For a project in LIS9610 Public Libraries, a course for my MLIS degree at Western University, I am going to be taking part in some professional development activities over the summer months. In the coming weeks, there will be several posts on two distinct topics: People Management, and Programming for Children, Youth, and Families. These are the areas that I have chosen to focus my professional development on.
Let’s focus first on People Management. As a new library branch supervisor, I have questions. How do I effectively manage my staff? (I only have 2 part-time staff who are both female high school students but their needs, and their growth as employees are important). If I need to have a difficult conversation with my staff, what is the best practice to follow? What words and phrases do I use to reprimand a staff if they have done something wrong? How do I effectively praise a staff who has done something great? Can I be a manager and a friend to my staff? I’ve done some background research of the literature on the topic. Here is what the advice, tips, and strategies from published experts have to offer to answer my questions.
How to be an Effective Manager
Tip #1 – Be Self-Aware
When we have knowledge of our own emotions, we understand the connection between our feelings and what we think, say, and do. Find your inner voice, and take time for contemplation and personal reflection. Get feedback, coaching, and mentoring from a superior or person that you trust. An interest in learning about yourself makes it easier to maintain self-control and build relationships with others (Kohn & O’Connell, 2005).
Tip #2 – Treat People With Respect (And by People, We Mean Your Employees)
People have a highly intuitive feeling about whether they are being treated with respect or not. Make good eye contact, pay attention without distractions, listen, and don’t use hurtful words or behaviours (that last one should go without saying, don’t you agree?) (Kohn & O’Connell, 2005).
Tip #3 – Remember: People are Different
People communicate feelings and ideas in different ways. People think in different ways. People see the world, and various situations in different ways. A manager must adapt his or her approach to others, in order to be effective. It is a good idea to study personality theories and models of personality styles/traits. Take a step towards understanding your staff. Being flexible to their personality style will show that you care and that you have an interest in them (Kohn & O’Connell, 2005).
Tip #4 – Be Assertive
The benefits of assertive behaviour include higher self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and effective conflict resolution. It can also enhance interpersonal relationships between managers and staff. Work effectiveness can also increase with assertiveness. Let your staff know what you expect of them, but also encourage them to voice and share their feelings/opinions with you. Assertiveness is a practice that should be adopted by all staff, regardless of position or level of authority (Lwehabura & Matovelo, 2000).
Having a Difficult Conversation
Most managers prefer “the carrot” to “the stick” in supervising work performance. Motivating employees through positive reinforcement is usually far less of a challenge than having to take disciplinary action. So begins the best practice of criticizing employees artfully (Kohn & O’Connell, 2005).
Each difficult conversation is actually three conversations in one. It begins with the “What Happened?” Conversation – who said what? Who did what? Who’s right, who’s to blame? What went wrong?. Then comes the “Feeling” Conversation, which asks and answers questions about feelings – are the feelings valid? What do I do about the other person’s feelings? Last is the “Identity” Conversation – what does the situation mean to us? Here, we conduct an internal debate about the outcomes of the conversation, and what it means to everyone involved. What will its impact be? (Stone, Patton, & Heen, 1999).
Successful managers find that the sandwich technique of delivering criticism is a common and effective way to have a difficult conversation with a staff member. In the Sandwich Technique, a manager opens with a positive statement – a compliment, words of praise, or an acknowledgement of a person’s strengths. Then, the criticism is shared. Let the staff member know about the mistake that was made. Leave the staff member with a positive and affirming statement about themselves. Let them know their work is appreciated, or that their ideas are good. Remain calm, offer compassion, and if it is appropriate you can use humour to lighten the mood at the end of the difficult conversation (Kohn & O’Connell, 2005).
Farrell (2015) presents the following steps for having a difficult conversation:
- Examine the situation to determine the core issue. What is the motive for holding the conversation? Make sure the conversation is performance based, over personality based. Even the most effective manager can’t like everyone, but dealing with difficult personalities is an area of leadership on its own.
- Prepare for the conversation by identifying the goals and intended outcomes. By keeping the conversation focused and to the point, the key points will be discussed more effectively.
- Acknowledge that emotions will be at play but manage your own emotions by being polite and professional throughout the duration of the conversation. Be understanding of your staff’s emotions, and do not try to dictate them.
- Consider the setting for the conversation and set a time limit. Create a neutral space that allows for conversation, but consider the feelings and emotions of your staff. Choose a place that is private, but comfortable for both you and the staff member. If the issue is small, a quick meeting that is to the point will be sufficient. If it is a more serious situation, allow time for emotional responses and dialogue, but do not let the meeting go on indefinitely.
- During the conversation, listen and be quiet. Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue. Allow the staff member to share their perspective, rant, vent, and express their feelings about the issue. Be patient and respond according to the employee’s comfort level.
Difficult conversations are the responsibility of effective managers, and practice in both being on the receiving end of the conversation, and leading the conversation are vital. Use the conversation as a learning moment that benefits both you and the staff member.
Managers & Staff Members – Friends?
Kohn and O’Connell (2005) discuss the importance of maintaining proper boundaries between yourself and the staff that you manage. The phrase “it’s lonely at the top” rings true. “Top executives [and managers] recognize the importance of maintaining appropriate personal boundaries with subordinates as a means of preserving a healthy position of authority” (p. 132). However, the workplace has a social nature and personal closeness, friendships, and intimacy are common results of people working together. An adult individual spends a large portion of their time at work, so the development of positive relationships is a healthy and almost necessary part of one’s social life. But, a manager must maintain their authority and respect of a staff member as a superior, and not an equal. A general rule of thumb? Maintain the personal boundaries. Ask the staff members about their weekend and get to know their interests. But, do not spend time socializing outside of work, whether in be in person or on social media, with the staff that you manage.
Farrell, M. (2015). Difficult conversations. Journal of Library Administration, 55(4), 302-311.
Kohn, S.E. & O’Connell, V.D. (2005). 6 habits of highly effective bosses. Franklin Lakes, New Jersey: Career Press.
Lwehabura, M. J. F., & Matovelo, D. S. (2000). Effective library management: Issues for managers and subordinates. New Library World, 101(6), 263-269.
Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. New York, New York: Penguin.