Friday, May 08, 2009

Empowering Staff

Something new is on my mind today, and it has to do with empowering staff to make decisions. In my library, we have Administrative Staff and Support Staff. Administrative Staff are the five librarians, the Director, the Network Administrator, and the Administrative Manager. We are the charge people when closing the building at night and opening in the morning, which means that we have alarm codes and we are responsible for securing the building. We can make decisions that impact library services and patron records (ie. waving fines, giving free photocopies, allowing reference books to be checked out, deciding which programs to co-sponsor, etc).

We have a policy manual and a procedure manual that help Support Staff make daily work decisions (such as what items can be renewed, who can have a library card, and following up on missing and damaged items). We have found, though, that some staff members are more willing to make other decisions on their own. These are decisions that are not spelled out clearly in any manual because they are more circumstantial (ie. whether to repair or weed an item, whether to remove an item from a patron record when they claim they already returned it, or what donations to accept for the library collection). Other staffers are hesitant to make any decision that is not spelled out clearly for them.

To me, any decision that can be backed up with a reasonable, rational explanation is a good one. Even if the consequence of that decision turns out badly and it ultimately was the wrong decision, as long as someone can explain what they were thinking when they made that decision, it is acceptable.

How do we train those who are so afraid to make a decision that it impairs patron services? How can we empower them to use their good judgment and just do their best to create a positive library experience for the customer?

A few years ago, I remember reading about a library that instituted what they called "No Journals." Any time any staff member said no to a patron's request, denying them their optimum library experience, they had to write it in the No Journal. The idea was that if they said no, they must be willing to go to the extra trouble of journaling about it and explaining why they felt they needed to say no. They found that they started being much more amenable to patron requests, and that there really were very few reasons to say no the majority of the time.

This is loosely related to my idea that Support Staff should be empowered to make decisions that affect patron experiences at the library. Maybe they could journal (or blog...) about decisions they made, whether their decision helped the patron or hurt the patron. I'm suggesting that those who are reluctant to make decisions might be less hesitant if they could justify their actions in writing. If they broke rules to help the patron, they could explain their thinking. If they had to say no to a patron request, they could similarly justify their actions.

This is a great theory, but the reality is that all staff are just plain busy. It would be very difficult to get staff buy-in to the journaling/blogging idea.

Any other ideas out there?

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