Friday, January 26, 2007

Fix-it Fridays: Management Fads and inspiring staff

We recently had an in-service day about customer service. This was a pre-FISH type of program (I just did not tell them it was fish, I don't want to look like this It really doesn't matter that it is a fad. I know that if you tell staff what it is, they will immediately be resistant. Most of the time staff are resistant to change out of fear of more work, or worse, more work with no reward.

In the end these techniques are attempts to motivate employees and help them enjoy their jobs. I prefer people to be happy at their jobs, but it is difficult to keep them that way with the type of people they have to deal with. FISH is an attempt to have employees own their jobs and have fun at work. The more fun you have, the better the mood of everyone else (including our patrons). However, it is difficult to sustain this type of environment. All you need is one grump that is resilient in his or her grumpiness and the thing can fall apart. In the FISH book series, the first two books demonstrate how to create a FISH environment and successful FISH environments. The third of the FISH books is called FISH Sticks, which documents the trouble in maintaining this type of mindset of enjoying your work.

I remember a few months back on publib where everyone was up in arms about these types of management fads and how they were all smoke and mirrors, the best post by the infamous Joe Schallan This is an enjoyable read about management fads. He trashes everything from Total Quality Management to Planning for Results.

"The purpose of a management fad isn't to effect improvements;
the purpose of a management fad is to reassure managers about
their role."

That is a very jaded statement, but it seems that comes with management trying all these techniques and not sticking with it themselves. The constant turnover of new things that don't work will frustrate staff.

Getting staff motivated is always a challenge. When you have a more experienced staff member that is thoroughly jaded and uncooperative, it stymies that progress. I am someone who is an optimist and one thing has always driven my management decisions. It is based on this story, abbreviated here (known as the Hawthorne Studies:

"The first experiments were with illumination - lighting in the factory. It was thought that workers might work better when there was more light, but light was very expensive, so they needed to find the optimum level to satisfy both requirements.

They assigned workers making induction coils to 2 groups: test and control. Both started with same amount of light. Then the Test group was given more light. Productivity went up. But, unfortunately, it also went up in the control group. So then they increased the light in the Test group again. Once again, productivity went up or stayed the same in both groups. Again they raised the light level, and again the same result.

So then they reduced the lighting in the Test group way down, below the level in control group. Productivity soared in the Test group, and continued to go up in the control group. They reduced light some more: same result. They finally got down to a level of light equivalent to a moonlit night, and found that productivity was still the same or higher. This really confused the researchers. As one of the researchers put it at the time, they were "knocked galley-west" by the results.

They finally took two workers and put them in a closet with no light at all -- just the crack under the door. Productivity was just fine."

And further they found:

"By separating people into groups and then making lots of changes in working conditions, the researchers inadvertently did two things:

1. Made workers feel like management actually cared about them. They felt important and special. This is a problem with the experimental design.
2. They created bonds among people in the test and control groups -- in effect turning them into true groups as described above. People work better when they are part of a clear social structure."

So in the end good managers will use these management techniques to help their staff. I value my staff and I want them to know that. Trying to convince them of that is always an uphill battle. I am always reminded of this story and make sure I let staff know I value them by asking their input, making it ok to voice their opinion, and thanking them for their good work. The organization operates better that way, working as a team.

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