Library Leadership

31. Staff as Our Most Important Customers: Creating a Mission-Informed Library with Amy An

How can we increase staff engagement and commitment to positive patron outcomes? Learn about a management model that holds that our employees are our first, and most important, customers.

If everyone understands our organizational brand, mission, and objectives we can improve service and reduce organizational dysfunction. Marketing to staff may seem like a big job. But, it takes everyone to “shoot for the moon”, as you’ll learn on this show.

Transcript

This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas; and by the Park City Library, making film and podcasting possible with green screen and sound recording resources.

Adriane:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession. 

I’m here today with Ay An, an up-and-comer in the world of libraries. Amy has a recent article published in Public Libraries Magazine that we’re going to talk about today. She works in instructional services at a public library in sunny south Florida, and will graduate in summer of 2019 with MLIS from the University of Alabama. She helps us answer the question, How can we increase staff engagement and commitment to positive patron outcomes? Will learn about a management model that holds that our employees are our first and most important customers. If everyone understands our organizational brand, mission, and objective we can improve service, and reduce organizational dysfunction. Marketing to staff may seem like a big job, but it takes everyone to shoot for the moon, as you’ll learn on this show.

Welcome to the show, Amy.

Amy An:

Thank you. 

Adriane:

It’s great to have you here. You have an article in the January/February 2019 edition of Public Libraries Magazine called, The Mission-Informed Library. It’s about a concept borrowed from management research, and used effectively to improve staff engagement, and commitment to patron outcomes. It holds that library employees are, arguably, the library’s first and most important customer. It gives us useful methods for promoting our organization, it’s objective, mission, brand to employees as if they were customers. 

Question #1: So, first of all, why is this important? 02:06 

Amy An:

Well, for me it’s incredibly important, because the cost of dysfunction in the library is just so high. There’s mental and physical health problems for employees. There’s direct, or indirect financial costs for libraries. And, the bottom line is that its poor service outcomes for patrons. So, I think that the cost of dysfunction in the library is just so high. We can’t 

afford it. We need to find ways to address it.

Adriane:

Sure. And, this idea of catering to employees as customers so that they really understand the core values and what’s going on in libraries, and why it’s important to use those to better patron experiences is such a great concept. 

Amy An:

I think it is, and it’s so interesting. It’s something borrowed from management practices. It was first proposed in the early 80’s. It’s had a bit of resurgence now, I think. I see libraries starting to pick it up, that’s something I wrote about. I think it can be really useful, and can be just as simple or complex as you want to make it, to market your mission and your organizational objectives to yourself.

Adriane:

Question #2: Sure. So, tell us about internal marketing. If you can give us an overview. What is it all about? 03:22 

Amy An:

Well, I like to think about—there’s a famous story of JFK and the NASA janitor, where JFK introduces himself to a janitor who’s mopping the floor, and he asks the janitor what he’s doing. The janitor says, I’m helping put a man on the moon.

I don’t know how true that story is, but it’s a lovely illustration to explain that janitor was committed to the mission of that organization. That’s pretty much what internal marketing is all about. We do a lot of the components of it all the time—training, newsletters, all kinds of communication that we do with staff. But, they need to be organized into a cohesive plan. Because without an organized plan, you don’t get people like the janitor saying, I’m mopping the floor, but what I’m really doing is putting a man on the moon. That’s the goal of internal marketing to find a way to connect with all of your staff so that everyone feels that commitment to the organization.

Adriane:

I love that message. What a great story.

Amy An:

Yeah, I kind of get goosebumps every time I remember it. I forget, and then remember, and just love that story.

Adriane:

Question #3: I do too. In your article you mentioned that any internal marketing plan has to be rooted in the culture of the organization, so how does that work? 04:39 

Amy An:

Yes. Internal marketing is not a one-size-fits-all tool. It’s not like—I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a wonderful trend, that we can read the definition, and jump in and move forward, and all do the same thing. The idea is to look at what you already do. You’re probably doing some of this. Then look at your needs and your stakeholders, including staff.  Make a plan that reflects the actual needs of your organization—that reflects who you are, what you’re doing, and what you see you could be doing differently and better.

I could go over some of the actual strategies and details, but it’s basically looking at what you’re doing, and what you need. But I will say, I think, every plan needs frequent communication through multiple channels. I think that part’s easy to forget. But, communication, and lack of communication is cited time and again, in the literature as a key component-–it’s something staff notices is missing.

Adriane:

Question #4: That’s marvelous, and we all want to put people on the moon, essentially, in library terms. So, let’s do that. Let’s go into what you were saying. What are the key tactics and strategies for applying internal marketing, as well as what you say, you know, a lot of information through multiple channels, but what about the key tactics? 05:52  

Amy An:

Yes. So, they’re seven components—when I look at what’s out there in borrowing from management techniques. It starts with surveying your existing internal marketing. You’re probably doing much more than you think you’re doing. You’re doing training. You’re doing newsletters. You’re talking to people at staff meetings. But, it’s really sitting down and looking at all the things you do, because some of them may be drowning out other components. 

You may have a great plan to talk about your latest revision of diversity programming, or homeless training. But because you’re doing so many other things, the staff aren’t seeing that that’s really a key component. Or, that it’s competing for their attention. 

So, you need to do a survey of what you’ve got going already. You need to do some internal market research with stakeholders, especially staff. We know that we need to ask our community, our patrons, our—you know, maybe stakeholders like the board, to see what their interests are. But, we really need to be looking inside too, and hearing from our staff to hear that they’re getting conflicting messages, or too many messages, or they don’t know which one to focus on. Or, they may have some great parts that they see patrons need, or they need as staff. So, you need to do an internal market research. 

You can then start looking around at what are best practices in other, you know–your state library association, the American Library Association. Just see what other people are doing to address those.

Look at your training practices as part of your internal market research, and then communication, as I said. We have a lot of avenues. And, I really think this one just gets forgotten. It’s like you tell your kids once, and you think they’re going to do it. You have to keep repeating yourself. So, we have to do that with staff too.

Then the last couple of components of internal marketing are to align the internal and external marketing so that when you’re doing a new summer reading program—clearly that’s the time to do some internal marketing with staff around summer reading. So, those things have to align. 

Then finally, one of the things that I think is most interesting is to develop champions. To develop people who have expertise in the summer reading program, in the new training that you’re doing, so that every librarian knows who the ‘go to’ person is for that topic, for that issue. That can really take some of the weight off everyone and facilitate the entire project.

Adriane:

Those are fantastic. So, just to recap—survey your internal marketing. Do market research with your staff, what are they getting internally. See what best practices are out there. Begin the communication process. Align your internal and external marketing, and develop champions to really share their expertise with others. Did I miss anything? What did I miss?

Amy An:

They do list training as its own category, typically. Once you’ve done the survey, the internal marketing, developed best practices—then implement the training. But, that’s also part of your internal market research.

Adriane:

So, training is a big part of this. We all need to know what this means, what this looks like and what our role is in it, right?

Amy An:

Yes.

Adriane:

Question #5: Fantastic. Oh, those are such great steps. And, so as we begin implementing this, how does leadership play an important role? 09:32 

Amy An:

So, I know we put a lot on library leaders. The goal of internal marketing is to lift some of that weight, not add more, right? So, that’s really important. We just don’t need to add one more fancy, new technique for them. The goal here is to make it easier. I think it becomes easier when there’s an overall plan. So that, when you do that internal surveying, and you realize, We’ve got too many going on at once. Or, They’re conflicting with each other. Then you can ease off what leaders actually have to do when there’s a plan in place.

The idea of having a champion really can take some of the pressure off of leadership, because it doesn’t just have to be the department head or the supervisor. Now we’ve got a specialist in this area.

But the bottom line is, any anti-bullying, or internal marketing program has to come from the top. It has to be an organized plan that comes from the leadership. It’s really not something you can do from the bottom-up. 

Studies show that, you know, because my special concern, really—my entree into this was the problems of bullying, and mobbing, and dysfunction in libraries. What studies show is that leaders see less of those problems. So, they may not be aware of just how much of an issue it is. So, that means that they’re not stepping up to the leadership role staff expect, because they just don’t realize there’s a problem. 

Staff often say in studies that the problem is not so much micromanaging, but weak, and conflict avoidant leadership. They really are looking to the leadership to address these issues. So, as much as I want to not put even more on library leaders, this is a key part of their role. I really think internal marketing can take a lot of the weight off of their shoulders, and get everyone pulling together to be committed to the mission of the library, to an organizational change, to training, whatever it is that you’re trying to implement.

Adriane:

Question #6: So, we really need an organized plan as leaders, and realizing what is going on out there, and doing that requires asking, right? 11:41 

Amy An:

Yes, yes. It’s really got to come from the top. There’s got to be a lot of asking. There’s got to be a lot of listening.

Adriane:

Question #7: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 11:56  

Amy An:

So, two things, I think. I did get an email, right after my article came out, addressing all of these issues. It was somebody who really, from her heart, thanked me for bringing issues around bullying to light. I think that tells me there is real pain out there. I hope that anyone listening to this recognizes that, and that they really have an important role in addressing any problems in their library. 

There are many more problems than I think we realize. That’s what the—you know, very few studies to date, but they do show quite a lot of problems. I hope that message can get out there that we are looking to our library leadership to address it, and we trust them to do that. There’s a lot of pain out there.

I also didn’t focus in my article, or hear much today, about the bullying surrounding people of color and diversity in general. That is an issue too, and presents a real challenge for us. It challenges the way we think about ourselves as libraries, and the values we have. I hope that—I’d really like to share that, I think we can work together to address these very successfully.

Adriane:

So one thing I would encourage, since we are referring to your article quite a bit, if people want to go deeper they should refer to that article. And, I’ll just repeat—that’s the January/February, 2019 edition of Public Libraries Magazine. The article is called, The Mission-Informed Library. And it sounds like you’ve already gotten some really great feedback about the impact of your work, digging deep into the studies that have pointed you in this direction of being a mission-informed library.

Amy An:

Yeah, I think it’s a touchstone right now. I would also encourage people to look at a book from last year, The Dysfunctional Library: Challenges and Solutions to Workplace Relationships. I’m probably not going to say their names right, but it’s by Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Dr. Richard Moniz. It’s really eye opening. I encourage people to have a look. 

Adriane:

Question #8: Do you have any other favorite books, or resources you’d like to share about leadership, and why?  14:06 

Amy An:

I don’t. I think that that book, right now, is really my favorite book. There are, really, just a few articles that I mention in my article about the research, and I’m a data nerd, kind of. So I would encourage people to look at those, because there’s just a few of them, right now, looking at the numbers about bullying in the library workplace. They’re really interesting.

Adriane:

Well, what I really love about your work is the fact that it focuses on the people who make so much possible in our organizations. The people who are on the front line helping our public, helping our university populations, and really doing the things every day that create great outcomes. It’s time to focus on those people. They’re so important. So, this work seems very meaningful to me.

Amy An:

Yeah, I think it is really important that we look at staff, and give staff a voice that they’re crying out to have. I’m a staff, and I’d like to know that we have each other’s back, really, and that we’re working toward meeting the mission of the library, because it is such an important job, I think.

Adriane:

And that keeps us from falling into pitfalls as we go, which is why this is so fantastic. Thank you.

Amy An:

You’re most welcome. I’ve enjoyed it.

Adriane:

Question #9 In closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 15:40 

Amy An:

Yeah, that’s always an excellent question. I very much want to feel the connection to my library that the NASA janitor felt. You know, I really want to feel like we’re putting people on the moon, that we’re helping them meet their really important needs every day. I think we’re engaged in a noble mission really, to meet the needs of our patrons big and small, of our communities big and small. 

I remember how going to the library opened up the world to me when I was a child. I feel like that with every patron that comes in. What worlds are we opening for them? I really want to keep feeling committed to that, and like I’m on a ship to the moon, that someone’s steering it, and we’re really going to make a difference.

Adriane:

I agree, that mission is so important. And, I know so many people out in the field that want to make it better, and better every day. So, thank you for your work. It’s been fantastic to have you on the show. And once again, I would refer everyone to your article.

Amy An:

Thank you so much, it was such a pleasure and honor to be here.

Adriane:

Thanks again, Amy, and we’ll see you next time on Library Leadership Podcast.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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