Wrapping up: Thoughts about my management philosophy and RISWS

Last week, we convened for our final project call. The trainee managers Val and Gabrielle, Magda, and I talked through how the past year with RISWS has gone in our libraries, what we’ve learned, and what challenges we still face. It’s been a crazy year in Illinois libraryland. Gabrielle works at Chicago State, one of the public higher education institutions facing severe budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs. It’s not yet clear what that means for library services (and staff jobs) at her school. Val also works at a public institution, Richard J. Daley College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago. The state budget cuts are less of a factor for Daley, but as Val will discuss in her upcoming post, she faced a union grievance as a result of implementing the RISWS weekly report process. Meanwhile, at my school, we’re undergoing an intensive change management initiative and dealing with the realities of a flat budget projected for next fiscal year as a result of low enrollment growth.

RISWS alone can’t solve state economic crises, generate enrollment numbers, or heal rifts between union employees and management. However, the constant stream of employee-provided data CAN help managers know what’s going on with their teams. And it is this information-based reality check that has served me well in the past year. Below I talk a bit more about how the RISWS process and my management philosophy intersect.

I believe in the mission/vision statement of an institution as an important guiding tool for its constituent divisions and departments. In higher education, student service is our raison d’etre; the library exists to help students along every step in their educational journey.  Starting with the mission/vision as a guiding principle and rallying cry, we can then build a strategic plan with “SMART”  (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals or objectives. Depending on context, the library can use a larger division strategic plan as a starting point or build one of its own to specifically delineate how library staff can move the department toward institutional objectives. RISWS data should be invaluable here — by sorting through the weekly reports, I can identify what we’re currently spending time on see whether that matches up with what we should spend time on. Then, I can make data-driven decisions about what might be the better/best use of limited human and financial resources.

One of my core responsibilities as a library manager is building the right team that ensures the library works in service of the overall mission.  I am a librarian by training and a human resources strategist by vocation. As a manager, I strive to empower my team to solve problems and remove system roadblocks to allow us all to work efficiently and from our strengths. This language is straight from the RISWS playbook. I begin with the assumption that people come to work in good faith, wanting to do their best. Sometimes that isn’t the case, and issues of poor performance or low morale need to be addressed with those employees. But hiring smart, capable, and creative individuals at all levels in the library (whether full-time, part-time, interns, contractors, temps, professionals or paraprofessionals), and then devoting time to training, and mentoring them to develop professionally is key to moving a library forward.

To achieve excellence, libraries must have the wholehearted support of and “brand recognition” from key internal and external constituencies. To earn that trust and support, we can use data to tell powerful stories about library value. As a manager, I am an advocate for my library and my team. It is my job to articulate and demonstrate our value to key stakeholders. Sometimes, I need a soundbite for impromptu meetings with leadership. Other times, I need a longer answer to the question, “what is the library staff doing this week?” RISWS data helps me in those moments I am called upon to articulate library value and win support. The good news is that I can now bring RISWS information into play alongside the typical metrics of circulation stats, archive research requests, and database usage. I believe in assessment and evaluation as a means to reality-check our assumptions about our success.

What’s next?

In the next year, I hope to spend more time analyzing data from FY16 and working with my team to craft a plan for library service that can further big institutional goals and more clearly mirror our school’s priorities. Then, I want to create a feedback loop that flows from my school’s mission statement and strategic plan into individual performance evaluations and employee goal-setting. That is, let’s see what happens when I weave institutional aspirations and markers of school success into the job descriptions and expectations for my individual team members!

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