Friday, April 20, 2007

TLA 2007 Conference Notes, Day 2: Session on Librarian Retention

Session: Kathry Deiss and DeEtta Jones, "Creating Community Within Our Organizations: Retaining Librarians."

Note: Presentation to be available after April 18, 2007 at Ms. Deiss's wiki here.

Community and culture.
  • Think of the large, often immovable cultures in an organization. Think of an iceberg for an image. You only interact with the surface where only 10% is above the surface. The percentage above water refers to the objective things. For example, the promotional materials.
  • The rest below the water is the bulk of the organizational culture, and this is less explicit. For example, the patterns of thought.
  • Ask: what were your first impressions of your library? It may be things seen during the interview or the first day of work. Later, you get the "how things really work around here" level. It becomes known and ingrained over time. These things (biases, beliefs, notions, etc.) are taken for granted by the old timers. How is the gap closed?
  • Organizational culture. It is learned. Notice there are implicit exchanges, which if made explicit, could help retention. Culture also forms self-identity and community. Notice that we navigate different cultures as we come into an organization. One's personal culture may not be in sync with organizational culture, and this can lead to conflict.
  • Individual interpretations inform behavior and expectations. We all have unique structures of interpretation. Library units can have unique interpretive structures as well (see the often mentioned opposition of reference versus technical services).
Managing cultural meaning-making.
  • What messages does the organization send regarding individual and team growth?
  • How are the messages supported through actions and programmatic endeavors?
A disconnect between what an organization says and does can lead to people leaving. All organizations have some disconnect, but if not effort to align issues is made, then you have a crisis situation.

Retention begins with recruitment. What is said in the interview to a candidate already says a lot. The language of the job ad is also important. What will people applying for the job want and stick around for? The new recruit will be asking: what are the possibilities here for me?

Types of contracts:
  • Formal: written (what you usually think of a contract). This is overt, agreed upon with known conditions.
  • Social: Behavior and ethics. This is based on values and beliefs. Normative. (the idea of what is right and wrong social behavior fits here).
  • Psychological contracts (we all have them). This brings in individual beliefs of what the individual expects and what is expected of the individual. This is unspoken usually, and it is always unwritten. It is rooted in personal values and expectations. It is based on a variety of expectations.
(Here lies the problem) When some element of the psychological contract is perceived to be broken, retention problems happen. This falls under the "broken promises" category. The language of a job ad can help shape a psychological contract. Even if it is not voiced, a psychological contract can be broken. (In other words, for example, if your job ad promises a challenging and dynamic environment only for the candidate to find the library in question is anything but, that is an example of a broken psych contract).

The aspects of a contract boil down to this: what the employees and employers expect to give to each other and receive from each other.

The basis of promises:
  • Perception of mutuality.
  • Assumption driven.
  • Not questioned until the promise is perceived to be broken. (In a formal contract, you break it, it means litigation, etc.)
Promises can be parsed when:
  • The organization has the will but not the means to implement (this may be forgivable).
  • The organization has the means but not the will to implement (definitely not forgivable, at least in my estimation).
See the findings of the Saratoga Institute. (I think a great book that summarizes the findings is The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. I read it, but I did not post about it. Personally, I did not think the reasons were all that hidden. A manager with half a brain and some common sense should see some of the reasons coming). The question to ask is not "why do people stay?" The question managers need to be asking is "why do people leave?" Some reasons for leaving include:
  • Job/workplace not as expected.
  • Too little coaching/feedback (I would add that you can get coaching and feedback, but it does not mean it is useful or relevant).
  • Too few growth/advancement opportunities.
  • Feeling devalued/unrecognized.
  • Stress from overwork. Also, work/life imbalance.
  • Loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.
  • Mismatch between a person and the job.
There are power dynamics in an organization. The manager has the job of helping the employees succeed. Feedback must be constructive, candid, timely, and tied to a context related to the work. Managers should also be soliciting feedback. In the end, the manager must model good behaviors (Lead by example, which is something I am personally a big believer of. Personally, a quick way for me to lose respect for a manager is to have them demand things that they themselves would not be willing to do. Also, this means a manager should provide a model of good management for others to learn from). The manager should be in the service of the workers and their success. Presenter mentioned looking over a book by Flaherty on coaching (again, another case of just give a quick book reference. The book in question is Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others.)

". . . we recognize that employees have commitments outside work and that we must help them manage their responsibilities along with their work obligations." --IBM U.S. Policy on Diversity.

Managers are responsible for setting a supportive tone. Be mindful that new librarians will be types to leap boundaries and appropriate authority.

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