us off and picked us up from school – no more bus.  This also meant that at any given time there were 5-8 people in our house.  It was fun, but insane, and very, very loud.

Sometimes stereotypes are so dead-on that you laugh when you read about them or see them portrayed in movies or on television.  The stereotype of the loud, everyone talking at once, everyone has an opinion, everyone’s opinion is correct, and whomever is the last one talking wins all happening around a table of food is very true, at least it was in my house.  If you put any stock in birth order, you’d know that first born children tend to be more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable and less open to new ideas than later born children.  Add a huge dose of Italian upbringing and this pretty much summed up my personality up until I was 22 years old.  You could not tell me anything.  I had an opinion and you were going to hear it.  I was right, you were wrong and that was the end of the story.  It was my way or the highway.

I took this personality to college with me and surprisingly did very well.  I had my mind opened much more than I had before and became a more tolerant person.  I began college as pre-med.  I wanted very much to be a doctor, but life had other plans for me and after my sophomore year, I transferred schools and found myself as a history major.  I graduated and then on the suggestion of a librarian I worked with, decided to go to library school.  She swore up and down that I would be a “fantastic librarian.”  I am still not sure if she was correct, but I am enjoying figuring it out.

This seems like a very long winded story and way to talk about stepping outside your comfort zone, but there is a point I promise to make.  Being a doctor would have been a great job for me and my domineering personality.  I wanted to be an ER doc, which would have been fantastic since I could bark out orders and work in a high stress environment.  But, that did not happen.  What did happen was during my first year of graduate school I accepted a management position at the library.

Looking back on that time, I can safely say that I was not a glowing success in that position.  I actually had a supervisor tell me that they thought my personality was not suited for management and that I tended to get very upset when I did not get my way.  I wish I could say that I disagreed with that assessment, but I knew then and I know now, that was a dead-on appraisal of my management skills.

When I accepted my first professional position I made a promise to myself that I would work on developing my management skills.  There was not a lot of opportunity to attend formal professional development classes for this, but I found ways that I could improve my skills.  I started very simply, I listened to other people.  I really listened.  I considered other people’s opinions.  I worked on having better discussions about projects or issues.  I engaged others.  And, more often than not, I took their advice or suggestions and put them into practice.  I also learned how to accept criticism and feedback.  I learned to listen to it and accept it with grace and then work on improving the problem.  When receiving criticism and feedback I practiced what I like to call “generous listening.”  To me, that meant remaining calm, not interrupting, not arguing, asking for clarification or suggestions, and then thinking about what I was just told.

Do I need to explain how difficult this was for me to do?  Me, the gal who won every argument by yelling the loudest.  The one who would sit at a table of 10 people who were all talking at once and was still heard.  The oldest child who’s way of doing things was always the right way.

The point I am getting at, rather circuitously, is that doing that self-reflection and work was difficult and at times extremely uncomfortable.  Being honest with yourself, the type of honest where you admit you have faults, is painful.  However, it is also invaluable to our development and improvement and when you are committed to changing, the results can be life changing.

Being a good manager requires constant self-assessment.  It requires adapting to your environment and those who you are interacting with on a daily basis.  Learning how to communicate.  Discovering how to motivate people.  Realizing what you are doing that may be ineffective and sometimes damaging.  In short, it requires you to go outside your comfort zone on a continual basis.

The good news is that once you regularly go outside your comfort zone it starts to become familiar and comfortable.

An interesting side note: the three remaining in my four-pack (my sister and two cousins) all became teachers….and married teachers.  I find it funny because the classroom, at least as I remember it, is not a democracy.  You do what the teacher tells you.  This is even more funnier after I tell you that they are all math teachers.  There are no gray areas in math. The answer is either right or wrong.  This is the perfect place for our types of personalities.  I’ve been a manager for almost ten years.  When I come home for holidays, events or vacations and we are all together (now our numbers seem to have doubled) I get teased because I am the “quiet one” who “never argues” anymore.  I just smile and tell them that I am listening to them. 🙂

I have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of transparency.  There are projects going on, new people joining the staff, changes in policies and procedures at MPOW that require good communication and a level of transparency in order to make things go smoothly and to keep everyone as informed as they need and would like to be.  I believe that transparency in communication, decision-making, procedures and policy is ideal and I support any effort to improve in this area.

However, more and more I am starting to think that an important and essential first or pre-step needs to happen and is often overlooked.  This being: creating a climate of open communication.  What I mean by this is a work environment where people are comfortable being honest and direct, sharing their opinions, without the fear of, not retribution, but of offending people.  I know that someone will always be offended by something, I’m not that naive.  We spend a lot of time coaching people on how to communicate more effectively and how to be better at giving feedback, but we don’t spend enough time on the other side of that equation; receiving feedback.

Receiving feedback is a skill.  It takes a great deal of self-awareness, self-control, self-confidence, and self-esteem.  It is something that with practice we can improve.  I don’t have a 5 step improvement process for this, but I do have some key points that I try to keep in the back of my head.

1.  I am secure in the knowledge that I am good at what I do.  This is not conceit or arrogance.  This is recognition that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing, what makes the best use of my skills and talents, and what I enjoy doing on a daily basis.  It is reinforced by positive feedback from my staff, my colleagues, my supervisors, performance appraisals, and the fact that I still want to get up and go to work every morning.

2.  What happens in my professional life does not necessarily have much, if any, bearing on my personal life.  When I receive feedback about my work, it is just that.  It is not a remark about my soul, personality, morality, intelligence, character, or who I am at the core of my being.  If it was, I’d have a lot more issues that need to be addressed.

3.  The people I work with are my colleagues and collaborators, not my enemies. There is no hidden agenda or conspiracy to see me fail.  I consider what I am being told before I react.  Is it relevant?  Does it make a valid point?  How can I change or improve the issue?  What is the desired outcome and how do we get there?

4. I can’t please everyone.  Being a manager puts you in the undesirable position of having to hear feedback that you sometimes can’t directly address or comment upon.  You just have to hear it.  We sometimes have to make decisions when there is no time to consider all outcomes and possibilities.  A decision has to be made and we deal with the fallout later.  Sooner or later someone will disagree or be unhappy.  That is just the way it goes.

5.  9 times out of 10 it is not going to be catastrophic.  There are very few decisions or actions that cannot be reversed or modified.  We are not performing brain surgery, we are trying to help people.  We are fortunate that we have rules that can be adjusted depending on a situation.  This is not a military operation, we have many options and we can try as many as needed.

Through a lot of practice and self-improvement I have become someone who accepts and solicits feedback from my peers, colleagues and staff.  I want to know what’s going on and how things can be better.  I’m not going to be offended by what I am going to hear, no matter how bad someone thinks it is.  I can guarantee that I have thought worse about myself than what I am going to be told.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we are there yet in our work environments.  I think it has improved greatly, but I still see people getting emotional and personal about issues that are purely professional.  I recognize that sometimes people care so much about their work that it is hard for them to not identify with it, but I also think that in cases like that too much can be a bad thing.  You want to be open to what people have to say.

Another important point to consider is that not all criticism is equal.  Is it coming from someone you really admire and respect or is it coming from a person who is always negative, never has anything positive to say and never has a solution to a problem; just the list of problems?  If it is the latter, why do you care? Our most important critics are the people we admire, respect, and care about.  When they stop giving you feedback, wake up, you have a problem.

I have no answers about how to change an environment into an open one.  I think it is something that can be approached on two fronts: the first being locally, on a department or unit basis.  A manager needs to create and foster this climate and model the behavior themselves.  The second is from a top-down strategy.  An organization must commit to becoming a haven of open communication.  Everyone must practice what is preached.

I returned from Anaheim last night and plan on spending the next four days recovering and digging out from email. This was my first ALA annual conference and it lived up to my expectations of being somewhat chaotic, overwhelming, fun filled, loud and large, and most importantly a great opportunity to meet all sorts of wonderful people.

Like all trips it helps if you have a travel companion who likes to have fun and laugh a lot, Maurice York (get a web presence already!!!!) was mine and he kept me laughing the whole week. The funniest part of the whole trip is now being home seeing people’s pictures from the conference taken at events that we both were at, and only seeing him in them. I have no idea how I did it, but I pretty much avoided all photographic evidence of my existence and attendance. Kinda funny because that never happens to me.

My schedule was sort of all over the place. I didn’t do a lot of pre-planning, I just sort of knew the few places I needed to be and then flew by the seat of my pants. My biggest criticism about the conference itself is the insane overbooking. There were so many concurrent sessions that I wanted to attend and in the end had to make some tough decisions. I wish there was a little less happening at the same time.

A couple of thoughts and observations before I give my blow by blow account:

1. I know everyone who knows me is going to roll their eyes as they read this, but I am really not a great social extrovert when I first meet people or don’t know anyone at all. ALA was a bit intimidating at times because I found myself in social situations where I knew people (through blogs or twitter), but wasn’t entirely sure they knew me and I always feel like such a dork when that happens. There were many people who really went out of their way to make me feel warm and welcomed or took the time to share a lot of laughs (Paul Sharpe and Meredith Farkas I am looking at you). Everyone I met and hung out or chatted with was wonderful. I would go just to hang out with great people.

2. Twitter is where it is at! So much being twittered, so many twitter folk everywhere. Although I was unable to make it to either of the two Tweet-ups, it was so great to put names with faces. Librarians love to Twitter and following the conference happenings via Twitter was great.

3. Web presence in general is important. I witnessed so many “I love what you wrote!” or “I read your blog/twitter feed/live journal, etc…” that it is becoming apparent that a lot of great networking is facilitated through having some sort of online presence.

4. For reasons that I rather not blog about, I paid particularly more attention to my health and wellbeing at this conference. For me that meant going back to my hotel room and crashing as early as 9:30pm if necessary. If I didn’t get the chance to see or hang out with you, I apologize. I was trying to be kind to myself this trip. A first for me.

And now onto the details:

Thursday, June 26:
Arrived in Anaheim at around 11:30am. Checked into hotel, laughed that we were staying in a castle. Went out to look for food. Managed to find food choices and a large number of places to purchase alcohol, including the gift shop of our hotel. Bonus! Met up with friend and had wonderfully delicious dinner at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion. Since I don’t eat seafood, I chose the braised short ribs. They were fantastic. Sake was excellent and all tales tell that the seafood was also quite tasty.

Friday, June 27:
I spent all day Friday in the Emerging Leaders pre-conference meeting and poster session. I know a lot of people have been waiting to hear my opinion on the Emerging Leaders program. I loved my project group. They were great to work with, fun to laugh with and had wonderful attitudes and personalities. It was a pleasure working with them this year and I think we really pulled off a great project. As for the program itself, I think it is a really good idea, but it has not found the right implementation. Our group had very minimal interaction with our mentor and our project was sorta undefined. We ended up creating what we thought it should be, and in the end it turned out great and got a good deal of positive feedback, but it was not the experience I expected. If anything, I walked away, particularly after Leslie Burger’s session with the ELs, that the upper echelons of ALA have no clue about the reality of being a new librarian.

After being sprung from the EL all day session, I met up with Maurice and we headed over to the LITA happy hour. It was held at the Hotel Menage- the farthest hotel from the convention center. We were troopers and hoofed it although I was fairly certain a tragedy was going to occur when trying to cross the freeway on-ramp. Once there I met up with a bunch of awesome folks and had a few drinks before finding Maurice again and heading out to dinner at Mccormicks. Then walked back to hotel and passed out.

Saturday, June 28:
I love committee meetings at 8am. It is the best part of the conference. I drug myself out of bed to make it to several committee meetings. I ran into my boss by the convention center and chatted with him for awhile, texted Maurice to let him know that I was still alive after narrowly avoiding a large disaster, and then made my way to some sessions. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about RFID in large libraries. I filed all of that info away in the hopes that when I need to think about it in the next year it will magically reappear.

I then attended what I thought was the best session I went to all conference, “Stretching Existing Staff: New Service Delivery Models.” This was a panel presentation featuring librarians from the San Jose PL, Queens PL, Richland County (SC) PL, and the Atlanta-Fulton PL. The topic was delivering library services and rethinking service delivery models without an increase in staff. This was so great and so on my mind lately. The level of enthusiasm from the speakers was palpable and they are all doing such wonderful things in their organizations. It was just the kind of shot in the arm that I needed to hear. I tip my hat to all of them.

After breaking for lunch I attended a session on library space design and redesign. It was a bit dry, but very informative. Lots to think about and keep in the back of my head for the coming building project we are currently in at MPOW.

After that session I headed back to my hotel for a nap before dinner. I wasn’t feeling so great and the quick nap helped. I went out to dinner with a former colleague and an eclectic group of librarians, OCLC folk and a vendor or two. It was this total hole in the wall Mexican restaurant and the only thing more eclectic than the guest list at dinner was the menu at the restaurant – beef stroganoff? chicken teriyaki? Need I say more?????? The food was excellent and the 8 pitchers (you read that right) were delicious. Fortunately our hotel was right next door so no long walking involved in order to get back to the room and sleep.

Sunday, June 29:
Made it to my committee meeting and then met up with Maurice at convention center. This would be the moment in my conference experience where I would begin to refer to myself as “Maurice’s Bag Bitch.” Because when you travel with three laptops, someone has to keep an eye on them all and that is what I did for the rest of the trip. I watched him prep for the Top Tech Trends panel while sitting in the back of the room chatting with Meredith and Adam and then stayed for the presentation. This was my first TTT and I enjoyed it. It was interesting to hear what everyone had to say, and I liked watching the activity in the chatroom and reading comments on twitter. I did feel that the chatroom was a bit distracting from time to time, but it worked. Maurice did an excellent job as moderator (he got the biggest laughs of the afternoon). My only criticism was that I would have liked to see a bit more enthusiasm and sense of humor from the panel. I tend to really enjoy sessions where I feel the presenters love what they are doing and talking about. That was lacking a bit for me, but overall I think it was a success.

I then hung out in the room, being the best Bag Bitch ever, until the LITA President’s Program with Joe Janes began. He was excellent. A very dynamic speaker. Very optimistic and positive. He was able to chide just a little bit without being painful. His take home message was dead-on: we need to do better in the online environment. Lots of great thoughts and ideas to think about as we go into our building process. I am so glad I attended this session.

I followed that up with a trip upstairs to the OCLC Blogger’s Salon where I met up with lots of names I recognized from the blogosphere and Twitter. It was great to put names to faces and have some laughs and good conversation. We then made the greatest escape ever with some pals and had dinner at the Marriott.

Monday, June 30:
I needed to catch up on my sleep, so I slept in a bit. Headed out for lunch and then visited the exhibit hall. After spending almost two hours in there we hit the mother load for history geeks. A small press, whose name escapes me at the moment and whose receipt I don’t have in front of me, was selling their editions of American historical documents and literature at ridiculously low prices. For example, Maurice purchased the entire US constitution and related documents, a 5 volume set, for $30. I purchased the entire Federalist for $5. We spent about $70 for what was probably well over $350 worth of books. We did exactly what we said we wouldn’t which was buy a ton of books, but at those prices we could not refuse. I also bought the greatest children’s book I have ever seen for $3 from a publisher who sold it to me on the sly. I literally pulled out 3 dollar bills and she was like take it!

Then Maurice went to the UPS store to ship our treasure home and I met up with a director friend of mine for a drink in the Hilton bar. 45 minutes later, Maurice joined us, regaled us with his adventure in the line at the UPS store, and then we went back to the hotel before meeting up with friends for dinner at Buca. Dinner was great, I was exhausted from walking all over the place, so it was back to the hotel and bed for me.

Tuesday, July 1:
We took a little trip out to Cal State Northridge with one of our colleagues to see their ASRS (Automated Storage and Retrieval System) and the library. In order to get there we rented a car and ended up with a convertible because that was all that was available. This was my first time in a convertible and unless the next time is in Alaska at night, I will never do it again. The sun and LA traffic do not make for a fun ride in a convertible. The folks at Northridge were very friendly and they have a very nice library. Tons and tons of public computing, very impressive. It took us almost 90 minutes to get back and we needed to get ready for the Inaugural Ball that night. Maurice and I were attending in support of our former colleague, Andrew Pace, becoming the president of LITA. We had a lot of fun. Librarians and dancing is always a treat. The “band shouldn’t play to an empty room” rule was in full effect and we totally closed that party down. It was the most fun I have had in a while and I laughed till I almost passed out. Upon returning to my room after midnight, I quickly did pass out in anticipation of getting picked up by our airport shuttle in 5 hours.

We spent all day Wednesday on planes and in airports. I was pretty much cranky and delirious by the time we were picked up. I plan on using the next couple of days to recover and get back on Eastern standard time (so far it is not working).

This was my first ALA and it was a tremendous amount of fun. I owe Mo a big thanks for being the best partner in crime ever, and I am glad that my Bag Bitch services came in handy. I want to thank everyone I met and talked to. It was great to meet so many wonderful people. It feels so weird being home and not surrounded by hundreds of librarians. Even though I am exhausted, I feel inspired and rather optimistic about the profession and all the good things that are to come. Thanks for being awesome, everyone!

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.

There is a great post over at Management Craft today.  I can’t say, “Amen!!!!” enough about it.  If you have ever worked for someone who says one thing and does another, you know the frustration that comes along with that type of management style.

I can’t reiterate this point enough.  As a manager, don’t make promises that you can’t or won’t keep.  Do not say one thing and then do another, or worse, do nothing.  The other point that goes along with this is if you make a promise and it is going to take longer than anticipated or something is happening that is affecting what you are doing, let people know.  Keep the communication flowing.  Be honest.  If you slacked off, admit it. If something came up and threw a wrench in the whole plan, let your staff know.

Lisa writes, “Great managers do what others don’t or won’t.”  That is 100% true.  As managers we have to be the bad guy sometimes.  We have to have the uncomfortable conversations.  We may have to step completely outside our comfort zones and be people we normally aren’t in the course of a day’s work.  And we have to understand that we can’t internalize or take any of it personally.

Great managers do what they say they will, but they also know how to maintain an objective, impersonal perspective.  I have learned that I am really bad when having to deal with coworkers who cannot accept constructive or professional criticism.  I am very aware of how I give criticism.  I keep it simple and cordial.  I never make it a personal attack or say it in a way that it could be perceived as such.  However, some people cannot separate the professional from the personal and that can cause problems.

Being able to separate the two is a key to success.  While I do identify as a librarian and a manager, I know that is not who I am in the core of my being.  There is much more to me than what I do for a living and when someone comments or criticizes my job performance, I take it as such.

I wasn’t always like this, and I was much more miserable in my career.  The best advice I can give anyone, is do your job to the best of your ability, do what you say you will, and don’t take it personally.

There is a great deal of discussion going on this week about librarianship as a profession and the differences between those of us working in libraries who have an MLS versus those who do not and the type of work we do and deprofessionalization or devaluing of the library degree, and yadda, yadda, yadda. I will defer to Rachel’s two posts for a great analysis of much of the debate surrounding this topic and why people feel the way they do. I agree wholeheartedly with Rachel’s and Meredith’s thoughts on this topic and I think Dorothea makes some excellent observations and offers some interesting points for further discussion. My two cents in this whole discussion is: Welcome to my and my staff’s (both current and former) world.

For the most part I am going to take myself as an example out of this, but before doing so let me put this out there, you want a nice, healthy dose of being made to feel second class by colleagues – be a circulation librarian for a week at someplace other than MPOW who thankfully get it. I have written about this before, so moving right along…

Rachel posted a sample of some of the comments left on her post by para-professional staff:

* “My entree into the world of library work made me want to turn tail and run, not become a librarian: the issue of who is “real” and who is not is way too reoccurring on list serves like lm_net.” – Sarah Zoe
* “Having been on the “them” side of an us vs. them argument for a while now, I also feel apprehensive about joining the degreed population. The condescension with which some people refer to those in my position is enough to make me feel ill. I joined publib for a few months last year and ended my subscription after I had a nightmare that degreed librarians were attacking a fellow technician and me while we hid in a car. The librarians smashed themselves up against the windows of the car, clawing at the glass to get at us.” – Jamie
* “As someone with a college degree but not a MLS, I am not treated with the same degree of respect by other ‘true librarians’ although I perform many of the same jobs.” – Judy Tsujioka
* “In terms of treatment on the job, it is intimidating to be in this position, be specifically called an LTA because it’s blasphemous to call me a librarian (!) and not be valued for my ideas. Certain tasks aren’t given to me because I don’t have a degree, though I certainly could do them and have the time to do them. It’s unfair and I’m tired of these two spheres in the library world never crossing over. It does nothing for the profession as a whole. I’m not asking to be put on reference alone or anything, but simply to be respected for what I do despite my lack of a degree. Furthermore, I hate being reminded that I am ‘not there’ yet. I’m doing the best I can, with the finances and time that I have.” – JP
* “In the olden days, whenever I expressed an opinion in front of a “librarian,” I would be asked, “Where did you get your MLS?” This was code for, “Do you have permission to speak?” I would answer that I was a mere school librarian, so all I had were bachelor’s degrees in math and English, a teaching credential, and a library credential — all obtained in the early 1970s. When I got around to enrolling in the MLS program, in the 1990s, I discovered that my articles were on the required reading list. I asked the professor, “Is this guy any good?” After a few moments of praise, he paused (quick fellow) and asked, “What did you say your name was?” And then, “Why are you taking this class? You could teach it.” I replied that I was taking the class so that degreed folks would take me seriously.” – Richard Moore
* “I was astounded when, a few months back, I discovered that I couldn’t get class credit for completing a real-life project at my own library because…. dum-de-DUM… my professor did not consider my director a real librarian. This instructor required all projects to be conducted with the partnership of an MLS-degreed librarian” – what’s in a name?

Do I need to say that this makes me angry, frustrated, disheartened and plain sick? Well, I just did. I have been thinking about this issue of “deprofessionalization.” To quote David Rothman on Uncontrolled Vocabulary last week, I also think the term is a whole “lot of bullshit.”

You wanna know who is devaluing our profession? We are.

Every time a librarian says or does something that makes a non-MLS library employee feel like a second class citizen the profession and the degree loses its value. Every support staff person who is treated badly is one more person who thinks librarians are jerks and that having an MLS means you are better than those who don’t. Every MLS student whose opinion is not valued because they have yet to graduate is one more MLS student who is doubting that this was the right career choice and wondering if the time and money is well spent.

I have to keep reminding myself that just because a person has a professional degree doesn’t mean they act professionally. Respect is earned; not demanded or given freely. Common courtesy goes a long way and treating people differently based on the type of degree they do or do not have is ridiculous. When did it become all about us and not about serving our patrons?

I found some of the comments made by librarians on Rachel’s posts quite embarrassing.

I’m talking like hide my MLS embarrassing.

Hope I never work with you embarrassing.

At MPOW we ask a hell of a lot from our staff. They do work that is being done by librarians at other organizations and they do a damn good job. The day I think I am better or more qualified or my opinion means more than theirs is the day someone better tell me to quit because I am overcome with bitterness. We should be encouraging our coworkers to consider getting an MLS. We should be actively engaging in discussion and listening to their input and ideas. Valuing all opinions – degreed or not.

Until we do this, you can continue to see our profession and our degree looked upon as a union card, a joke, and/or a license to be an asshat. There’s your deprofessionalization.