I’ve been asked to write a “conclusions” post about this project, and the very short summary is this: The RISWS process works in library management. Our study participants became better managers when they used this process and they experienced better morale and work outcomes when they used the process consistently with their employees. When problems occurred, whether internal to their departments or external from their organizations, the transparent communication process of RISWS helped them manage through these issues without chaos.
I wasn’t surprised by this, because I know RISWS works in any kind of organization that employs people. The process gives a structure for solving problems that rewards the people involved for using their individual skills and experience. So it’s going to work in any situation in which a manager can make it safe for an employee to tell the truth about the work process.
What did surprise me a lot, though, was how chaotic a work environment academic libraries are. They are underfunded and overworked, student-facing but not given enough funding or institutional capital to serve the students the way they should be able to. In addition, library managers are often given employees to manage that they didn’t hire and cannot fire. Being a library manager seems a lot like trying to train for a marathon inside a submarine. Add to that the fact that the org chart of academic institutions is complicated and has a lot of weird corners, and it’s basically a hostage situation.
This means that the results of using the RISWS process revealed themselves more slowly in this study than they do in organizations where employee actions have even a vague relationship to costs and/or revenue. Some of the employees seemed to get it right away, and started reporting in and asking for help with problems in the few weeks. But when employees didn’t get it, they really didn’t get it. It had genuinely never occurred to me that someone would (or could!) file a grievance with their union that their manager was actually trying to manage them.
The other thing I wouldn’t have imagined is that an entire institution could just be defunded suddenly so all the work of using RISWS would fade away because the manager couldn’t actually tell employees if they’d have jobs in a few weeks or not. Private companies go out of business all the time, but one if the benefits of working for a public institution should be knowing that your key is going to work tomorrow morning.
I’d thought I was a hardened observer of capitalism, but with the woes of academic libraries I’m a wide-eyed noob.
Was this project worth doing? Absolutely. Work and life at work has been improved for the manager participants and for the people they manage, though the use of this process.
What would I do differently? I think I would have had the participants ignore entirely the employees they actually had no authority over when they were starting RISWS. I think the early wins with the employees who got it right away were overshadowed by the resistance from the employees who really didn’t want to be there anyway. And I think focusing on those early wins would have made for a smoother process for everyone, and avoided some of the resistance.
I am ready for more library managers who want to be walked through this process. We know it works, so let’s roll it out everywhere.