Sunday, April 22, 2007

Retirement, Me, and the Future

Today, for our last assignment, I will answer the questions as directed. Initially, though, I have to admit that thinking about the specifics of retirement has been especially difficult for me this week as I am currently in the midst of a grueling and very stressful job hunt. It's as though I'm trying to think about the cart and the horse at the same time, or to create some bizarre chimaeric hybrid of cart and horse that would make Dr. Frankenstein proud. That said, I appreciate the opportunity to think about the far tomorrow even as I focus on the very near tomorrow right now.

"This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time." -Fight Club

How old will you be when you retire?

Though it'll depend on how many children Sarah and I end up having, and how much I end up making in my various positions, I'd like to begin my retirement process at about age 55 or 60. I don't intend to become 100 percent retired until much later than that; I imagine I'll probably work part-time for many years doing reference work or other kinds of work as such positions become available. Sort of a phased retirement, but it may require me moving positions to achieve what I want. Depending on the level of leadership I've achieved, I might stay longer depending on how the organization is working at the time, whether I feel I'm still fully engaged, and other factors. But I'd like to PLAN so that I can start the process at 55 or 60. Fortunately, and not to mince words, I stand to inherit a fair bit from my parents who have accumulated very well and only have one "heir," which should help my retirement plans.

Where do you want to live?

Near or in a pretty fun urban area with lots of opportunities for retirement learning, volunteerism, and cultural engagement. Sarah and I are both urbanites or at least civilizationites at heart, and I know we couldn't "retire to the country" the way some folks do.

Do you plan to work? To volunteer?

I plan to do both or either as the opportunities permit. Ideally I might do some adjunct work at a LIS program or stay involved with the organization that I have recently departed in some fashion. I definitely know that I will want to travel a pretty great deal, which will mean that I won't be able to have too darn many specific commitments...though getting vacation time as a volunteer has always been pretty easy!

What do you see as your sources of income?

There is of course the IRA and the varied investment portfolio my wife and I will have saved throughout our working lives. I don't know about Social Security's long-term solvency, but to have a comfortable retirement most people can't rely on that particular source of income. My inheritance, which will probably be phased, will make up a pretty significant portion of my retirement income as it does for many people now that parents are living longer. I don't want to "bank on" my inheritance either, of course; I want to make sure that Sarah and I can be secure without any help from outside our own nuclear family.

What else will be important to you?

Grandchildren. Seeing new things. Remaining vibrant and connected to reality. Having the ability to relax, just as I always have coveted and have done. Friendships with people of many different ages. Never becoming obsolete or obstinate. Learning something new every day; something significant. Finding a fifth love, after my wife, my children, librarianship, and the games that will probably make up most of my life to that point.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Involuntary Separations: Firing People

While I have never been accused of being heartless by anyone, and I don't relish the opportunity to be called heartless because I've terminated someone's employment in the future, I have to learn to be more neutral in my appraisal of basically everyone and everything in order to become more capable of dealing with these situations as they arise.

In any case, all of my future interactions that end with the termination of an employee will hopefully involve the following features.

1. Transparency

As a person who has been dismissed without even a conversation (from a food service job, nothing major) and just "left off the schedule," I know how strange it felt to be simply gone from my work. Obviously, even in the event that a person is underperforming without improvement, that person is still a human being and deserves to be treated with as much respect as the situation will allow. One of the best forms of respect that can be given in an unpleasant professional situation is an attempt to explain the complete justification for the decision and to explain what will follow and ensue. Leaving people things to wonder about, especially when they are fired, might invite legal action and is certainly likely to generally invite potentially disruptive situations later. Explaining the documented reasons why a person has been let go, in as much detail as possible without moving into "litany-of-badness" territory, is common courtesy and makes good sense.

2. Bravery

Whatever the case, firing people is hard, especially when they might be "good folks" who just happen to not be able to do the work, if time has passed them by or they have been promoted to the wrong position, etc. While I can be somewhat sensitive to the feelings of others, I must be able to face personal criticism, anger, resistance, and many other things that most people tend to avoid in their daily lives. A willingness to face these situations head-on is simply part of being a strong person, a strong colleague, and a good boss. Firing should come out of an assessment of the data, which will underpin the situation and afford us great confidence. Being potentially hated, while not a fortunate circumstance, is nonetheless something that I must accept as the boss.

3. Collegiality

Firing people can create some severe morale problems. In some cases, the person who is let go might be just a horrible person who everybody doesn't like, who hurts morale, etc. That makes things easier. But in many cases, organizations become factionated and cliquish, and removing a member of one of the groups instead of another can create really significant problems. Firing also creates work gaps, a need to redistribute workload, and a general sense that everyone might theoretically be on the chopping block at some point. In an effort to avoid this, I think transparency beyond just the individual being fired is necessary. Discussing what has happened and what will be done in the absence of the fired employee with everyone (as long as this doesn't create confidentiality issues) is a useful way to support the remaining members of the organization and avoid creating odd forms of confusion that seem to always accompany firings.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Unit Two Reflection: Work Philosophy

If there is a common thread through all of the pieces of Unit Two from new hire to the assorted problems discussed this week, it is that people are complicated to an extent that is in many ways unproductive or at least problematic from an organizational perspective. Life impinges upon work more than work impinges upon life; from a personal perspective, this is absolutely right. My wife is more important to me than any job will ever be. Yet, I cannot say that to some employers without seeming like I need to reprioritize my life. To many of us revolutionaries and people who came through college doing work-study jobs like minding desks and the like, our potential employers' objection to this philosophy seems gloriously unfair in many ways.

As a manager, though, what choice do we have? Work is not inherently motivating unless it is ridiculously interesting, and even then the amount of work required or expected of a person in America nowadays is so high that a person cannot possibly get it all done through internal motivation. So organizations must exploit a number of tools in order to get the most they can out of their employees. A narrow view of this need for getting the most leads to an extremely large number of rules, regulations, locked down workstations, very small rewards policies, and attempts at morale boosting that cannot interfere with productivity and therefore are in many cases doomed to failure because they cannot take root. This same narrow view treats restrictions on the organization, whether they are sick days in the employee's contract or affirmative action policies, as nuisances that should be avoided. In many cases, this is the same way that employees treat work.

I suppose I am an idealist in many ways, but I prefer to think of getting the most out of employees as a broader process and a broader thing in general. Truly happy employees feel as though they are judged and assessed on the body of their work; and they feel that this assessment is positive. They work because they have a desire to give back to the organization, and because they believe the organization is to some extent doing things for them. In my own experience, the best thing an organization can do for its employees is leave them some rope. In certain situations, like assembly-line work and call-center work, leeway is difficult to give and must almost be creatively invented. In a library setting, trusting employees to work in their own way seems to work better; the retention rate is high, and it is not just because the job market is bad.

In either the narrow or the broad view, though, some things are simply necessary for organizational success. Clear lines of sight and oversight on disciplinary matters, and clearly delineated policies of actions that are out-of-bounds and in-bounds as far as behavior, are essential to an organization almost regardless of its philosophy and general direction towards its employees. Organizations also need well-formulated evaluation processes, and especially those which allow even managers to be evaluated by those who are around them and affect them the most.

I am glad, for whatever it is worth, that I am entering librarianship as a profession. The professional literature seems almost obsessed in many ways with creating good organizations rather than extracting as much worth as possible. Perhaps this comes from the fact that the effectiveness of libraries is non-quantifiable. Perhaps libraries are more loyal to their employees than is regarded as efficient in the corporate sector. I do know that the organizations that are happiest also seem to provide the best community feeling to their employees, and that this extends to patrons and outward into the broader community; if a good that libraries provide is community, perhaps we can start by thinking about morale.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

What About Bob?: Discipline

Bob is a known problem employee who has been with the company for many years. Presumably, the reasons for this specific disciplinary confrontation are because other employees have complained about Bob's effect on morale and on the project. While it's important not to 0ver-identify these employees, I believe it is also important to focus more on Bob's effects on the PROJECT than people's complaints during the conversation and all interactions. Making Bob wonder "who's been talking about me" is going to affect morale even more negatively and decrease the focus on his own behavior.

Another initial principle worth mentioning is that the focus should never stray to the fact that "you've had other problems in other departments in the past." Those departments are not my responsibility nor is it technically my place to know that Bob has had problems before. I can only focus on Bob's problems in my department that I have hopefully documented when people have complained about him.

So, as for part one. What will I say to Bob?

I will construct notes beforehand based on the complaints I have heard, that make the issues sound more like a series of things to work on than a "litany of bad stuff." The conversation will hit the following points, though I won't read them like this.

1. The reason I've called this meeting today is because the Widget project is experiencing some difficulty.

2. We (Bob and myself) want you to be a valuable contributing member of this project, and the reason you were assigned to this project was because of your experience.

3. Even despite that, though, the project has had some issues. Specifically:

4. Some of the deadlines you have missed with your work have set the project back. Have you explained the reason for these missed deadlines to your colleagues? (This is intended to emphasize the possibility that there is a good reason, though this is unlikely given what we already know; we nonetheless have to assume the best). Do you think that there is a way you can make sure to meet deadlines more in the future, or at least to give notice if you are falling behind so that we can provide you with support? Is there any way we can help you now so that we can keep on schedule better? This project is heavily reliant upon your work, and we know you're capable of doing it; but if you need some additional support please do ask for it.

5. Another thing we need to talk about is that the morale of the project is pretty low right now. How do you feel like it's going? What problems do you see? (I want to suggest, not browbeat here; talking to someone about the fact they complain too much is not likely to yield too much in the way of results). I think it's very important that everyone stays upbeat as much as possible; we all know that this project is important and that we have the ability to complete it, and we need to make sure that everyone is on board with the basic ideas of the project. Are you unhappy with how the project is going? (Listen here, and justify the project and explain that it's a priority).

6. The timeliness of the project is very important, and I'd love it if we didn't get behind any more. We're relying on everyone pretty heavily right now, and falling behind is not really an option. It could result in some disciplinary action, but I'm confident that you'll be able to stay on top of things from here.

Of course, a memo will be written. Additionally, closer tabs will be kept on the project as far as deadlines etc. to make sure that no one falls behind; indeed, I will have to keep closer tabs on everyone involved so that my closer observations of Bob are fair. This is only fair; it is at least possible that other aspects of the project are lagging behind as well, and may need to be nipped in the bud as well.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

State Library Reference Librarian: Performance Review Process

While the job description posted here is somewhat vague, as a supervisor in this organization it looks like the reference librarian is beholden first to the Library Director, and second to the Collection Development Librarian, who may not be a technical supervisor but does appear to outrank the Reference Librarian and work closely as a superior in some cases.

Of particular note in this position is a significant amount of reference desk work, which in most libraries is essentially unobserved and may not be able to be directly evaluated by any superior if they do not spend time together on the desk. Therefore, it seems that self-evaluations may be in order so that the employee is cognizant of improvement areas with respect to their public services work.

The plan I would use has three elements.

1. Semi-annual self-review, for the first 2 years of employment, followed by annual self-review thereafter. A form will be designed related to each of the aspects of the job and other organizational priorities (including for example diversity, teamwork, etc.), and the employee will fill out this form and discuss it and any other issues with the Director and the Collection Development Librarian separately. This will offer the employee the opportunity to talk about the support they need, changes they'd like to make to job responsibilities, areas in which they may be falling behind because of other work, and other things that inevitably arise especially during the first two years of work. While feedback is going to be open whenever the employee needs, creating a formal self-evaluation process will allow them to appraise their job and their performance within the context of a feedback mechanism.

2. Semi-annual supervisor review, for the first 2 years of employment, followed by annual self-review thereafter. Simultaneously with the self-review instrument, the Library Director will fill out a performance evaluation form similar to that filled out by any employee. The evaluations will assess the employee's collection development work, public service work (to the extent this can be evaluated), ability to work collaboratively, general work habits, apparent motivation, and communication skills. Because performance issues need to be dealt with more than once a year, especially during the first two years of employment when priorities and time management are very difficult to accomplish, the supervisor will have the opportunity to provide guidance and feedback in a downward direction as well. The first two years is not a probationary period by any means, but more direction is typically needed during this time, and creating an optimal working situation requires more feedback, appraisal, and evaluation as well as flexibility on the part of the worker and to some extent the organization. Because so much negotiation of responsibilities, duties, and new skills happens during this time, increased evaluations are necessary for the new employee.

3. Annual supervisor review from other library employees. Because the librarian is being hired into a position that involves some supervisory work, those employees who work in situations where they are subordinate to the Reference Librarian (even if this is only part of the time) should have the opportunity to evaluate the supervisory skills and behavior of their supervisor. A form would be distributed whose primary goal was to identify whether there were any pressing issues of the supervisory interaction; problems certainly matter more than comments like "I like working for this person" in this particular case, because the supervising the reference librarian does is not direct but rather consists of being in charge of the library during certain periods of time.

All of these elements will add up to an extensive but helpful review process. The goal is not to prove anything here, but rather to make sure that work is proceeding correctly and really happening in the way that the job was designed.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Job Analysis: Metropolitan Motor Company

The first thing that strikes me as a potential organizational leader is the relatively limited amount of control the actual hiring company had over many aspects of this process. Initial staffing screenings were outplaced to the state employment office, the YMCA, and a consulting firm that scored initial tests. Yet despite the relative lack of control that the organization had, the process generated the need for each prospective employee to be interviewed by a single group of four people. There seems to be a significant inefficiency in interviewing applicants yourself but then having a consulting firm evaluate your interview results; would it not be better to simply have the staffing consultants conduct interviews as well, or at least to add flexibility to the interview component by assigning more employees of MMC to the potential pool of interviewers? Especially if interview results are being scored independently and employees aren't being directly identified for "fit" or very specific personal qualities, it seems like a four-member screening committee just is not going to get the job done as efficiently as possible.

I also wonder whether it might not have been helpful to ask for applicants to fill out their preferences for tasks, days, and shifts well in advance of when they filled out their preference sheets in MMC's process. A huge amount of effort has been invested in each employee by the time they finish their interview. I think it would make more sense to identify the number of applicants interested in different tasks by day and time before screening for eligibility, and certainly before entering the interview process. This way, there would probably be a higher rate of assignment acceptance because people would be contacted initially based on their preferences instead of screened and then assigned to shifts they don't want; often "don't want" means literally "can't work," because of other obligations like children. Obviously, the process as written here seems to lend itself to a large amount of assignment refusal at the end of the employment process.

Even with these reservations, I appreciated MMC's willingness to work with other institutions to provide opportunities, and their astute move to assert their community awareness by offering priority to people within the most directly affected area. This is an intelligent relations move, and one which unfortunately may be unique in some ways to blue-collar positions which require only a certain level of expertise to fill. I doubt the same procedures would work for a smaller organization, or for an organization that was hiring people to work in information technology or a comparable field.

I am impressed by MMC's use of incentives for strong job attendance, by allowing flexibility after a six-month period of strong (very strong, perhaps too strong!) attendance. This represents a certain commitment to providing choice to employees who hold up their end of the bargain, so to speak.

One thing I don't see here is an actual description of the job analysis that was done which led to these staffing procedures. While it's likely the case that similar abilities were required for many of these production-line jobs, I'd like to know more about what was identified as "essential" for various job functions. It's been my experience that many organizations hiring to fill labor positions that require little prior training often overstate the needs of the position in some areas while leaving other areas out; manual dexterity may be underprioritized while the ability to bend over or lift 80 pounds may be overprioritized. I'd like to see what skills/abilities were identified for each position with MMC.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Diversity: The Diversity Statements

For each of these diversity statements this week, I'll discuss what I see as positive points and questionable points about each. In so doing, my key views about diversity statements, policy, and reality will emerge. Because I'm going to work in libraries, I suppose I should announce up front that I'll be biased toward statements about diversity that reflect the organization's role as a:

-service institution
-socially conscious organization
-building block of a field that currently is lagging in various forms of diversity.

IBM Australia and New Zealand

Good Things
The IBM diversity policy includes proactive things the organization is doing to encourage not only the existence of diversity, but for their employees to feel supported by other "like" individuals. I am impressed by the outward level of commitment to sexual-orientation and gender diversity, and the existence of groups that promote networking and social interaction between LGBT groups. The existence of Diversity Networking events seems good in theory. The use of an "ethical belief" category for their hiring practices is interesting, and really could fit well into a non-discrimination statement used in the U.S.A. right now, especially with so many of us falling into political "camps."

"People of different cultural backgrounds" sounds like a very questionable networking group; is this the catch-all category for people who are not white/caucasian? I also have to ask what distinguishes a "diversity networking event" from a regular networking event...the scenarios that present themselves off of the top of my head are none too pleasing, especially if they become sort of underrepresented-hodge-podge activities. Even as a member of relatively few if any groups that are usually considered underrepresented, I have to argue that it seems unlikely that exactly the same overarching program really has the same relevance for LGBT groups and racial minorities; these groups' experiences, frustrations, and needs as a result of their particularity will probably require different types of programming. I'm not sure whether big diversity mixers are the right move.

Royal Bank of Scotland

Good Things
RBS' policy focuses on the negative aspects of discrimination and harassment more than the positive aspects of diversity. This can be a good thing in a way, because instead of trying to show how they put out "warm fuzzies" into the world, RBS seems to argue that it is their responsibility in a nearly-legal way to implement the policies of reducing harassment and increasing equal opportunity within a meritocratic system. It's interesting that the same language from the beginning of their diversity policy mirrors the ANTI-affirmative action referendum that was passed in Michigan, essentially stating that we should hang together and be evaluated "irrespective of" our differences. While this doesn't match my views on diversity or identity much at all, I admit that in employment and hiring a strong, real policy against discrimination can make an impact on corporate culture. The inclusion of specific guidelines for interviewing are very relevant, as we discussed in this class earlier.

I may have already arrived here, but I wonder what the company is doing beyond removing barriers and railing against discrimination. It's interesting that in the final statement RBS admits particularity and difference between organizational components, but doesn't seem to make any mention of the value of particularity and different perspectives within organizational components that can be achieved through proactively increasing representation from various groups and diversity of perspectives.

St. Mary's Health Care

Good Things
St. Mary's really seems to focus on diversity as a positive organizational aspect, and go well beyond non-discrimination. Requiring measurability and accountability in implementation is good, even if measuring anything regarding diversity of perspectives is really, really difficult. Creating the status of Diversity Champion for managers, and not for "diverse" individuals (as is so often done with library fellowship programs) is a very positive step toward saying that organizational leaders can make a direct difference in increasing diversity and celebrating it. Moving beyond affirmative action is probably useful too; though I do wish there were more specific hiring guidelines. I like the initial statement's multifaceted approach; diversity affects patients and even vendors, which was a pleasantly surprising subject for diversity goals.

Should the health care company provide more guidelines to its specific units in terms of what kinds of diversity programs should be tried? Better examples seem relevant here.

The University of Chicago

The Good
A university should appreciate its multifaceted organizational nature, and this diversity statement does that well. The statement moves from students through faculty and staff to the broader community, and notes that the resources around the university can be a valuable asset to the university. Wonderful language here: "Homogeneity perpetuates unchallenged assumptions..." "more than just a moral good..." I'm impressed with the appreciation for the value of the different aspects of diversity that are included here, even if the "minorities" that are identified seem to be fairly limited to the very traditional race/ethnic and gender categories.

Does an organization of this scope need more definition in terms of what will be done next? I'd like to see more clear-cut, specific goals. These don't necessarily need to be quantifiable. I also wish there were more here in terms of specific programs and goals than just assessments of where we are now and the immediate future. The statement speaks well beyond our current time frame and the current state of the organization, but many of the identified programs and challenges are quite immediate. I'd like to see the university give more definition to its "higher aspirations" that it speaks of.

Tippecanoe Public Library

Good Things
This represents an attempt by a small public library system in a rural area to think about one aspect of diversity. That they spent time on this is good and helpful, and that there is such a direct statement of what their goals are is even better. This is at least a multifaceted statement (including collections and staffing and beyond) in support of "ethnic" populations in various ways, whatever they mean by that word.

The use of the term "ethnic" here is fraught with trouble; everyone has some ethnicity and background, so the vocabulary used seems to reveal a bit of presumably unintentional ignorance about ethnicity. This diversity statement does not in any way go beyond "ethnicity," and no real definition of ethnicity is given. There are no clear-cut objectives as much as sweeping statements.

Taft Museum of Art

Good Things
I'm glad that Taft focuses on diversity as a positive component, and they seem to identify "uniqueness" as a value rather than an obstacle that might need to be overcome through non-discrimination practices. This is a succinct statement of what the organization values, or says that it values.

The issues I have here relate primarily to incompleteness; I see little that the organization is actually going to do in any proactive way. Perhaps more troubling is the utter lack of any kind of definition of what diversity is or means, though this is somewhat understandable especially if the organization's members are in any way appreciative of how tricky a concept diversity can often be. I'd like to see more beyond this statement, but it is a concise initial statement that I'd be happy to publish for my own organization.