“Clamour, Disgust and Odium”

Posted by jlubans on July 29, 2010  •  Leave comment (1)

Well over 200 years ago, Alexander Hamilton wrote a remarkable letter
to the newly created U.S. Coast Guard’s revenue cutter commanders. It’s remarkable because near the end of the letter Mr. Hamilton offers guidance on how to behave toward the client – any customer, anywhere. That advice is as relevant today as it was June 4, 1791.

“Prudence, moderation and good temper” is what he asked of the new officers. Yes, “activity, vigilance and firmness” were important, but the former qualities had equal bearing on the success of any enterprise including, I would venture to say, our modern day organizations. Consider what you have when any or all six of Hamilton’s qualities go AWOL.
Mr. Hamilton was all too aware that “it is easy by mismanagement, to produce serious and extensive clamour, disgust and odium (among customers)”. We certainly have some evidence of this. What are the reasons for the so-called “rage” expressed by many people about government officials and services, at just about any level or office?

Hamilton wanted the commanders to never forget “ that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit.” Hmm. Does that “domineering spirit” lurk behind the smirks and ready dismissals of citizen ire by some of the elected and appointed?

I once wrote to my several congress people politely encouraging them to, like Zeus, descend to Earth, disguise themselves and take a chair in a social services office (think DMV, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.) to observe what happens. Who makes eye contact? How clear are directions and how is the facility organized for assistance? Is the floor clean? And, does a staff member reach out and ask to help you? Is the security guard armed? Why?
When you finally (how long did you wait?) are face to face with a service provider, does he or she welcome you or put up with you? Most important, does he or she help you or waste your time through a practiced ignorance?

No one wrote back.

Hamilton was well aware that front line staff must refrain, ” from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult.”
I have often wondered what would make a difference in these agencies. Some simple straightforward suggestions: Make immediate eye contact. Smile. Know and do your job.

Now, who would make this transformation happen? Who or what gets in the way of that happening? Staff, unions, bosses, the rules, the customers? What would it take to convert seemingly demoralized staff –exuding the worst kind of bureaucratic attitude – into smiling workers willing to help everyone who comes thru the door? I doubt the answer is more staff. Or, higher pay. I can almost guarantee one of the ways to “….inculcate upon your men a correspondent disposition” is to allow staff to help people without regard for the office handbook or hierarchy, to do what is right for the customer each and every time.

“I am sir, your obedient servant,”
John Lubans Jr.

Real Work

Posted by jlubans on July 27, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

One contributing factor of the financial meltdown, including the Madoff fraud, was the seeming hapless laxity of the Securities and Exchange Commission – the government agency set up to monitor and control the bad guys. The media has set forth lots of reasons why a large regulatory agency could miss what was happening. They of course do not mention their (the business media’s) cluelessness!

What rang a bell for me was reading the report that some - over 30 - SEC staff were staring at pornographic web sites, sometimes for as much as eight hours per day.

This took me back to the time when one of my professors gave our Systems Analysis class a tour of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, not unlike this stock image from the 1950s
. 20100824-state office.jpg
He took us into a cavernous space with hundreds of desks in perfect rows, as far as the eye could see - an all too real caricature of a bureaucracy. I noticed (unlike this photo) that most of the seated workers were reading books. From a librarian’s perspective, that was great! From a taxpayer’s, less so. When I inquired about this, our professor said that the staff was reading books because it was past tax season. They had no real work to do.

At my Fulbright orientation in Washington DC last week, one of my fellow scholars told me about his experience while working in a state census bureau. There it was understood, when things were slow, you would invent work, and you would pretend to be busy. While they were indeed busy at times, there were long spells of nothing. Why these workers could not be moved to other areas in need of assistance was a taboo topic, according to my colleague. That we spoke about this in a city as if invented to demonstrate Parkinson’s Law made the discussion all that more poignant.

I believe that these workers’ behavior points to what is wrong with many bureaucracies or with any rigid and nonporous organization where staff are prohibited by management and union policy from helping out in other units or departments.

People want real work to do, meaningful work. When wasting one’s day is seen as normal the staff and the supervisors’ behavior becomes pathological - a Kafkaesque reality: "We'll pretend to lead while you pretend to work."

Leaders at all levels could make a huge difference by facilitating and protecting managers and staff who want to collaborate with other agencies, who want to help out where needs are greater. There should be flexibility in every organization to assure every individual has real work to do.

Table of Contents

Posted by jlubans on July 20, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

I thought having the book's T of C available might be a way to get more exposure in the search engines. We'll see.

Table of Contents

(Leading from the Middle & Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership by John Lubans Jr. Published by ABC-Clio, 2010 )

Part 1
Leadership, Leading from the Middle, Teamwork, Empowerment, Followership

1: Balaam’s Ass: Toward Proactive Leadership in Libraries
2: Leading from the Middle: I’m the Boss
3: Teamwork in Libraries
4: Letting Go: A Reflection on Teams That Were
5: Bridger and Me
6: The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
7: Southwest: The Unstodgy Airline
8: More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team

Part 2
Leaders, Bosses, Challenges, Values

9: I Can’t Find You Anywhere But Gone” Revisited
10: It’s in the DNA: Infusing Organizational Values at Southwest
11: She Took Everything but the Blame: The Bad Boss is Back
12: I’ll Ask the Questions: The Insecure Boss
13: The Spark Plug: A Leader’s Catalyst for Change
14: A Zabarian Experience
15: Orchestrating Success: A Profile of Simone Young, Conductor

Part 3
Coaching, Self-Management, Collaboration, Communication

16: Coaching for Results
17: Peer Coaching for the Post-departmental Library
18: You Have the Resources
19: A Gift from the Woods
20: Leaving the Comfort Zone
21: On the Road Again: Lessons along the Way
22: Rock Castle Gorge
23: Sacred Teams
24: Seeking First to Understand…
25: The Stove Side Chat
26: You Can’t Build a Fire in the Rain: Sparking Change in Libraries
27: What? So What? Now What?

Part 4
Techniques and Tools, Productivity, Climate

28: Sherlock’s Dog, or Managers and Mess Finding
29: Deterministic, Highly Reductive and Transient
30: From the Gutter to You is Not Up: Worst and Best Practice
31: I’m So Low, I Can’t Get High: The Low Morale Syndrome and What to Do about It
32: Productivity in Libraries? Managers Step Aside!
33: She’s Just Too Good to be True, But She Is: Recognition Ceremonies and Other Motivational Rituals
34: I’ve Closed My Eyes to the Cold Hard Truth I’m Seeing: Making Performance Appraisal Work
35: To Save the Time of the User: Customer Service at the Millennium
36: Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear…? Reflections on a Suggestion “Box” That Worked

What people want (at work).

Posted by jlubans on July 14, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

I mentioned Fred Emery in my July 8 ABC CLIO blog entry.
In hopes that I piqued your curiosity, you can read more about Fred, to whom much is owed by the entire organizational development (OD) field, in Nancy Cebula and Robert Rehm’s People In Charge: Creating Self Managing Workplaces – to which I contributed a chapter.
Published by Hawthorn Press in 1999, chapter 2 (DOING PRODUCTIVE WORK—SIX CRITERIA FOR PRODUCTIVE WORK)

A necessary happiness

Posted by jlubans on July 13, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

Since my July 8 ABC CLIO blog entry had a cowboy emphasis, a reference to Adam Smith did not exactly fit my home-on-the-range metaphor*. Try as I might, I could not see Mr. Smith in hat and spurs mounted on a quarter horse, minding the lowing herd while contemplating his Theory of Moral Sentiments.**

But, it is still important to note that centuries ago, Adam Smith alluded to what he saw as man’s instinctual sympathy: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”

Don’t just take his word for it, economic and psychological research does support Mr. Smith’s insight. It gives hope to those who want to find a supportive work place in which people look out for others selflessly. Unlike the dystopic offices in the comics, there are decent organizations and decent people to work with. You just have to find them.

*That's Long's Peak, in the distance, under the brim of my hat.20100713-cowboy john.jpeg

** One of many editions of Adam Smith’s 1759 work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments , was edited by Knud Haakonssen in 2002 for Cambridge University Press.

Case 2: The Devil’s Advocate

Posted by jlubans on July 12, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

The Devil’s Advocate

Matt, a veteran staffer, has assigned himself the “devil’s advocate” role in your work team.

He’s hardly a helpful devil’s advocate (someone who identifies and limits risks). When something new gets tried out and experiences the inevitable glitch, he’s the first to crow: “I told you it was a bad idea!”

He comes up with reasons why any initiative will fall flat on its face.
He tells everyone “I’ve been there and done that” and it failed. Failed miserably!

If there are 50 reasons not to change, he knows them all.

Your work team (you are its leader) is in need of change but Matt is your “troll at the bridge of change”.

His own work is OK but he really excels at dampening any innovation or experimentation in your team and the library overall. He’d be laughable if he were not so effective at chilling staff creativity.

What’s bugging Matt? How will you get him to embrace change instead of fleeing from it? And, in spite of Matt, how will you get your team to change?

Team player or not?

Posted by jlubans on July 09, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

Here is a pragmatic team member effectiveness self test. Something like this, along with other tools, case studies, role plays, might be used as a beginning to develop awareness of each person’s strengths and needs for improvement as a team player and a peer coach. If you score low, ask yourself why. Is it you or is it the organizational culture that gets in the way?

Team Member Effectiveness: ME

When you work in teams or team-like groups, how well do you do?

Please rate each statement by marking the scale, with 5 = "very often", 4 = “often,” 3, = “occasionally,” 2 = “infrequently”and 1 = "rarely, if ever". Mark 6 when you believe the question does not apply to you.

Add up your score. What do you think it means?

1. I ask questions to test my understanding of an issue.
1 2 3 4 5 6

2. I participate in helpful ways in goal setting activities.
1 2 3 4 5 6

3. I contribute relevant ideas from my experience and knowledge.
1 2 3 4 5 6

4. I listen, in an active way, to others.
1 2 3 4 5 6

5. I build on others' ideas.
1 2 3 4 5 6

6. I consider, in an open and accepting manner, other ideas.
1 2 3 4 5 6

7. I ask questions to clarify issues and to promote fuller understanding.
1 2 3 4 5 6

8. I think creatively (come up with new ideas or am able to make new juxtapositions)
1 2 3 4 5 6

9. I am able to focus on common interests and goals of the team.
1 2 3 4 5 6

10. I make my needs known to the team.
1 2 3 4 5 6

11. I disagree in constructive ways.
1 2 3 4 5 6

12. I invest my energy and enthusiasm to help the team process.
1 2 3 4 5 6

13. I stay focused on team tasks and am aware of time limitations and need for others to be heard.
1 2 3 4 5 6

14. I work on conflict in helpful ways.
1 2 3 4 5 6

15. I support members of the team as they work through an issue.
1 2 3 4 5 6

Add up your score score (do not count 6s): _____________

If 45 or less, how can you improve? If above 45, what can you do more of to get a higher score?

Copyright John Lubans Jr. 2010.
By giving full and approprite credit as to source, you have my permission to use the ME test for not-for- profit use. JLJr.

The Encouraging Workplace

Posted by jlubans on July 08, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

At today’s ABC-CLIO blog, I’ve posted on what workers want from their jobs in order to do their best.

Here’s the lead in to my story:

Author Guest Post -The Encouraging Workplace

John Lubans, Jr., author of "Leading from the Middle," and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership (Libraries Unlimited, 2010) sheds a little light on how to build a positive work environment.

The post directly below of course raises a similar question: How do we retain the best and the brightest?
It was not long ago when a head of cataloging at a prestigious ivy library told me that it took her 6 months to instill the (Name of her institution)-way into the soft little heads of new recruits, especially those that had any ideas about changing work flow and streamlining!

ALA Highs & Lows

Posted by jlubans on July 08, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

A Few Highlights from the Washington DC convention of the AmericanLibrary Association, June 25 – 28, 2000.

At this point in my library career, I go to conventions to stay in touch with friends and colleagues more than to attend committee meetings or sit through programs.

However, one program (Purple Crayons, Random Dots and Peanut Butter Sandwiches) caught my eye. It dealt with using children’s books to trigger adult creativity and to motivate staff toward change. Frances R. Yates, Director of the Indiana University East Library, led the session. While I arrived late, I was quickly engaged and could see real possibilities in using children’s books far beyond their use as an “ice breaker” – as an introductory activity to set people at ease. They could help staff unblock creativity, cope with limited resources, and to take a silly idea, play with it and arrive at a workable solution, etc. Ms. Yates used several classical kid lit titles, with responsive reading from the audience: The Dot, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, That’s Good! That’s Bad! and, possibly my favorite, Peanut Butter Rhino. Also, Monsieur Saguette and His Baguette, was much fun. I hope to use these books in my Fulbright teaching.

Another highlight (or insight) came at a dinner with two colleagues. One friend had only recently moved from an HR position in a mega-research library to a smaller university as the head of public services. My other colleague is a professor at a highly regarded library school. Both told me they were impressed with the very good young librarians entering the profession. What concerned them most were the type of organizations these new, talented, and motivated librarians were entering. Would the employers support creativity and different ways of working, and would the newbies have free reign to excel and be genuinely empowered? Or, would the employers restrict and limit? Both friends worried that the new talent might encounter resistance, not only by less talented peers, but by senior staff - the hierarchy would inhibit and retard the newcomers’ skill and energy. Of course, the book is about liberating the work place, about democratization to free up the individual to do the best they can do.

I usually circle the annual Book Cart Drill Team competition in my program. This year’s event was much anticipated, a huge crowd forming at the entrance to the staging area, a half hour or more ahead. Well, for whatever reason, this year’s competition had less oomph than in years previous. Maybe it was that only five teams participated or that the competition had adopted an American Idol format (with ALA celebrity judges) that lengthened the process. And, the non stop amplified commentary by two Click and Clack types, entertained at first, then annoyed. Or maybe it is me, expecting smooth moves to thumping tunes like Born in the USA.
Some creativity did issue forth from the winner in a repressed, classically creepy way - more Day of the Dead than Zombiesque: Night of the Living Librarians – the University of Pittsburgh’s SLIS spinning their tombstone book carts to classical music. You Tube has several videos for viewing.

August 5 2010: I've been thinking how to rev up the book cart drill competition and here is my idea and theme: Captain Underpants. We could go as characters from this iconoclastic series of books. Don't know who Captain is?
Now for the music!
A winner for sure.

blog mentioned in AL Direct

Posted by jlubans on July 07, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

The July 7 American Libraries Direct points to this blog with the headline: Lubans lands a Fulbright
. Read the item and about other Awards and library goings on here.

Case 1: What is that odor...?

Posted by jlubans on July 07, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

This is the blog's first case study, one of several I will be putting up during the next few months. I've used today's case on the first day of my introductory management class as a way to get everyone thinking about leaders and followers and how complicated the human factor can be when we try to get an organization to be the best it can be.
Let me know what you would do.

CASE 1: What is that odor? Smells like a ….

You’re the new manager of an eight-person department in a medium size library. It’s not exactly what you thought it would be when you interviewed for the job a few months ago.

Backlogs are embarrassingly routine; flare ups between staff and users are not uncommon; and, the levels and quality of work performed are uneven, with some far exceeding (unstated) expectations and others woefully below them.

Harry, your supervisor of five support staff, regularly pleads with you for more staff. When you call for quantifiable standards, regularized work schedules and work goals for each worker, Harry balks. He claims, “Nothing like this will work. Staff are already demoralized enough. The work can’t be quantified – everything we touch is one of a kind. And, besides, we’re already working as hard as we can!”

In these talks, you also perceive a reluctance on Harry’s part to confront problem staff. When you ask about his glowing written performance appraisal of a poor performer, he explains that the person is “hopeless”, but she needs the job, so he makes a point of doing some of her work.

When you check the situation with your boss, you find out she believes the workloads are excessive and the department is understaffed. But, she continues, your predecessor was a workaholic who kept the department caught up by taking work home. Your predecessor never had time for planning or exploring other ways of doing the work, but, your boss concludes, “She sure did a great job!”

So what do you do? Request additional help? Insist on an objective workflow analysis? Join in with Harry, clean up the backlogs, and plan on taking work home? Resign?

Footnote #1: Theory X and Theory Y

Posted by jlubans on July 06, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

These footnotes (this is the first one) will chronicle some things relevant to Leading from the Middle that might be of general interest:

An earlier version of of Chapter 11, "She Took Everything but the Blame: The Bad Boss Is Back" was cited and elaborated upon in The Human Side of Enterprise (the Annotated Edition) by Douglas McGregor and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld.

New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006, p.102. The revised edition of the "enduring management classic," with introductions by Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein, in which Douglas McGregor introduced management style Theories X and Y.

You can see the page here.