By Meredith Farkas | April 15, 2010
I took an absolutely obscene amount of notes from Ken Haycock’s keynote, because it was just one pearl of wisdom after another (I’m only including some choice bits here). I’ve seen Ken speak once before, and he is someone I would go out of my way to hear speak because he has such deep knowledge of and experience with leadership and management. He has been in so many different leadership positions and positions where he has had to ask for resources and create change and consensus. Ken is currently the director of the School of Library and Information Science at San José State University (where I teach) and he has really turned the program into one of the most innovative in the world.
I loved this comment he made early in the talk, “if you don’t promote yourself, you’re doomed to defend yourself.” Libraries suffer from the curse of high satisfaction. We do a great job, but as a result, no one talks about us, complains about us, or asks the powers-that-be for us to get more resources. Libraries don’t get rewarded for outstanding performance or even for poor performance. Libraries tend to be bad at presenting our data in a way that is persuasive. We need to look at how to present our data to the powers-that-be to get what we want and need. It’s not just about showing that demand went up, it’s about tying it to things that are important to the powers-that-be.
Leadership is about social influence rather than hierarchy. We all need to be leaders. Leadership is about building trust, building social capital and listening to others more than speaking. I really agreed with Ken when he mentioned that he prefers informal mentoring to having a formal mentor role. You should seek out people whom you admire to be your “board of directors” and be the CEO of your own life. You don’t have to ask them to be mentors; just get their thoughts on decisions you need to make. These people may not even realize they’re your mentors. This is exactly what I’ve done in my career – I haven’t asked people to be my mentors, but there are a number of people whom I consider mentors in light of the wisdom they have offered me over the years.
I also loved when Ken said that arguing for libraries on the basis of the public good is “so last century.” We need to argue for public value – what real value to we provide our patrons?
Ken talked a lot about advocacy. Public relations is all about us (“here’s what we do!”), but advocacy is all about our users. We need to learn what our users need and then give them what they want. Advocacy is planned, deliberate, sustained effort to develop understanding and support incrementally over time. Advocacy is really about respect and connecting agendas. We can’t just come to the door of the powers-that-be with our hand out. “You can’t make a withdrawal before you make a deposit.” We need to build relationships and connect with the values of the people we want to influence. We need to be at the table when the problem of the larger organization (University, municipal authority, state, etc.) is defined and offer solutions from a library perspective. This totally meshes with my thoughts on the promotion of information literacy – that it’s so much more persuasive when it’s tied to already existing university goals and initiatives. Ken recommended a book called “Yes…” that is definitely on my to-read list now.
One interesting tip that Ken gave is about personalizing the things – that a handwritten note on a report is going to get more attention on the report than if it just comes to them via email or something. I plan to start doing this for important things I want to make sure people read and respond to.
The last talk I went to was on Staff Development: Soft Skills, Firm Results, given by three of my favorite librarians: Janie Hermann of the Princeton Public Library and Mary Carmen Chimato and Colleen Harris of NCSU. The Princeton Public Library had never done a staff development day for the entire staff, but when they moved into their new building, it became necessary because people were on different floors and were more separated physically. They began to feel out of touch. PPL doesn’t have a full-time staff training coordinator – it’s sort of an “other duties as assigned” thing for a few librarians at PPL. This sounds familiar. They decided to do a library camp. They asked people to suggest ideas for birds of a feather sessions and had people vote on the sessions they wanted. They then picked the ones that got the most votes for that day’s discussions. They also had lightning talks. I love the idea of doing a Library Camp for a staff day and I really would love to create a Library Camp in Vermont.
Mary Carmen and Colleen (who run the Access Delivery Services department at NCSU) talked more about the how to develop shared values among staff (or “organizational clarity”) and how to correct staff behavior when norms were violated. The Access Delivery Services staff had a retreat to determine fundamentally what they do, how it fits into the larger library system, group norms, and what staff want from management. They found that staff wanted more communication, more responsibility, more risk taking, more “being given projects and told to run with them”, higher expectations for them, training and development, and recognition for their achievements. This jives with what I’ve read about what workers want. People don’t just want recognition, but they want to be trusted and given responsibilities and freedom to do things on their own. Having that freedom is a key component to feeling valued, because people who are micromanaged do not feel like their bosses think they’re capable of doing things without that level of supervision.
Staff also looked at what great customer service looks like, and determined some metrics for measuring customer service. Metrics included error rates, satisfaction surveys, compliments vs. complaints, service desk demeanor, and the claims returned rate. I think it’s important that customer service is not just thought of as “being nice” because you can be the sweetest person in the world and do a really crappy job, not help the customer properly, etc. I like that they are really thinking about how customer service is measured and making sure those measures are meaningful.
They then talked about how to deal with staff who are not meeting expectations. As managers we’re going to come up against the fact that not everyone is going to be able to learn what they need to keep up with the changing work of libraries. Sometimes the issue is that they have no interest in learning and changing and sometimes the issue is about ability. Punishment is not the answer with staff issues because there is too much uncertainty and inconsistency with that. You don’t want people to feel like they’re a target.
There are two reasons for a performance problem – lack of knowledge or lack of execution. With execution issues: make sure expectations are clarified (can your staff explain what you expect?), what obstacles your staff have, that you’re giving your staff regular feedback, and that you’ve arranged appropriate consequences. These discussions should be serious and planned and have a very specific goal. Be specific about the issue and make sure you know what the problem or problems are. Tell them what the desired performance is vs. what they’re giving you. Finally, gain agreement and determine consequences – they need to know what will happen if they don’t shape up (disciplinary or discuss). End on a positive expectation of change and follow up in writing.
After this session, I had to leave for the airport. This was my first trip away from Reed since he was born, and I wanted to spend as little time away from him as possible. I got home an hour and a half before Reed went to bed, so got to spend some cuddling and play time. While I had such a fantastic time at this conference, I am much happier to be home with Adam and Reed. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be a mother and still be able to have my professional life and enjoy networking with amazing librarians. I also feel lucky to work in a profession with such passionate, caring and helpful people. Most of the people presenting at CIL weren’t doing it to get tenure; they speak because they genuinely care about sharing information with others. What generosity! Add to that the fact that most of the people I knew at CIL were wicked fun, and this made for a brilliant conference. Good people, good sessions, decent wifi, good food… a great first conference away from my family.