Employee Accountability

What is Employee Accountability:

I see it time and time again in organizations. They are populated with the “old guard” who can’t seem to adjust to today’s way of working.  Workplace expectations have changed. What today’s mission-driven organization demands is a more efficient, collaborative, flexible approach–employee accountability.  Gone are the days when employees waited for a directive and then carried it out.  Instead, employees need to take ownership of their responsibilities. They need to communicate across previously rigid boundaries. They must “manage” their bosses and colleagues. They need to collaborate and be comfortable with change.  All of this requires a finely honed sense of emotional intelligence.  But this doesn’t always sound like the colleagues we have.  How do you help those colleagues grow into the kind of workers today’s mission driven organization needs?

How to Foster Employee Accountability:

The first step to fostering employee accountability is to be open and honest about what is expected.  Employees need a clear message that expectations are changing and more autonomy is needed. The key to fostering employee accountability is to make it ok for employees to act autonomously. Workplace tolerance for a diversity of solving problems must be increased.  And, the workplace must fully accept that sometimes the solutions people come up with aren’t going to work.

To create an environment of employee accountability where people feel comfortable with solving problems you must create an environment where failure isn’t the end of the world.  Don’t punish people for mistakes.  It truly is better to have a workplace where people step up and try to solve problems rather than asking permission and guidance for every idea they have.  Sometimes employees will get it wrong and that’s ok, because a lot of times they will get it right.

It is often useful to give colleagues an opportunity to solve problems on their own without interfering.  I once worked with an library in which the manager of one department had an office very close to the frontline staff.  Staff had developed the habit of running any situation that seemed the slightest bit unusual by the manager.  It became clear to the manager that many of these things did not need managerial approval or intervention, so he began simply asking staff what they would do if he was out of her office and they could  not ask.  When they provided the answer he would simply say, “that sounds like a good idea, why don’t you do that.”  By encouraging staff to think up a solution on their own they had the opportunity to flex their problem solving skills.  Pretty soon the number “problems” that were run the by manager decreased significantly.

It can also help employee accountability to proactively create guidelines for staff empowerment.  For example, the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain famously allows staff to spend up to $2,000 per day per guest to make sure guests are happy.  One library I know of allows circulation staff to waive up to $25 in fines, no questions asked.  The implementation of this guideline was a game changer for that library which historically did not offer user-friendly customer service.  In addition to creating a situation in which users could be given the benefit of the doubt, this guideline also allowed staff to work more independently. Not comfortable with giving staff that level of freedom? The converse is management retaining control of all decision-making, which is pretty time-consuming given the demands of today’s workplace.  If $25 is uncomfortable for you, propose something you are comfortable with.  Maybe it’s $10. Maybe its $25 total per day. Give some thought to what would work for your organization and what level of expected responsibility makes sense.

Why is Employee Accountability Important

Employee accountability is an important aspect of organizational culture.  A rigid culture  creates workers who aren’t comfortable with being independent, autonomous members of staff. Customers and clients expect whomever they encounter to assist in solving their problems and if frontline staff are not empowered to do so then the result is an unsatisfactory interaction in the customer’s opinion.  Organizational culture should not be an accident.  It must be deliberately crafted.

Think about the challenges in your organizational culture and what works well.  How can you improve?

 

Customer Service

Customer Service: Nothing New?:

As people who work in libraries we are continually challenged by providing excellent customer service to our users. I remember a few years ago I sat through a campus-led customer service training in which the facilitator, someone from our university’s professional development office, stated how frustrated she found leading customer service training. Her reason? There is nothing new in customer service.

Well, I just found something that rocked my world: episode 286 of the HBR Ideacast “The End of Customer Service Heroes.” To be fair, this isn’t a new idea–the episode dates from 2012 and features the authors of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business, which was also published that year. I’m not really sure why this just showed up in my iTunes now, but I’m really glad it did.customer service excellence

Customer Service: The Case Against Heroics

Library users expect great customer service. We all want to provide great customer service. But somehow this still doesn’t happen.  Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, the authors of Uncommon Service acknowledge this, and explain that libraries are not alone–this happens in every market segment. How to provide great service is elusive, perhaps counter-intuitive, to most. For most service providers the system is set up to allow for occasional excellence in customer service, but that generally requires heroics on the part of an eager staff member.

They explain that the majority of service providers simply ask employees to try harder to provide great customer service. But it’s not about trying harder.  It is about creating a system in which the average employee can’t help but provide a great service experience and ensuring that customers know what to do to create a great service experience. And by training I don’t mean expecting library users to be expert in every arcane aspect of using a library.  The example the authors give is Zipcar.  Zipcar is a car sharing service that is in several major metropolitan areas around the world. Members reserve cars online, pick them up at unstaffed parking spaces and return them on time, gassed up, and clean for the next user.  Willingly. Somehow, Zipcar has made their users want to do this. How? By creating a community. You don’t want to let the next user down by returning your car late, so you return it on time. Zipsters (as they are known) don’t pay for gas, so why not use the fleet card to fill up the tank before you return the car? And the messages Zipsters receive from Zipcar all underscore the importance of being a good community citizen.

I see applications here for libraries–perhaps we could encourage users to return recalled materials by highlighting the next users need for the book? Maybe this also extends to due dates? Or better yet, maybe in the sharing economy, due dates don’t matter anymore? After all, if fines don’t impact user behavior, perhaps creating community standards would?

Customer Service: Prioritization

The authors go on to explain that service excellence is achieved by prioritizing the needs of your customers. So, in order to provide excellent customer service, service providers must be the best at those things their users find important and be the worst at those things their customers value the least? Sound familiar? This is where LibQual can be a highly valuable tool to libraries.

Libqual is a service quality instrument that asks users not only how a library is doing in various service areas, but also how important those service areas are to each given user. So, it can tell you not only if users are satisfied with how friendly or helpful library staff is, but also if that’s even important to users. With that type of data you don’t waste time perfecting a service that doesn’t really matter to your users.

Customer Service: How Do We Ensure It?

Service quality should not depend on how well an employee delivers that service. The system should be structured to support customer service excellence across the board.  How is that done? I can’t wait to read the book to find out!

 

Library Service & the Culture of Haste

Library Service Expectations

Library Service expectations, like service expectations in any sector, have changed dramatically over the past decade.  We live in a culture of instant gratification.  Libraries used to have few if any competitors.  Now they have innumerable online service providers who can provide content quickly and conveniently, albeit for a fee.  Our library users are the same consumers who have gotten used to streaming movies from Netflix downloading kindle books from Amazon.  I see this as a good thing.  It makes libraries raise their game in terms of service.

The Culture of Haste and Library Service Expectations

A good friend of mine, I’ll call her Sarah, runs the public service department of a large academic library.  She’s the kind of librarian who likes to provide good library service to the students and faculty.  These days good library service means fast library service.  Interlibary loan is an area of library service that has received a lot of attention over the past decade.  Once a slow process, a lot of work has gone into streamlining the delivery chain, improving the tools and generally making it a timely service that meets the needs of today’s researchers.  This process has been achieved because of people like Sarah who work hard to ensure that items in their library collections are loaned quickly and efficiently to researchers elsewhere who need them.

Library Service and the Culture of Haste

Are We Racing to Meet Library Service Expectations?

One day not too long ago Sarah was speaking to the staff in the interlibrary lending department and explaining that for each item they were working on there was an actual researcher waiting for the book.  One of the lending staff took exception to this and said that Sarah was “buying in to the culture of haste.”

What’s Wrong With the Culture of Haste

OK, I get it.  Yes, we live in a society full of instant gratification.  The rushing can be too much at times.  Stress related illness is at an all time high. We need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses.  Every time I’m on the road someone is rushing in a way that puts other lives at risk.  Sometimes rushing isn’t necessary.  And often it can have negative consequences.  Sometimes rushing means a decline in quality, but it doesn’t have to.

What’s Right With the Culture of Haste

Librarians like Sarah have it right. It is important to Sarah to provide good library service to all researchers, not just the ones at her own institution. She also wants to provide good library service to researchers at other colleges and universities who need to use items from her library’s collection.  Her colleague accused her of buying in to the culture of haste as if it were a bad thing.  When it comes to library service, it’s not.  It is simply providing good library service in an environment of ever increasing expectations.  Where we have the tools and staffing to provide fast service, why not?

How Can We Help Our Colleagues Embrace the Culture of Haste?

Many of us are able to see the value in providing super-timely library service yet work with people who don’t get it.  So what can we do? I think Sarah had a good idea.  She explained the context to her colleague.  Unfortunately her colleague didn’t get it.  This time.  Perhaps with repeated explanations the expectation will begin to sink in.  Perhaps by explaining in in a context meaningful to the colleague it would help.  Obviously this is going to differ from person to person but everyone has been in a situation in which they didn’t like waiting.  Rather than getting frustrated at colleagues who don’t understand the changing nature of library service expectations we need to continually have the conversation on why faster library service is important.

What are your experiences dealing with colleagues who have different views on library service expectations?

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Sharpening the Saw

On Fridays I often tag my tweets #sharpenthesaw.  (Shameless plug:  @sweetcoachcons) These tweets are decidedly different from my usual posts on libraries, leadership and personal effectiveness.  I hope they are funny, or perhaps speak to the need for rest and rejuvenation.  At times I’m sure they are just plain silly.  You probably recognize the tag as referencing the 7th Habit from Steven Covey’s famous book.

The concept of balanced self renewal is so important that I like to remind people of it every week, just before the weekend.  Historically a time to nurture ourselves physically, spiritually and socially, the weekend is increasingly under attack from our continually connected world.  To be our most effective we need quiet moments, we need to tend to our physical well being, and we need to connect with our loved ones.  We need to break from the act of sawing and sharpen our saws.

This is what I will be doing for the remainder of the Summer.  I’ll be enjoying a sabbatical from work, spending time with my beloved family,  outdoors, relaxing, reading fiction, connecting with friends and generally giving my brain time and space to process.  A de-frag if you will.

I’ll be back in September, rested, restored and ready to work again.  I’d love to hear your restorative plans for the summer!

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The TEDx Talk Every Librarian Should Watch

I often say libraries are not innovative, and when I say this I do so very hesitantly.  As much as I don’t wish to offend those who share my passion for libraries, I also feel very strongly that libraries need to step up their game in the face of competition from companies like Amazon and Google.  This is what entrepreneur Andrew Roskill is saying–much more eloquently than I ever have– in his talk recorded at TEDx Charleston a couple of months ago.  This is a “call to arms” for libraries to provide a niche service based on what they do well, and to do so in a way that’s “easy, elegant and engaging”–like a business.  Watch this talk!  It’s 10 minutes well spent.

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Customer Service in the Digital Age

For the past couple of weeks I have been preparing a class on delivering excellent service to today’s library user.  While I have practical experience in delivering the type of service that is expected in libraries today, thinking about user expectations was something I had not done in quite a while.  The thing is, while the means of delivering excellent service–in libraries and elsewhere–have changed over the decades, the principles that define excellent service have not.  I don’t think they ever will.  What has changed is customer expectations of convenience, which means libraries really need to step up their game in terms of the services they provide.

 

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Disrupting the Library, part 7

Disruptive Suggestion #6:  Be Utterly Transparent

Radically embrace the truth.  I love it, but can you think of anything more scary?  What is your library’s truth–maybe use has decreased significantly in the past decade?  Maybe you don’t know what your users want?  Maybe you have been slammed recently on Twitter?  Maybe the campus library is the laughing stock of the college?   If you are in denial about the relationship between your library and its user community things will never improve.  The only way to get out of whatever uncomfortable situation the library is in is to fully accept it and commit to improving it.  Or maybe you don’t even know what your user community thinks of you, in which case it is time to find out.

Ever shop at Whole Foods?  Every Whole Foods I have been in posts comments and questions from their suggestion box on a public bulletin board with responses from the manager.  This would be a great approach for a library.  Done a large scale user survey with scary results?  Make the results public, along with the improvement plan.  Launch a service that missed the mark?  Own it.  And either scrap it or improve it so it does help your users.

I hope this series was helpful not only helping you to see how libraries can be disrupted–radically transformed into better service outlets–but also in showing you that the breadth of business literature can be applied to improving libraries and other mission driven organizations.

 

This is the final installment of a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

 

 

Disrupting the Library, part 6

Disruptive Suggestion #5:  Find Smarter Ways to Serve Your Customers

Are you sure you are giving your users what they need?  The example the article gives is Siri, the voice interaction service offered on Apple products.  Library users may not require or even desire voice command services, but what is it they do want?  Not what they are asking for, but where is the need?  Maybe users need library materials delivered to their home or office? Maybe faculty on the tenure track need communities of practice to support them?

The point is to listen to your users and find out what their needs are.  Then think, “how can these needs be met?” Then think some more.  Then plan, all the while talking to users and thinking.

This is the sixth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 7.

 

 

Disrupting the Library, part 5

Disruptive Suggestion #4:  Make Stupid Objects Smart

The Forbes.com article explains, “A dumb product just sits there. It doesn’t talk to the network, doesn’t have a memory, doesn’t react to changing events around it. In contrast, a smart product acts intelligently.”  It goes on to describe several examples of “smart” objects:  The dumpster that alerts when it needs to be emptied; the light bulb that flashes before it burns out; the dog collar that monitors dog behavior.

Because of privacy concerns the notion of objects with a “memory” might not be the right fit at a library, but there are ways to “smarten-up” the library.  What about a system that tells users where the unoccupied study carrels are?  What about a circulation system that texts users when the material they have requested is available or warns of an approaching due date? And what if you could reply to the text to renew the items?

Be open to the idea of smart objects and aware of how this is being used both inside and beyond libraries.  Sure, some smart technologies are prohibitively expensive to most libraries but this will not always be the case, and even small, inexpensive changes can be transformative.

This is the fifth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 6.

 

 

 

Disrupting the Library, part 4

Disruptive Suggestion #3: Cut Prices Dramatically

Prices? What could this possibly have to do with library services? Actually quite a bit.  Most libraries charge for value-added services. Perhaps interlibrary borrowing, printing, or borrowing an iPad costs the user a little extra.  Here in Europe where I currently live my public library not only charges for library membership, but also checking out DVDs and requesting books from other branches are also associated with a small transaction cost.  

But what about the most sacrosanct of all library prices, the overdue fine?  [Note to self:  anything described as “sacrosanct” is a potential area for disruptive improvements.] A few years back, while running the Access Services department of a large North American research library, I adjusted circulation policies including eliminating routine overdue fines on non-recalled general collection materials.  There is no question that this was a  disruptive change, but because of the careful study and planning that went into it, it was a change that was embraced by the library administration as well as library staff and users.  As a result these changes–including lengthening circulation periods and eliminating fines on routine overdues, interactions with library users were much more positive.  And while we did experience a drop in fine revenue income (which at that library was deposited directly into the collections budget) the loss was partially offset by increases of other overdue fines and fees which could be tweaked to fully offset the loss.

I am certainly not saying that every library needs to eliminate fines.  Rather, I’m inviting you to take a look at the sacred cows in your own workplace.  After some careful study and thinking, you may see some ways to improve the functioning of your library for users and staff alike.

This is the fourth in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry.

Read Disrupting the Library, part 5.