Friday, May 02, 2008

Booknote: Love 'em or lose 'em

I already made a brief review of the book over in my GoodReads profile. But this book, Beverly Kaye's Love 'Em or Lose 'Em, made me think a little, and I ended up making a few extra notes that I would like to add here.

The first chapter is pretty obvious. If you want to know something, then ask. My father used to tell me this, and it is advice I have always tried to follow. Why more managers do not do this with their workers is beyond me. This seems so basic, and yet it is neglected so often. Simply ask: "What would make you stay here? What might lure you away?" And do so in a timely fashion. Though the book suggests asking when the career development meetings happen, I am not so sure that may be the best time. You see, those types of meetings are usually tied to an evaluation. In academic librarianship (and I am sure in a lot of other places), we have the dreaded annual review. It is often during this process that something called "goal setting" is supposed to occur where the worker (me) sets some goals for the manager to approve. Let's be honest here. Very often this is not exactly the most honest moment for either worker or manager. Depending on the workplace, I could simply put something down that would be enough to get my manager off my back for another year. Sure, it would be measurable, thus making sure I got it done. But would it be my best work? Maybe, maybe not. You see what I am trying to say here? Tying discussions of career growth and goals with an annual performance review? Not a great way to foster some honest dialogue about what might keep me at the workplace or make me leave.

There was also the point that the local manager, i.e. your immediate supervisor, has the most control over retention, more so than senior management or the larger corporate culture. I think this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Even a good boss, if his or her hands are tied by a bad corporate culture or incompetent senior management, will be able to do little for retention of a star worker. Good people in a bad environment will leave anyways. What a good boss might be able to do is to forestall the person leaving for a bit longer, i.e. they may like working for the boss, so they stay a bit more. But after a while, even a good boss cannot make up for a lousy workplace. I don't think the book gives much thought to that issue. And I know, that, as good as a boss can be, if the place overall has a bad culture, higher management who are incompetent, or a serious lack of resources, I would probably move on to better conditions.

By the way, do read the chapter on respect. This should be evident as well. Without respect, everything else falls apart. And it should go both ways, but it is also earned. The difference is this: everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity (I am thinking here basic decency or common courtesy). Respect you have to earn. This is something a lot of bosses tend to forget, and they often do not treat anyone below them with dignity or respect. And for me, I always go back to bosses who allow their workers to be disrespected by their clients. This is very present in libraries as well, and it is something that should be stopped. A manager should always look out for their workers.

There was a list of recognition options on page 145 that I found interesting. I kind of looked at it, thinking, what would work for me. Here are some things that might work for me, from the list:
  • A thank-you, in writing, from my boss.
  • A note to my boss's boss about my excellent performance (actually, this would be better than the simple note from the boss, which may or not be sincere).
  • Words of praise in front of my family (actually, I would be very shy about that, but the gesture itself says something about your boss. My father at some points of his life was very lucky to work for bosses that often sang his praises to the family when we came over. However, and here is the detail, those bosses were also very family-friendly people).
  • More freedom or autonomy.
  • Some flexibility in my schedule.
Things that not work, from the same list:
  • Awards or plaques. I dislike being put on the spot (ironic given that I used to be an instruction librarian). Plus, these often feel artificial.
  • A chance to be on an exciting cutting-edge project. I don't think this is much recognition as much as it should be a boss giving a good worker a chance to grow, which should be a given.
  • A bonus of some sort. Well, depends on the bonus.
  • A day off. Maybe, maybe not. You see; I accumulate comp time at a fast rate, and I often don't take it. Not because I am some workaholic, but because either the work I do means I need to be there (for example, I can't take a day off if there is a major program going on in the library since I am the outreach librarian), or more likely, coordinating to get free time with the better half is a pain (her schedule is worse than mine). So time off, for me at least, while nice, is not an incentive. If the day off is one of my choosing, more likely to work.
  • A raise. Nice to have, but not necessarily something that would work in terms of recognition. I could make a comment here about librarians not being paid what they are worth, but I will refrain. My point is, that for me, a material reward like that would not be as meaningful.
  • A chance to go out with senior management. You are kidding, right? What employee wants to hang out with the senior management? I know last thing I want is to have lunch with my director's bosses, and I don't care how nice they are. What would be the point?
  • Opportunity to work with people from other parts of the company? Nope. In some cases, I want to avoid those people.
  • A promotion. Not really. That would probably mean more work, more politics, more administrative b.s. with no raise in pay or recognition.
  • A change in my title. Whoop dee doo.
Actually, that list looks pretty crappy from my point of view. Is that the best the author can do? Do keep in mind, different folks work in different ways. I am sure some of those would work for some people.

The chapter on space had a nice small section about giving your employees the space to dress as one wishes. Now, I am not saying dress in tank tops and flip flops to work in the library, but, especially here, we can go pretty casual, and the work will go on just fine. Just because some old fud left some anonymous card about how he can't tell the librarians from the library workers apart because they all dress casual is not reason to be firing off memos about the dress code. Here is the relevant passage from the book, which I think a lot of bosses should be looking at:

"We have all read about the high-tech environment where people with creative, brilliant minds dress in all kinds of bizarre outfits. Some wonder if it is appropriate or professional or conducive to productivity. The results seem to speak for themselves. Just take a look at Microsoft or Netscape, where there are no dress codes in many departments. How successful and productive have they been over the years? Managers in those environments say that their employees often work long hours (sometimes 70-hour weeks) by their own choosing, as they strive to complete a project or get a new product out the door. Allowing them to dress as they wish seems a small concession, considering the commitment and high level of productivity" (158).

I am a pretty casual guy. However, when I have a function or some other important event, rest assured I dress up. But let's be honest, if I am mostly going to be working in the office to get online guides done or just at the reference desk, my jeans and a nice shirt will do just fine. The world will not come to an end, and the students and faculty will still get the service they expect (and hey, have you seen how some of the faculty dress?). Anyhow, something to think about.

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