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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jpconnolly@crimson.ua.edu, Assistant Editor

April/May/June, 2004
Volume 50, Number 2

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Mastering the Organizational Map

by Pat Wagner


The heart of a library is the relationship between the people who serve (the staff) and those who are served (library users). The obvious manifestations of these services are the specialties we learned in library or technical school: cataloging, reference, children's services, information technology, circulation, outreach, literacy, technical services, etc. These hands-on activities are what most of us consider our "real" work: the tangible examples of what we are educated or trained to do. They are where we interact with external customers. They are also usually where we discover our zone of mastery, whether we are meticulous original monograph catalogers or personable and efficient circulation clerks.

But it might surprise you to know that these frontline activities, performed by degreed professionals and paraprofessionals, are only one-third of what is necessary to run a successful library or any other enterprise. Failure to understand the importance of the other two sets of skills prevents most libraries from achieving their full potential.

The Organizational Map groups skills into three sets: task, management, and leadership skills. All three skill sets are very different, but equally important. This way of understanding the workplace has existed at least since the 1920s, and serves as common knowledge among most properly trained managers and leaders. However, with the exception of MBA and public policy programs, most graduate schools tend to neglect this information. The myth is that if you know how to practice law, medicine, architecture, or librarianship, you will naturally learn, through some magical osmosis, how to coordinate projects, supervise people, and build a compelling future. This attitude permeates libraries and affects support staff as well. As a result, many libraries don't manage resources or people very well, and get left behind as culture, society, technology, customers, and competitors change.

Here is a simple outline of the map. As you read through it, think about what you like to do best and where your skills lie. Many people who work in libraries wear all three hats. However, few of us are equally proficient at all three skill sets.

Task or Frontline Skills

Task skills include those service areas mentioned above—these are what most of us are trained or educated to do. Those with the task mentality focus on what is right in front of them. They are detail-oriented, enjoying the concrete nature of their work, whether it be answering reference questions or shelving books, working with a teen reading club or teaching library users how to search the Internet. Most of the frontline employee's work has a beginning, middle, and end, even if there is a steady stream of library users to help or books to process. The task-oriented person will focus on the present moment and may have a "fix-it" mentality, preferring to solve problems quickly and move on to the next challenge.

…many libraries don't
manage resources or
people very well, and
get left behind….

However, the task mentality is not without its dark side. Task-oriented people may tend to think that they are the only ones who really contribute to the library's success, and may even harbor benign contempt for managers and directors. The task-oriented person is quick to put a Band-Aid™ on problems that might actually need a more thoughtful approach. Such an employee might also suffer from perfectionism, which translates into an unrealistic expenditure of time and money on activities that sap the resources of the library, because of a failure or refusal to see the big picture. And because such people prize their autonomy, they may respond to requests to change their work style with, "I am a degreed professional. (Or, "I have worked here ten years.") How dare you tell me what to do!"

The gift, and curse, of the frontline or task-oriented person is the ability to react quickly.

Management Skills

Management has received a bad rap during the last twenty years, mainly because too few managers and supervisors receive adequate training to do their jobs well. Competent task-mentality employees who are promoted to the management circle with no training or aptitude may struggle for years to achieve the same sense of surety they had in the front lines.

Managers include all those who supervise more than one person. A manager has twin charges.

The manager should be, first and foremost, a good communicator, and possess interpersonal skills that elicit the best from other people. Good managers understand the dynamics of human relationships, including concepts such as positive reinforcement. They are able to coax those autonomous task-types into a successful team because people like and respect them. Good managers love helping people develop and creating new ways for people to accomplish their workplace and career goals.

Second, but just as important, managers should understand the importance of structure and systems. They need to create stability and consistency by designing ways to lower the cost of doing business and connect different tasks and departments seamlessly. They must find ways to balance serving the library user and satisfying the needs of the frontline employee.

Those in the management skill set find ways to perfect the ability to juggle many ambiguous factors. Manager-types solve complex problems involving personalities and multiple variables; a high tolerance for shades of gray can keep them at their often-thankless work. Successful managers must be able to translate the vision of the leader into something the task-oriented person can understand and execute.

Leaders are the
change agents, keeping
the library relevant
to the library users'
changing needs.

But managers also have their blind sides. Some are great at creating complex plans but not very good at executing them; this endless list-making is the management version of perfectionism. Others become bureaucrats; they fall in love with their policies and systems, so that the rules become more important than the mission of the library or the people it serves.

By far the most common sin is that of micromanagement. The micromanager is typically a competent task-mentality person who is promoted without proper training on how to manage people. Such managers think that their job is to get everyone else to do the work exactly as they themselves would. Micromanagers quickly find that ordering people around does not work very well, so they either do (or redo) the work of others, or inappropriately focus on minor details. The manager who has not augmented task skills with managerial skills may still fail to focus on the big picture and thus neglect overall planning duties. Two characteristics of micromanagers are constantly complaining about employees and working overtime to do the work their supposedly incompetent staff won't do.

The gift, or curse, of the manager is the ability to maintain the status quo, balancing resources and people.

Leadership Skills

Leadership is about risk and the future. It is the ability to influence people and create compelling futures that excite others. In this model, the difference between planning as a manager versus planning as a leader is about two years out. The leader is not as concerned with the details of the task or the balancing act of the manager. Leaders are the visionaries who invest in relationships with other economic and political decision-makers so that the library has a viable future.

Leaders have the highest tolerance for ambiguity, but can be as impatient as any frontline personality. Leadership inspires and represents the principles of the library at the most abstract level. Leaders are the change agents, keeping the library relevant to the library users' changing needs.

Even leadership has its flaws. The most common is that of the loose cannon, who does not seek input from the managers, who provide information on the costs of change, or the frontline professionals and support staff, who provide a reality check on how change impacts customers in the short term. More rare and serious is the elitist, who does not understand that leadership is neither more nor less important than the other skill sets.

The gift, and curse, of the leader is the ability to anticipate change.

The Organizational Map

Whatever the formal hierarchy that distributes these skills, all are necessary for success. If everyone understands the map, each person can better appreciate and exploit, in the best sense of the word, the contributions and insights of the other points of view.

The overarching message of the organizational map for libraries is that the skills of management and leadership are not the same as the status given these titles in the workplace. I know of few libraries that adequately train all of their staff in these skills. I know fewer that promote people based on real management aptitude, rather than relying on credentials, degrees, or seniority to decide who gets ahead.

Fortunately, there are resources inside and outside the library community to help develop missing skill sets. The books in the bibliography are some of my personal favorites about developing management and leadership skills. Please share these ideas with everyone on your staff. This is a map that can lead you to a better future for your library and the people it serves.

Bibliography

Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

A 25-year study of thousands of managers that explains what the best managers do right. An instant classic.

Fisher, Roger and William Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreements without Giving In. 2d ed., rev. and enl. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

The first in a groundbreaking series of books on negotiating, including how to get beyond individual positions in a conflict.

Gall, John. TheSystems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small, Being the Third Edition of Systemantics. Walker, Minn.: General Systemantics Press, 2002.

An underground (and very funny) classic about why almost all systems fail. Great for error-proofing decisions.

Gastil, John. Democracyin Small Groups: Participation, Decision Making & Communication. St. Paul, Minn.: New Society, 1993.

Great practical advice on how committees and collaborative decision- making groups can reach better decisions.

Greenleaf, Robert K. ServantLeadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. 25th ed. New York: Paulist Press, 2002.

One of the most influential management books of the twentieth century.

Gross, Ronald and Michael J. Gelb. Socrates' Way: Seven Master Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost. New York: Putnam, 2002.

How to improve your ability to reason.

Hill, Linda Annette. Becominga Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership. 2d ed. Boston: Harvard Business School, 2003.

What happens when you leave the "task" role and begin to learn management and leadership thinking.

Janis, Irving Lester. Groupthink:Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. 2d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

The seminal book for understanding the power of "false consensus" in decision-making.

Kremer, Chuck and Ron Rizzuto. Managingby the Numbers: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Using Your Company's Financials. New York: Perseus Publishing, 2000.

If you have to make budget decisions, read this book.

Magretta, Joan and Nan Stone. WhatManagement Is: How It Works and Why It's Everyone's Business. New York: Free Press, 2002.

A recent classic on understanding management and leadership-level thinking.

Pryor, Karen. Don'tShoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam, 1999.

The best book we know on understanding and practicing positive reinforcement.

Satir, Virginia. TheNew Peoplemaking. 2d ed., rev. and enl. Palo Alto, Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1988.

The seminal book on how groups of individuals interact in healthy and unhealthy ways.

Seligman, Martin E. P. LearnedOptimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Riverside, N.J.: Pocket Books, 2002.

All of Seligman's books explain the differences between negative and positive thinking. VL



Pat Wagner and her husband Leif Smith own Pattern Research, a 29- year-old research and training business in Denver, Colorado. Pat has worked with libraries for 25 years as a consultant and presenter, specializing in management and leadership issues. She is a LAMA/ALA regional institute trainer and conducts programs for libraries and state and national library organizations. She may be reached at Pattern Research, P. O. Box 9100, Denver, CO 80209-0100; phone (303) 778-0880; fax (303) 722-2680; email pat@pattern.com; www.pattern.com.


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