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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Orientation and Training

Yale's site is quite impressive; much to click and learn, and a fairly comprehensive "initial directions"-type page that must save the HR department and others involved in new employee orientation tons of time. I wonder how much time some HR department employees spend typing out directions and filling new people in on procedures via email and telephone. One problem with the Yale site though is that pages like start.htm represent something of a "dump truck" philosophy of orientation and general web design; everything is on the page, and it would be hard for a new employee to know exactly what of the content linked there would be expected of them to know. Nevertheless, this kind of initial-hire website seems a very important resource for any large organization that spends time doing much hiring. The "For Supervisors" page is incredible, and really could be useful for any organization; standardizing this process and providing a checklist is really useful.

The USDA site's checklist for employees, complete with time expectations, does a great job of streamlining and outlining exactly what needs to be done.

The Outward Bound-type team building really does work if members of the organization are not dysfunctional or dissociated from one another in advance. It's odd that team-building activities would require some initial buy-in, but I think that after a certain point, the ship might have sailed on the idea that we're all in the same boat. My experience has been that getting outside of a workplace environment and trying to accomplish an activity really helps people to learn about their coworkers and themselves, with their human strengths and weaknesses, rather than just the person who executes their particular job functions. Hopefully, upon returning to the workplace, in addition to the almost inevitable building of trust and camaraderie, employees will have learned a little more about the different kinds of roles that their colleagues can play. Getting people to participate in these programs is easy; simply make it mandatory. Motivating your employees to actually prefer doing this over the work they'll eventually have to do once they get back may be another story, but I think the best way to encourage people to be enthusiastic is just sort of to insist that it will be enjoyable and stay positive about the activity. It also might be helpful to schedule team-building, non-work essential activities outside the times of the year when work tends to pile up.

I have found that as far as skill-related training is concerned, I have a strong affinity for cross-training both as a manager and as an employee. As a manager, allowing employees to train each other is useful for distributing the workload, and can decentralize the entire training process. It also allows employees to collaborate more effectively in project work, and to be more interchangeable in cases of short- or medium-term personnel shortages. As an employee, I tend to enjoy the opportunity to learn from someone as they perform their craft and to feel like I'm really learning from a practitioner; as opposed to sitting through presentations and demonstrations about processes. I also find that the informal, collegial environment that cross-training allows is quite ideal for team-building and for learning in a low-pressure environment.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Work-Life Balance and Motivation

The Egg example is buzzword-laden, and seems to argue that they achieve maximum motivation by doing things companies should just do anyway, namely using previously learned management theories to do extraordinarily non-revolutionary things like providing a clean work environment and actually providing its employees with achievable targets and goals. By acting like any of this is somehow a new thing, and repackaging it in this "Egg DNA" format, they're revealing that they're out of touch with their employees (who could not care less on a daily basis about Theory X) and that they have no real new content to bring to the table here. The argument that "we listen to what our employees say and want" is just not particularly convincing, especially if their entire motivational program consists of just talking a whole lot about productivity and achievement.

I am more impressed by La Rosa's program, which seems relatively uncommon among food service (speaking from experience) and at least attempts to treat employees with actual respect and allows them to evaluate the performance of their superiors. While such trappings as the "chief people officer" are a bit silly-sounding, it's nonetheless the case that empowering employees in the often-dehumanizing and very top-down world of food service can really have a positive effect. This is especially relevant, I think, when a primary differentiating factor between your business and your competitors' is customer service.

Speaking as a potential future supervisor (likely in an academic library setting, which is quite fortunately an environment that allows for much personal contact and a great deal of "soft" management), I believe that the best motivational tools are primarily based on personal relationships. Workers, like people in all facets of their lives, desire approval and appreciation as well as the knowledge that they are supported as humans and as workers. There is nothing worse than working and not being acknowledged for creative and interesting contributions. Such contributions, especially if they are innovative, deserve praise. Along with that praise should come trust, and greater freedom and independence. I intend to provide those whom I supervise with a sense that they are truly valued. How?

-Initiate discussions in which I mention the ways in which their work has made a positive difference in the library, and the ways in which their contributions have been uniquely their own. I believe people truly need to feel ownership over their projects; like it was as good as it was because they did it, not just because it got done. An appreciation of unique value is ideal for a supervisor.

-Provide independence in the form of flex time and a general sense that work and life can compromise with one another. Getting errands done, and having a family, are difficult given the work schedules some places require nowadays. In libraries, some significant percentage of the work tends to be done alone and with little requirement that it be done within a certain time of the day. Allowing some schedule flexibility, and evaluating the body of work rather than the hours someone was visibly "at their desk," tends to work well in this kind of environment. I believe employees are more motivated and feel more positive about coming to work if they don't feel like they must be there at the expense of the rest of their lives.

-Provide opportunities for improvement. People feel better about work if they feel that those in their organization are trying to help them improve. Allowing and encouraging employees to attend seminars and conferences, and allowing them to share these outcomes in their work, reduces the drear and gives employees a sense that their vocation and improvement is valued in addition to the work "getting done."

-Listen. There is nothing worse than working for someone who cannot or will not hear feedback in the opposite direction.

-Learn. Employees, especially librarians, love to teach and to show. A willingness to learn new techniques and new ideas from employees increased the "family" environment and generally improves morale, motivation, and a sense of collegiality that is truly motivating.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hiring, and Unit One Reflection

The final unit on hiring sparked me to consider a new issue. As we move through the hiring process, the level of individual attention and respect that each candidate receives seems to increase. During recruitment, it is important that the organization represent itself well and professionally, but only with respect to the job ad itself. While assessing resumes, employers must deal with faceless documents and come up with a way of ranking candidates that accounts for their individual differences but does not particularly target individuals. During an interview, it is important that the organization represent itself well to candidates because when the best person is identified, we want them to be working for us. Finally during the hire itself, it is important that the organization truly offer the best of itself to the candidate so that they will accept the position. At each stage of the process, individual respect increases and must increase in order for the organization to find the best people. Hiring can and should be an increasingly human process, not the dehumanizing process it is often made out to be.

During my reflection on the various issues that have arisen in Unit One, I've learned some simple and complex things about the hiring process. I've also solidified my opinions about various elements of this process.

Key things I have learned and thought about:

1. There are illegal interview questions that people ask, regularly.
I am a bit offended by the fact that many employers have been asking interview questions that are illegal. I was under the impression, as I believe most Americans are, that questions about such topics as whether one is married or has children were not banned but simply dubious in terms of being perceived as "appropriate." The fact that most people seem to be only vaguely aware of what an illegal interview question might be underscores something very clear about the hiring process in general. While employers may have a written policy about whom they will hire and for what reasons, that policy will not be followed as Gospel in most organizations. Nebulous concepts like "fit" and subjective views about whether most of the people involved in the hiring process "like" you will matter a great deal; the hiring process is likely to be unfair. This probably is not one individual's fault, or something worth blaming organizations for; but it is important to think about how it could be made more fair and equitable, as well as aboveboard legally.

2. Employers operate with limited information about candidates. A resume is not a whole person. A resume plus references plus the version of a candidate you meet in an interview is not a whole person. Employers cannot assess who the "best" candidate is with perfect accuracy; they can only use many measures to get as close as possible to a strong estimate of who the best person will be. To improve the likelihood that the best (most qualified? most potential-laden? easiest to work with? cheapest?) candidate will be hired, employers should use every piece of data that they have access to. They must call references; they must review resumes with a system, ranking key criteria against merely interesting ones. Otherwise they are doing themselves a disservice, and will overestimate and underestimate the value of individual candidates.

3. Employers should not overestimate themselves or underestimate their future employees.
It seems to be the case that employers require potential employees to jump through many hoops to be considered for a position. This ensures to some degree that they will only receive applications from individuals who are truly interested in working for their organization. But it also creates a dynamic where potential employees may not be impressed with the organization. Hiring itself is part of recruitment and part of corporate culture; employers should not labor under the misconception that the best people want to work for them always. In posting job announcements, creating online applications, and generally moving through the hiring process, employers must be willing to accommodate their potential employees; they may lose the best candidate otherwise.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


As a member of, or head of, the search committee for the Head of Collection Development position at University of Texas-San Antonio, my thoughts about the interview process are as follows.

1. Make sure a wide variety of people from many different departments, including people that this candidate would eventually supervise, are present at the interview.
While it's not right to simply pick a boss or department head that employees will like, it is important to make sure that a wide number of people are present to give their views on how they feel about interacting with the eventual hire on a regular basis (if a future subordinate or close colleague) or even an irregular basis (if a member of another department). A broad swath of organizational representatives also allows the committee to solicit a variety of feedback about how the candidate will fit into our image of how UTSA is structured, what kinds of people fit our leadership model, and what kinds of people can move UTSA forward in productive directions.

2. Make lots of time for the candidate to meet with different people.
This position is not entry-level, nor is it the kind of position that can be filled by someone who lacks the ability to interact productively with different kinds of groups. A long interview, possibly with multiple components and multiple different groups of people, is probably necessary for this high-responsibility position.

3. Ask questions that will test different job-related skills.
The Head of Collection Development will have to exhibit strong skills of leadership; possess a large amount of field expertise, but also the ability to think and work across disciplines at least in terms of planning; communicate well across departments and within departments; be willing to represent their department's interests; among other skills. Asking questions that elicit responses that can demonstrate these different abilities, and which give a picture of how the individual thinks and organizes their thoughts, is very important. Hiring committee members should be alerted to these various qualities in advance, so that they can "score" the interviewees accordingly. The questions below represent at least the beginnings of an attempt to test various key skills that will come into play in this position, as well as solicit in-depth information about the posted job requirements. I am not certain that these questions "go in this order," but I would be inclined to ask questions in a slightly random order in any case, to keep the interviewee a bit on her or his toes and provide something of a challenge...preserving the order for each candidate, of course.

Questions are listed with a short statement about what they would be testing.

1. As a supervisor, tell us about the most difficult decision you have ever had to make. How did you arrive at the right decision?
(Predictable question about managerial abilities; want to see how they define their decisionmaking process, though, even if the answer will likely be idealized. Also looking to make sure they can identify a truly challenging situation.)

2. Your advanced degree in [Insert Advanced Degree Field] certainly makes you qualified to deal with collections in that area. As head, what would you do to ensure that all areas of our collection receive their due support?
(Again testing leadership, but this time it's a question about trust and the ability to work with others who are more knowledgeable than you in their field but also your subordinates. A question about collegiality, too.)

3. What area of library services would you say you know the least about? Because of your interdepartmental responsibilities as head, how will you approach dealing with this department when you do?
(Another question about "weaknesses," but which asks to see how they will address their "weakness" in the communication arena.)

4. What do you enjoy most about working in collection development?
(Obvious and open-ended, but it offers the candidate an opportunity to talk about what they love, which I have often found to be quite telling about people. Enthusiasm for the discipline is important in a leader, and the answer here should allow the committee to see how "infectious" the candidate's enthusiasm will be. Also lets you see how much their "likes" fit UTSA's own collection development philosophies.)

5. What are the top three qualities you would look for in a new hire in your collection development department?
(This question has two purposes: assess their ability to think about hiring, which will presumably be part of their responsibilities as department head; and assess whether these qualities seem to match the group of people they will be supervising.)

6. As a manager, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
(The "best thing I've ever done" isn't always apparent from a resume; again, gives them a chance to stress something amazing about themselves, which would increase comfort level for someone who has something amazing to talk about. If they don't have anything amazing to talk about, then....)

7. What is the most troubling problem facing academic library collections today?
(A standard question, but it allows you to get a sense of how much they think about the big picture. That's relevant for a person in this kind of position, where "getting the work done" isn't really the point of their job. Gives them a chance to give an original answer, or at least an original interpretation of a common problem.)

8. How do you improve your management and leadership skills?
(Not probably a question everyone will expect; do they read and stay current, do they go to institutes? How much do they know about leading? A good worker takes their position seriously, and a department head will need to be aware of techniques and methods by which to improve themselves.)

9. Why are you interested in coming to UTSA?
(An obvious question, but it will assess how much the candidate has prepared for the position; a question to which you can expect many people to respond with smoke-blowing...which is easy to see through. There are clear good and bad answers here.)

10. How has [insert subject area here] changed over the past decade? How has your collection model change to reflect that shift?
(A question with a lot of meat. Gives you a sense of their ability to adapt to changes external to the organization. Gives you a chance to see how well they talk about their own discipline to (probably) non-experts. Gives you a chance to see how much they know about their discipline, too, if you have someone who can evaluate that).

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Assessing Candidates

Personality Testing

The use of personality testing is something that I have encountered in management-class settings before. Typically, we discussed the possibility of using personality tests in order to evaluate employees' ability to work together, and to assess the ways in which different types of people could be molded into an effective organization. In these cases, personality types, quirks, and values were not considered to be part of what makes someone "good" or "bad" for an organization. The discussions of personality testing this week seem to have indicated that there are "right kinds" of people to hire. I'm not sure where I come down on this issue, to be honest.

It is difficult to imagine how the five-factor tests I've taken before could be effectively used in a hiring situation. Inventory items like "I shirk my duties" and "I feel comfortable around people" seem obvious and easy to game, cheat, lie about, or whatever word would be most appropriate. While I certainly agree with Hogan's and Ross' perspectives that accurate measures of conscientiousness, openness, or extraversion could certainly be valuable, a good personality test for a work setting would have to mask its items' intent very well to actually measure the factors it targets.

To be completely honest, I feel like personality testing is a pretty poor substitute for interviewing. Interviewers can ask similar questions to those on a personality test, and also evaluate the ways in which people communicate about themselves, which is relevant to all different kinds of items that personality tests have to measure anyway. In a large organization such as the credit company from the case study article, though, the relatively non-intensive nature of personality testing can save the organization time, money, headaches, and effort, and could be a valuable tool. It seemed even more valuable that the assessment that was instituted here was based on assessing competencies and skills, though; these are harder to fake.

A good personality test, or interview designed to target personality attributes, might begin with scenarios to see how people reason through them, how they identify the key factors, and how they would go about dealing with problems. Scenarios are already commonly used to measure moral reasoning, which is very similar to the "conscientiousness" personality factor as it is. Scenario items, because they do not provide much guidance as to what a "good" answer would be, could be effective and (helpfully) qualitative measures of personality type and reasoning level at the same time. These seem more helpful than personality inventories, because they add a richer dimension to the candidate's profile.

Checking References

Reference checking is extremely important. As crass as this may sound, all other aspects of candidate assessment are completely in the hands of the candidate, and so it is difficult to get a picture of much other than the side of the candidate that they want you to see. While this side is likely to be the most commonly seen side in the workplace, aspects like bad tempers, laziness, and being generally difficult won't show up in the guarded situation of applying for a job. Finding out others' assessments of candidates' work is the best way to find out more. To effectively check, I think it is important for managers to learn the skill of reading between the lines; "they were good" is very different from "they were outstanding," and I think learning to distinguish a solid reference from an outstanding one is an important skill.

The lecture posed the question, "What do you think you can do to make this easier and more efficient?" I believe that one solution is a willingness to solicit references via email. I am aware that many people prefer to make phone calls, but I imagine that phone-tag situations happen quite often, to the detriment of the hiring organization. If I were a manager who hired frequently, I would develop some sort of form letter in which I ask certain key questions about job performance and character assessment, and use it to solicit email-based answers from listed references. This might cut down on conversation time and be more convenient for all involved. Then again, some people might hate these; I think it seems reasonable to use this as a backup if the phone doesn't get picked up, however.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Week 1: Recruiting Case Study

The easiest of the questions here to answer is the last question. "How much of the problem should she share with senior managers or should she keep quiet in the hope that she will turn the staffing problem around without anyone being aware that the department was struggling?"

It doesn't seem that anyone, at any level, will really benefit if Ms. Morphine keeps a lid on this worsening situation in her conversations with her superiors. The desire to avoid confrontation, and to avoid being the bearer of bad news, is understandable in human terms but basically inexcusable in a work setting. The efficient working of the pharmacy is in the interests of everyone in this very large organization; it is also evidently an organizational feature that the higher-ups are willing to take for granted. Simply put, neither they nor Ms. Morphine can continue to labor under the perception that "things will get better," because there is little evidence to indicate that they will on their own. Obviously, Ms. Morphine requires some support beyond her own department here, and some of the below recommendations really require a certain amount of support--both budgetary and in terms of personnel--beyond the pharmacy division itself.

The scenario does not identify many reasons for the problems, save that the pharmacy department has a bad reputation. It is possible that this could be combatted directly through better marketing of the department as a place to work, though previously earned reputations change little without a certain amount of evidence that positive change has occurred. A strong recruitment strategy is needed here, and can be summarized in three steps.

Step 1:
Appraise the reasons for high turnover. If there are currently available evaluations of job satisfaction, or if evaluations will have to be newly conducted, a hard look at the data about what employees find particularly frustrating about working in the department is necessary. Without knowledge of why turnover is high, correcting the problems leading to turnover will be impossible. Whatever is behind the high turnover, it is reasonable to assume that if turned-over individuals are proceeding to work in other departments, they are spreading bad vibes (deserved or undeserved) about what it is like to work in the pharmacy division.

Step 2:
Develop a program for filling positions.
There are proven ways to attract employees to positions. Perhaps the nature of the work itself, coupled with the recent crisis, justify an increase in wages for new hires that might encourage people to move departments or to choose this pharmacy over a competitor in the case of new graduates. A better training program for agency employees (who I am assuming are equivalent to "temps" in the States) could lead to temporary employees making the jump to full-time, which is good if they are capable, and increase the efficiency of the pharmacy in the meantime. Additionally, a more aggressive recruiting program for new graduates could be undertaken; graduates typically are interested in positions that seek them out, and there are a number of good models for actually recruiting good staff as opposed to ending up with an applicant pool. Whatever the case, this program will likely require a fairly large amount of help from people beyond the pharmacy department; this is acceptable because of the fact that the pharmacy division is essential to the workings of the hospital as a whole.

Step 3:
Redesign responsibilities to make work more satisfying.
The pharmacy does have some employees left. Presumably, these individuals will eventually move on if the problems causing high turnover aren't addressed. It is necessary to redesign existing job responsibilities so that work is not as dull, or repetitive, or unfulfilling, or whatever the case may be. Redesigning jobs will increase satisfaction as well as making the available positions more attractive to new hires. Perhaps creative solutions, such as cross-departmental appointments and cross-training, could be used to fill some of the issues and increase the image of the department within the larger organization.

In the end, it's unclear at this point what exactly is causing the turnover and bad reputation of the department. As the management consultant indicates, though, it's not unlikely that a good bit of the issue has to do with Ms. Morphine herself; high turnover and a lack of satisfaction typically originate from some negative management practices. Opening the dialogue with her superiors will certainly increase the possibility for a learning experience here, and will likely eventually lead to some discovery about what could be changed in Ms. Morphine's own management practice.

Friday, January 12, 2007

About Me...First Off

Hello all fellow travelers in the Human Resources Management/LIS realm. It'll be nice to be able to see so much activity in this class over the course of the semester.

I'm a second-year student at SILS--who often wishes I was still a first-year student at SILS--seeking a career in academic library public services. I'm looking forward to reflecting on issues of management, hiring, and the "work" side of librarianship and of course employment in all of the varied fields that the IS folks will be following.

I believe this is going to be an excellent, steadily challenging, interesting class that I'll probably look back on every week once I finally find one of these jobs I hear people talking about.

See you around the Net.