Moving Library Collections: Stress
A brief detour into a philosophy of successful project management
To: Shift Task Force
As the prime movers behind this massive project, you are the people that library staff, students, and volunteers will look to for direction. The attitude that you carry throughout this project could be the most important factor in deciding our success or failure.
It's really true that people follow the lead set by the supervisor or director of their project. Your attitude will be reflected by the staff who work with you. You lead and set example of attitude; you also buoy up staff morale by your incessant positive attitudes.
This is not flowing very well: what I want to say is really simple. I directed the very complicated shift of collections on 2nd and 3rd floors in 1987, as well as the Barcode Project in Knight and the branches in 1989. Both of these were library-wide projects where all staff participated. I am glad I had the chance to direct them: I think they were great lead-ins to this shift. After the projects were over, I was told by more than a few folks that they really felt the projects went smoothly and they were glad they got to participate. This was praise for all the folks who helped direct and organize this project.
Here are the basic things I learned in those two projects:
- Let people know by your words and actions and energy and enthusiasm that you are behind this project: you are delighted to have been chosen to have the role that you play in it, and that you see this project as a large step forward for the library, university, and for yourself, personally.
- Remember that mistakes will happen. Collections will be shifted wrong. A booktruck may go to some other location. A backward shift may turn into a forward shift by accident. A staff member may get so frustrated they may have a tantrum. Doo-doo happens. It's no biggie. Do not concentrate on the negative which surrounds the mistake: concentrate on soothing ruffled staff, coaxing them back into a positive mode, fixing the problem, and maybe even figuring out what happened so it won't go wrong again. Let the team members involved in the mistake try to figure out how to fail-safe against it for the benefit of the other teams.
!!!! NO BLAME !!!! This is a no-fault shift.
- When things go wrong, amp up your own positive attitude. Do not let your own internal anger or frustration or weariness leak out. Do let your sympathy and understanding for other staff's frustration show, but do not feed any negative emotions staff may feel. Remember that it is a momentary down, and the force of the entire project in other areas will sweep this small screw-up along and upward.
- Use the members of this Shifting Task Force for your own core-dumps. Don't use other library staff. When you're really frustrated because you've explained the same process to the same staff member for the 20th time, come to me or to another Shifting TF member and growl and grunt your displeasure. Don't do it in front of other staff, even your friends.
- View this whole project as a learning experience. I know this sounds incredibly Polly Anna-ish, and it is, but it also works. For those of you who do not normally supervise people, or train them, or have the pleasure of answering the same question a zillion times (as service desk staff do), or for those of you who never have to be responsible for other people's work: this is a great chance to see what it feels like! Set some personal goals like: I will use this project to learn patience. To learn tolerance. To increase my flexibility. To learn to maintain a positive demeanor in the face of pending disaster. I will use this project to stretch myself, and while it could be hard at times, I will come out a taller person when it's over. I will learn to smile for no reason at all during this project. I will use this time to improve my people skills: I will learn how to set them at ease in new situations, how to gently coax them into enjoying themselves when maybe they didn't have that in mind. I will use this project to learn to organize better. To learn to accept responsibility when I would rather not.
There are all kinds of lessons you can choose to take from this experience. Here are three personal goals I hope to work on (and I'll appreciate your help with them...):
- I want to remember to include humor and light-heartedness in my dealings with staff. Sometimes I get so intense I forget to smile, and people think I'm grumpy when in fact, I'm just focussed.
- I want to practice my slowing down skills: stop talking so fast, listen more closely, make others feel that I'm paying attention to what they're saying. Sometimes I think I know what they're saying, and I'm busy solving their problem without really listening for underlying information or feelings.
- I want to develop my skills in letting go: I'm not totally responsible for the entire world. Other folks can handle some things better than I can. I don't need to be in the center of each project each moment.
- Don't be such a Polly Anna that you forget to be human, however. If you are constantly cheery, even in sticky situations, you aren't real, and all the positive feelings you radiate are suspect. Remember that some staff have a constant nagging feeling through this project about all the work that is piling up at their desks. They may feel resentful that the work will still be there, and they will have to do it, even though they're working hard on this project. There may be folks with extremely serious personal problems on their minds. When things go wrong, these staff may overreact. Don't let that cause YOU to overreact. Be calm; be gentle. Remember that your attitude will influence the interaction and the attitudes of observing staff more than anything else. Sympathize, and get back on track. Don't allow the uncomfortable situation to last too long.
- If something major DOES go wrong, downplay it in front of staff. Come to me, or to another Shifting TF member, and fall apart there. We'll handle it; we'll fix it. If all else fails, we'll raze the entire building and start all over; it's no biggie.
- Remember that we may have non-library folks working with us. Since we're closing the library, the eyes of the university may be on us. They'll want to know how well we used THEIR time, how much we got done while not letting THEM at their library materials. We want to look like we're making excellent use of this intersession time.
- Do good things for yourself when you're not at work. Sit in hot tubs. Read juicy novels. Take long walks. Go for a long drive, but don't forget to come back. Eat chocolate. Just indulge yourself until the project is over.
- Do good things for other Shifting TF members, anonymously. It'll make their day, and yours, too. It's amazing how neat you feel after doing a little good deed.
Hope this helps: it really has worked for me, and for others. We want staff to leave this project with these impressions:
- It was well-organized.
- Time was not wasted.
- It was a good experience.
- We really got a lot done, in a minimum amount of time, with maximum efficiency.
- We accomplished what we set out to do.
- We had fun.
Thanks for listening.