Sunday, October 01, 2006

To praise or not to praise?

An interesting management issue arose this week. Part of our strategic planning involves getting input from our users, so I am spending a lot of time attending various faculty (and I hope soon, student) meetings. I want to make sure everyone in the library hears what our users are saying so I send the notes to the whole library. I am also thinking about ways to keep these available, may be a website. Obviously some of what we hear is positive and some is negative, but the point is to get outside our box and listen.

I think this is new for the Olin Library, and it is a little challenging for some. It is made more challenging by a very different style on my part. As you may have noticed if you read this blog, I believe in open communication and sharing lots of information and multiple perspectives. I think you generally end up with stronger decisions even if it can be a bit messy getting there. Traditionally the Olin Library seems to be a low-conflict, high-consensus organization. To avoid conflict and achieve at least the appearance of consensus information and communication has been carefully managed by everyone in the library. Kinda the Thumper's mother school of communication -- if you can't say nice, don't say anything at all.

I disturbed this culture by giving everyone the unedited notes from the meeting I attended, but -- and this was worse -- by specifically singling out certain individuals who had been mentioned positively by those at the meeting and thanking them for their contribution.

Naturally, those who were mentioned are those that the faculty interact with. There are many people working in the library who do excellent work without which the library would not function, but that work is not seen by our users. This is a persistent problem in libraries. Public services get thanks, technical services do not, reference librarians generally get to help users find stuff and so users think they are great, while circulation folks have to fine users for overdue books etc. and are often seen as the bad guys. As a director I have to find ways to overcome this and make sure that everyone's contribution is recognized.

However, the way to do that is not to praise no one. If individuals do good work that is noticed, I intend to let them know and let everyone else in the library know as well. But I also need to find ways to reward excellent work that is hidden from our users but makes a real contribution to our operations.

I also need to get people used to the idea that "a full and frank exchange of views", as the diplomats would say, is a good thing as long as it is done in a constructive and respectful manner because it will eventually lead to stronger shared decisions and purpose. These kind of organization culture changes take time, but are worth doing.


Naomi said...

We, women need to learn to accept the praise that is given to one another. Many of us are accustomed to giving, but not receiving. I know for many its that hangover from being the caregiver and having it ingrained into our spirits that a woman (mother) is always last. I am delighted when someone is praised and acknowledged for good. It means that we are doing something right, for we are one. I say keep the praise coming for whomever it is intended for. The act of giving and receiving is a universal law. Let's embrace it all and see how we will begin to glow with and for one another and the people we serve. It has a positive ripple effect on the organization. It's all good!

Anonymous said...

will you come to my library and change their managment style?