This week WebJunction Illinois features a guest post written by Jay Turner. Jay is the Director of Continuing Education for Georgia Public Library Service and facilitates WebJunction Georgia. He provides some wonderful insight about how librarians can be empathetic stewards of change. WJIL is proud to work with Jay and greatly appreciates his contribution!
Confronting change in the library can be more frightful than discovering the first hints of gray hair on your 30th birthday. Just like dealing with the turmoil of finding stray, gray whiskers in your beard or streaks of silver beginning to peak out around your temples, dealing with organizational change is an intensely emotional, personal process. Library leaders at all levels are often called upon to help shepherd this transition process, so that it is as brief and painless as possible.
Facilitating the process is a challenge that tests the mettle of even the most experienced leaders. Each situation is different, and what works in one situation might not work in the next. Even though I’m technically a greybeard now, I cannot say that I possess the wisdom of Gandalf the Grey. I don’t have all the answers when it comes to dealing with organizational change. However, I do know that leaders must be sensitive to individual needs when acting as stewards of change. We have to keep staff members performing, even when the uncertainty of change leaves them feeling powerless. Below are a few nuts-and-bolts nuggets I’d like to offer for sensitively addressing organizational change with staff members:
Nobody wants your workshop
You cannot throw a class about coping with change at your staff and expect it to be a panacea. This isn’t to say that having a trainer come in to host a presentation about navigating change is bunk. It’s not. Just keep in mind that staff members are less likely to care about a formal workshop when they’re feeling anxious, scared, and depressed. Put on your coach’s hat and prepare to offer an empathetic ear. For example, consider meeting with smaller groups, allowing individuals a chance to discuss their fears and thoughts, and then organically work your insight into the conversation. Reach, don’t teach.
Raise awareness of the power of reaction
A change related exercise that I’ve used in branch and departmental meetings when organizational transitions are looming is to challenge staff members to imagine a situation where the library has infinite resources. I’ll ask everyone to draw a picture of the perfect library. After a minute, I’ll change my mind and then require everyone to draw a picture of their dream house. Momentarily, I’ll change my mind again and ask that they draw something else.
Eventually, people figure out that this is an exercise about reacting to change. I go on to ask the group to discuss their reactions to the activity. A conversation naturally builds. I’ll facilitate the discussion asking questions, such as: What reactions did you observe when I kept changing the expectations? What are reactions to our organization’s current changes? How are your reactions and the reactions of others affecting the morale of your work unit? What are some methods for better managing your reactions?
We are often so caught up in our own worry and fear that we fail to realize how our emotional responses affect the energy of others. Raising awareness of the power of reaction through dialog empowers staff to explore ways to constructively work through their feelings.
Challenge people to step up
Many of us tend to hide when the going gets tough. However, I encourage staff to look for opportunities to shine. When I’m discussing change, I challenge staff members to develop a list of areas that they can directly affect for the better in their sphere of influence and strategies for affecting positive change. For example, if a line staff member notices that morale is low in her department, I’ll ask her to name two or three things that she can do immediately to help boost morale, even though she is not a titular leader.
Change can provide a perfect stage for people to be recognized as valuable assets to the organization. Remind staff not to hide, but rather to find ways to step up. Encourage them to stretch by building new skills, working outside of their comfort zone, and taking on the unenviable tasks.
I’m sure that the stress of change in the places I’ve worked over the years has contributed to a few of the grey hairs I’ve found lurking in my locks. As with any change, people (myself included) are forced to let go of the old and transition to the new. As leaders within our organizations, it’s our responsibility to sensitively help staff navigate through their own transition processes. We can be effective stewards of change by treating staff members as individuals, helping them manage their reactions, and encouraging them to step up to the challenge.
How many of you have experienced major organizational change in the last year or so? What other specific guidance would you provide to fellow leaders in facilitating change?