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.
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.
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.
March 13, 2010
As managers we ask a lot of our staff. We ask them to roll with changes in processes, services, work spaces, sometimes even the department or units they work in. We ask this and expect them to receive it with grace, flexibility and a smile. If you’re a good manager you’ve planned ahead and are offering the support and resources required to make changes like this successful and as pain-free as possible. If you’re working in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, you’re making these decisions fast, with little to no time to really plan ahead as thoroughly as you’d like. More and more the latter seems to be the norm and that is fine, as long as we remember that we still need to provide resources, support and guidance to the people these decisions and changes affect.
So we ask a lot of our staff. We ask for their patience. Their understanding. Their cooperation. Calmness. Flexibility. Maturity. The list goes on and on and on. But what are we giving them in return? What are we changing? In my experience when we ask our staff to accept changes we expect a level of self-awareness and actualization in order to make the process successful. We expect people to be able to articulate their needs and wants in order to make a transition go smoothly. But are we asking the same level of self-awareness from ourselves? Are we moving outside of our comfort zone? Are we adapting our management styles and strategies to respond to the constantly changing needs and wants of our staff, our patrons, our libraries?
It is very easy to find ourselves in a rut. We stick with what works. What is comfortable. What we know well. Unfortunately, what worked last year or last month or last week or Hell, what worked yesterday, may not be what is going to work today and tomorrow. Can we recognize that? Better yet, once we recognize it, can we make the changes?
We tell our staff that change is good. Change is necessary. Change is constant. But are we walking that walk?
I feel like I’ve gotten off track the past 7 months. I’m stuck in a rut. This is me admitting that I need to change my approach to certain management issues. This past week reminded me of the type of manager I strive to be. It also made me realize that I got so caught up in one aspect of management that I lost sight of the big picture and the larger goal. I’ve been thinking about this all week. More importantly I’ve been asking questions and listening to the answers I’ve been getting. I’m taking this information and doing a bit of a self-inventory. Standing in front of the mirror and taking a look at things from a different angle. I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t room for improvement. I’d also be a terrible manager if I thought everything looked great.
My point is this: change *is* good. For everyone. Including those of us in charge. Great managers and leaders are constantly examining how they approach challenges and obstacles. This does not mean you have to change your values or beliefs, but you may have to change how you embody them.
We all know that people change. Yet we forget that fact when we manage performance. Here is my reminder to myself of that fact. It is also a recommitment to my staff. As you all strive to do better, so will I. Together we will do great things.
January 12, 2010
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.
December 17, 2009
I can’t believe that in less than 3 weeks 2009 will be gone and 2010 will be upon us. To say that 2009 was a rollercoaster would be an understatement. The past few days I have been thinking back on the year and listing what I thought the highs were. There were many moments that make me smile. I’m going to try to list some of them chronologically.
January: Our new associate department head, Colleen Harris, started. She has been a fantastic addition to the department’s management team. She hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped.
March: Our circulation/reserves supervisor, Tina Adams, was named Library Journal’s Paraprofessional of the Year. To say that I was/am beyond proud is another understatement. This was the first year NCSU Libraries submitted a nominee for the award and we won! The competition was stiff, but the awesome thing was the terrific amount of support Tina received from her colleagues. Her nomination letter and letters of support were strong and spanned various departments in the library. I am so proud of her.
May: The department survived another semester. We had a full year of course textbooks and Reserves Direct had been implemented for an entire year. Neither of these projects could have been possible or successful without the expertise of our colleagues in collection management, IT, acquisitions, metadata & cataloging, and preservation.
June & July: In addition to the staff training that ADS completed, staff successfully navigated the merger of the media/microforms center with ADS. This involved some changes in responsibilities and positions for certain staff, as well as absorbing and moving the entire media collection. I am incredibly proud of how all the staff directly affected by the closing of MMC and ADS as a whole handled this change. We also took over the responsibility of circing tech lending devices. This is a high volume service that requires some more specialized knowledge and included a staff person being added to the department. Again I am proud and impressed by how this was handled by everyone directly affected.
August: The first Annual ADS Staff Retreat was held the first week of August. It was/is the proudest day of my professional career. Nothing has made me happier than what happened that day. The department came together all at once, for the first time all 30+ of us were in the same room at once, and we talked about the kind of department we would like to be. The ideas expressed and shared were positive and constructive. I was proud and impressed with my staff. They showed me how incredible they all are and how much they are committed to both the department’s and Library’s mission. It was amazing. It would not have been a success were it not for the fantastic facilitation provided by our colleagues in Training and Development.
September – December: The first semester where we were hit with the big three: tech lending, course reserves, and textbooks. This was also the first semester where we hired students to work the circulation desk alongside full-time staff (at least since I have been here). I truly feel the semester was a smashing success. The students are a tremendous amount of fun to work with and watching them and the staff bond has been a riot. There are some definite lasting friendships. There is now a waiting list to get to work in ADS. Students are stalker our supervisors in order to get interviewed. It is awesome and indicative that we are doing something right. I am beaming.
Personally, I have had one of the most fulfilling professional years of my career. Aside from what is listed above, my colleagues continue to impress me with their expertise and willingness to collaborate and share. I gave more presentations this year than any year previous. In my opinion they were all resounding successes. I am most proud to have been included on the ACRL/NY’s Annual Symposium’s program this year. It was a fantastic day and I thoroughly enjoyed giving my presentation. I spoke at Brick & Click on managing staff performance and got terrific feedback. It was a great feeling to share some of my expertise with my colleagues at other libraries. The first Access Services Conference was held this year in Atlanta. It was exciting to be a part of the inaugural program and I am looking forward to attending and presenting again at next year’s conference. It was a thrill to finally put faces to names and to have it reiterated that I am not alone in the work I do.
On the whole 2009 was pretty awesome. I am looking forward to 2010 and the challenges and opportunities it will bring. BRING IT, LIBRARYLAND!
May 25, 2009
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 was going to title this post Compassionate Management, but I think I want to go bigger than just this one aspect. Confrontation. Most people hate it. A small number love it, while a much larger number work diligently to avoid it. Contrary to what people may think, this is not a part of being a manager that makes our year. We do not relish in it, and it can be an extremely uncomfortable interaction.
A while ago I wrote a post about Giving and Receiving Feedback. It is one of the most popular posts on this site and it is extremely applicable in this discussion. Rather than re-hash it, I want to expand on it a bit. As managers we have a responsibility to our superiors, our employers and most importantly, our staff to provide performance feedback and guidance. Ignoring under performers and claiming blissful ignorance, or covering for those whose work is not up to standard helps no one and hurts a heck of a lot of people. I come to work each day and have to look each of my staff in the face and tell them I am working hard to help them. If I chose not to address blatant performance issues I would be lying to them. I don’t like lying or liars.
Confronting someone about their performance or behavior is not a fun or easy task. There have been many books written about how to conduct a performance discussion and/or review. All give solid advice and I have used many of the tips and strategies. The important thing to remember is that a person needs to understand and accept responsibilty for their performance and behavior. They need to know how they will be evaluated and that they will be held accountable when issues arise. As managers we need to work with staff to correct or improve performance. We need to provide our feedback in a constructive manner, clearly and concisely. And most importantly, set expectations and deadlines if necessary.
This is not a joyous or fun part of being a manager. Confrontation is a part of life – work life, home life, personal life. At work, it is just abou that. It’s not personal and should not be taken that way. No one likes to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear. No one likes firing anyone. I would not want to work for someone who enjoyed these types of interactions.
March 2, 2009
I am so incredibly proud to work with Tina Adams, LJ’s Paraprofessional of the Year for 2009. Tina is a valued member of my department who truly cares about our work and our staff. What tickled me pink about Tina’s nomination was the willingness of our colleagues to write letters of support and recommendation. She is a credit to the profession and I hope that I have the good fortune to work with her for many years to come. Congratulations, Tina! You deserve this!!!!
February 5, 2009
Happy New Year! Well, work trumped blogging a lot towards the end of 2008. There was a lot of work orienting new employees, general end of the semester/year craziness, and then preparing for the new associate department head’s arrival. There have been a lot of posts brewing in my head and I figured now is a good time to share some thoughts.
A friend of mine recently reminded me of a post over at Brazen Careerist that I had bookmarked. It is focused on good management and stresses the importance of generosity when managing people. I agree with Penelope on pretty much all of her points, but my mind can’t help but go one step beyond where she ends. It is absolutely true that the good managers are the ones who give generously of their time, patience, skills, and mentorship. A good manager checks in with staff on a daily basis, listens to their feedback, addresses issues and concerns, provides the necessary resources, and dedicates time to developing their stafft. I get behind all of this and try to practice this in my management style. The last paragraph of the post is what hit home for me:
“So really, management is an opportunity to self-actualize. Some people will self-actualize by being artists, or writing code. Some people will self-actualize through management. Some, a combination. But the point here is that being in management is an opportunity to grow spiritually and give back to the world in a way that is enormously fulfilling. If you allow it. You will need to set aside real time to make this happen. And you need to give generously. No big surprise there, though, because why else are we here, on this planet, except to give to each other?”
Reading this started the wheels turning in my head. The holidays put the wheels on pause, but then recent discussions at work and home this week got them spinning all over again. The big questions I keep spinning around: What happens when you get little to nothing in return? What happens when you get nothing but negative back? How can we as managers build something from little to nothing?
I’ve been thinking that the short answer is that it means you’re in for a lot more work as a manager. You need to dig your heels in, find the small, but significant battles to win, and every now and again pull the rug out from under people in an effort to facilitate change. Failure is always a possibility.
Sometimes I feel like management is treated as if we are not allowed to have feelings or needs. Sometimes we have to swallow a lot that in situations other than work we would never stand for. I love a challenge and I love to give of myself, but sometimes it can be a very draining, unrewarding experience. No one wants to hear or talk about that side of the coin, but I think it is time.
August 10, 2008
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.