Are You Experienced, Again?

Eva —  October 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

LV commented on my post last week, “Are You Experienced?”:

“I think this is a great blog post and I certainly would love to work for a manager like Eva. The sad truth is that the type of “good” experienced employee spoken of here is what many managers say they would like but don’t know how to manage. When faced with one of these “entrepreneurial types”, they feel threatened at worst, or, don’t really know how to support and challenge them at best. In the end, they lose the very employee they seek, as the entrepreneurial librarian will always be on the lookout for more challenging opportunities where their innovations are valued (remember, they are resilient). The real questions are: Can you as a library leader provide the right kind of support and challenge for “the experienced employee”? What are you doing to support that kind of entrepreneurial behavior in your library? What are the things that you are doing that demotivate or hinder that kind of employee? If you are finding you have more of the “repeaters” in your library, then perhaps you need to look within.”

So much to think about here, LV!

I’m going to address the easy part first: You would not necessarily enjoy working for me. Lots of people haven’t. Mostly because I’m evil. I have expectations and standards and low tolerance (I have improved incrementally over time, and continue to work at further improvement). Fit is important, and while reading my posts may give you an idea of who I am philosophically, who I am at work in a practical sense is sometimes completely different–you may not fit my library, my library may not fit you; you may not be a fit for me, and I may not be a fit for you.

The rest of LV’s comments are a bit more complicated to answer. Fit-wise, I feel like I have a lot of great employees who have embraced our strategic plan and are channeling their work through it. When an “entrepreneurial” employee comes up with a really cool idea, I make her (or make her manager make her) run her idea through our strategic plan.

CPL Strategic PlanWhich user group does this target? How does it address 21st Century Skills Development? How does it demonstrate a User-Driven Approach? Which of our partners could do this with us, or is there a new partner you’ve identified? How will we finance this? This helps her write her proposal, and then refine her proposal, so that it demonstrates how the idea improves the patron experience, keeps the library relevant, and positively impacts our partners (for example). Now, just about everyone here does this analysis as a matter of course, some more formally and some more informally; it’s just part of our process.

I can’t say, “Ooh, fancy! Run with that!” just because an idea is cool. It has to relate to the library. A big part of my job is making sure that the daily work supports the long-term goals–and that sometimes means I crush dreams.

  • I’ve turned down really cool employee ideas that don’t align with our strategic plan.
  • I’ve redirected really cool ideas so that they will align with our strategic plan.
  • I’ve embraced really cool ideas that align with our strategic plan.
  • We’ve revisited really cool ideas from long ago that were previously rejected, if they now align with our strategic plan.

If your ideas are consistently falling into the first (or even the last) of those four categories, or if you are steadfastly against adjusting your ideas, then we have a problem with fit. It may not be that your innovations aren’t valued; it may be that your ideas are not a good fit for this library at this time in these circumstances. We will address this with you as part of the self-evaluation/evaluation/goal-setting process, and if you decide that our library isn’t the best fit for you, we can part ways, no harm no foul. Though, in words of Bo Schembechler, “Those who stay will be champions.” <ahem>Go Blue!</ahem> If your ideas are truly ahead of their time, you have to decide whether you want to wait for the library to catch up, or if you want to find the library out there that is ready and waiting for you.

We (me and my management team) find that we spend a lot of time going over expectations and coaching to bring people to where we want them to be–that is, aligned with our organizational goals–because we really would prefer that you stay. Some people have told me that we coddle too much; I prefer to think that we give you every opportunity to be successful. We have had people disagree with our goals and direction who ultimately left. It happens. They’ve gone on to lead successful, satisfying lives at other libraries and other companies that are a better fit for them, and that’s what matters.

I suggest that entrepreneurial employees take your really cool ideas and filter them through your library’s strategic plan, departmental goals, and overall culture. How can you package your ideas so that they align with these things? Do this, and I bet you’ll find that your ideas gain traction. If you can’t adjust your ideas or get them into alignment with your library’s goals, then you may not be an entrepreneurial employee; you may just be a narcissist! (I kid. Mostly.) My point is that this would be your clue to find another employer who might be a better fit.

See how I did that? See how I took your question about how managers can support entrepreneurial employees and turned it around so that it’s about how entrepreneurial employees can align their ideas with their library’s goals? I told you: I’m evil.



Eva Davis is the Director of the Canton Public Library in Canton, Michigan--not Canton, Ohio, or Canton, Massachusetts, or Canton, Mississippi. (It is an easy mistake to make.) Eva honed her supervisory and management skills working in customer service, research, and publishing before heading to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information. She became a librarian in 1998. She was an intern and then the teen services librarian at the Plymouth (MI) District Library before moving to the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, where she was Head of the Youth Department at the Downtown library, Head of Youth Services for the system, Head of Branch Services, and finally Associate Director for Public Services. Eva has held her dream job as the Director of the award-winning Canton Public Library since 2008. She received the Michigan Library Association's Frances H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Teen Services in 2003, and is a graduate of both Leadership Ann Arbor and Leadership Canton, where she learned that she is moderately Affiliative according to MAFF, her color is "Green" on the Four Color Personality Test, and her Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ (although she has worked diligently and consistently on improving her Sensing, so she now leans ISTJ). Follow @CantonLibrary and @EvaDavisCPL on Twitter. (Photo credit: Susan Kennedy)

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