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Library Managers: are you abdicating your People Development?

Recently the concept of ‘managing by abdication’ was raised in a discussion regarding Library Managers avoiding that ‘behaviour conversation’. The common solution being offered instead of having this difficult conversation is to develop a process aimed at managing one staff member’s behaviour. What is often not understood is that the effect of the new process is often seen as a punishment, which in turn can destroy trust & ongoing team morale. There is a lot written on the leadership aspect of appropriate delegation practices, micromanagement and the need to lead projects rather than abdicate responsibility and this explanation really resonated with me:

Trust — Verify — Inspect. The first without the last two is abdication. The last without the first two is micro managing. If you miss the middle then you are dealing with innuendo.

I have written about micromanagement in libraries before and this is much more the norm from conversations I have had at conferences and library industry networking events. And another norm, is Library Managers, Branch Managers, and Supervisors abdicating the behaviour conversation to a process. No amount of procedures, processes or rules will change staff behaviour but staff managers who are not confident in having courageous conversations feel more in control to be able to point to a process and use failure to adhere to it as a performance conversation. The other norm that I see often is the failure of library managers to include behaviour, relationships and team participation in the performance development conversation. After all it is just about the task right? And the staff member in question is excellent at doing the task, and even though their behaviour is demoralising other team members, and driving a negative culture in the team there can be an abdication of the personal development of this difficult team member — either to the HR Unit or to a process.

As managers of teams, library managers need to take responsibility for developing their people managing skills and to be confident in managing the courageous conversation regarding acceptable behaviour. The consequences of not leading your teams and managing the behaviours of team members are:

  1. Cynicism and mistrust of the leadership grow as library staff, especially those being impacted by the bad behaviour, perceive leadership abdication in this matter as the leaders not caring about the work, the team or them
  2. As the identified leaders in a library service it is the responsibility of all library manages to clearly set and demonstrate the ethical and behavioural standards in how we treat each other in this workplace. If there is not a firm and clear direction regarding acceptable behaviour, modelled by the leadership then library staff can lack a sense of acceptable organisational culture which can lead to more bad behaviours in the workplace, staff unsure of what the proper response is and can sometimes lead to unethical and unkind behaviours growing in the workplace.

So how do you have that courageous conversation? Library Managers need to be honest about their own skill sets and seek further professional development in this area if needed. Often as Librarians, people management has not been a strong part of our professional skill set and as our careers build there is an imperative for identified professional development to fill these key gaps. But here are 7 steps that may help to get you started because what is at stake here is the culture of your library service.

Step 1: Preparation. Every time a performance conversation is held it is important that as a Manager you are prepared. Be clear on the issues you want discussed. Ensure you are aware of the library service code of conduct, the authority level you have and at what point you should seek further input. Have you discussed the difficult conversation with your HR unit and sought advice on how to frame the discussion? And are you clear on the outcome that you are seeking from the discussion.

Step 2: Clarity. Once you are prepared be very clear with the employee what the issue is that is under discussion. Keep to the point. Do not allow the employee to deflect the conversation to other matters but you can table these other matters for discussion at a later time — especially if the conversation is being deflected to another staff member’s behaviour.

Step 3: Seek to Understand: Cultivate a questioning conversation where you seek to understand the behaviours noted, the examples that you have and to authentically seek the employee’s point of view.

Step 4: Build Understanding of the stakes involved: Ensure that you have heard and listen to the employee and then clarify with them that understanding. It is important, though, to ensure that they understand what the stakes involved are. ‘What is at stake here is …..’ so that the employee understands the impact of the behaviours they are exhibiting. Be clear about acceptable behaviour and what that looks like.

Step 5: Co-create a Solution: Ask the employee to come up with ideas and strategies that they think might work to get them to exhibit the acceptable behaviours expected of all team members. Suggest (from your preparation) other strategies if the employee cannot do this and work on an acceptable solution for both you and the employee involved.

Step 6: Identify a Check-in schedule to keep focus on the agreed solution. It is important to identify another time to check-in to discuss whether the strategies are working for the employee and to support them through a change of behaviour. Take note of the positive changes that are being exhibited so that you can be encouraging and seek to understand the triggers if the employee’s behaviour falls back into old patterns. This is not a ‘you have failed’ conversation but more a coaching process to coach the employee to be more self managed and to acknowledge good behaviour.

Step 7: Monitor your own stress levels and be self aware: It is important to be aware of the need to coach the staff we manage to build a good team culture. This can be stressful if the team is in a difficult place. Ensure that you have good support structures around you, debrief with your HR staff so that you can continually have support and improved suggestions in entering the next conversations.

Written by

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics

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