My Managerial Philosophy
A friend was curious about my management philosophy and here it is. Sometimes is can be a bit too library-specific, but I think this could translate into any management position. Thoughts, gripes, or suggestions are always welcome!
People are different—manage them differently. Some people prefer structure and strict deadlines and being told what to do and when to do it. Others are comfortable working autonomously and do a good job of prioritizing and getting work done without being instructed step-by-step. It may sound like a hassle to change your strategy for each person, but it is worth it because it makes everyone’s job more pleasant, including your own.
Standard, Behavior, and Impact
When something goes wrong, it’s easy to stay as professional as possible if you think of it and talk about it in terms of standard, behavior, and impact. “The standard is you are to arrive at 8:30am. The behavior is you arrived at 8:40am. The impact is the newspapers are not ready by 9:00am when our first patrons arrive asking for them.” It’s simple, convincing, professional, and above all, rational. Also use this when it comes to praise. “The standard is you are to arrive at 8:30am. The behavior is you arrived at 8:25am so you were ready to start work on time. The impact is not only did you get the newspapers done, but you were able to help a co-worker with another task.” It’s a nice way to organize and communicate expectations, right?
Try YES first
When a patron asks if their fines can be waived, or an employee wants to change up their schedule, or your boss asks if you can work an extra Sunday one month, start with YES rather than NO. And be creative with your yes! A lot of times, your yes means you or your library or community comes out on top.
How about asking the fine-laden patron to sign up for the summer reading club in exchange for waiving a portion or all of their fines? That ups your statistics. Or ask them to donate canned goods for the local food pantry? That helps your community and your patron. (And his kids, who can resume using the library now that the fines are cleared up. Again, helping the community at large).
Recently, an employee asked if they could have Saturday mornings off in order to take a summer class. Summer is our busiest time of year and we rely pretty heavily on our Saturday staff. It would have been easy to say no. But, I said yes and made the necessary (temporary) switches to make it work. First of all, taking a class is a good thing for the employee’s future and makes the employee happy. Secondly, I then had some leverage—can you work this other morning instead, and also, can you work late this other day? Now her first instinct when I ask her for other things is to say yes.
And when your boss asks for a favor, saying yes might make your annual evaluation that much better (and might result in a raise!). And you don’t have to sacrifice a lot, truly. Try something like, “Sure, I’m happy to cover that Sunday. In exchange, may I take Monday night off so I can go to the Internet Cat Video Festival?” Win-win, see?
And yes, of course there are times when no is the appropriate answer, but don’t automatically start with no. Trying to find a way to get to yes sometimes still results in a no.
Strive to make everyone’s life better
Okay, that sounds lofty and altruistic, but think about it. As a manager, you have many customers—the public, the employees, your supervisors. Each time you interact with any of them, you impact them in some way. Kindness, openness, good listening, compromise, and good cheer goes a long way.
When a grumpy patron comes to the desk, kill them with kindness. Maybe their dog just died. Maybe they just got laid off. They are not coming in to ruin your day, I promise. You have the power to make their day a tiny bit better by treating them with respect and going an extra step or two. I think of these scenarios as an fun challenge when I’m at the desk—I wonder if I can make this person smile, or relax a little, or feel really good about the library. (And maybe they’ll come back in a different mood next time).
When someone needs help with their resume right then and there, I do what I can to help them. I might mention that we have resume workshops or one-on-one training by appointment, but I’m not going to automatically make a referral. That’s lazy. Plus, the person is probably asking right this minute because they have an interview tomorrow. You have the power to help them with their resume and therefore make a better impression and hopefully, therefore, land a job. Why not go for it?
When your boss sends out a new policy change, be the only person who doesn’t complain about it. Even if you think it might be an unwise change, you can try something like, “I’m happy to institute that change. Will there be a chance for feedback after X weeks/days/months?” That way you aren’t dismissing it straightaway. You’ll have real world feedback to give and you might be surprised that the new way actually works.
Empower yourself and your staff to use discretion.
Just like every employee is different, every customer and situation that arises is different. Yes, we have policies and procedures and they are very important to be able to point to when faced with a conundrum or a difficult situation. But good leaders know when to bend the rules and learning to do that takes practice. Allow your staff the freedom to decide what should be done in any given situation. I’m immensely proud of employees who bend the rules in order to provide excellent customer service in a sticky situation rather than coming to get me to make the decision for them. I tell my staff, “You will never be in trouble for using your best judgment to give good service.” Trust your employees. (And if you don’t trust one or two of them, work on building that trust. And if you don’t trust anyone on your staff, work on yourself.) I also tell staff that there will be times when it will seem that I “side” with the customer. I ask them to trust me in those situations and trust that I’m doing what I think is best in order to stop the situation from escalating or causing the patron to have bad feelings toward the library or libraries in general. (We all know at least one person who has a library horror story from when they were a kid—those feelings last a long, long time!)
Get staff buy-in wherever you can
Want to make a few changes? Or many changes? We all know by now that people are scared of change. Asking for input or suggestions about an issue is a way to get support for the idea. If someone makes a suggestion that you implement, that means that person will consciously (or subconsciously) help promote it among their co-workers. And if someone doesn’t answer, that’s on her. She had a chance. You can’t do this on every little change, but do it when you can. It shows your employees that you care about what they think and it really does result in good things since they are more in-the-know than you on a lot of front-line things.
Do what they do and model, model, model
Managers should not be above any task. If for no other reason than to keep current, you should spend some time shelving, answering phones, helping customers, etc. I tell my staff, “I will not ask you to do anything I’m not willing to do.” That’s pretty difficult to argue with. And when you are doing those tasks, do them well. Model excellent service, straight shelves, well-organized book carts, and good telephone etiquette. It’s saying, “This is what I’m looking for. This is how to do it.”
This one is a no-brainer. Open, consistent communication (up, down, and all around), an open door (figuratively as well as physically: open the blinds of your office, open your door, put a bowl of candy near the entrance to entice people in), and above all, an open mind. Managers certainly do not know everything. Be as receptive to new ideas as you hope people are to yours.
That’s it for now! I will likely add to this list as I gain more experience.