Do Library Managers Need to Step Up?

imagesIn yesterday’s National Post newspaper, columnist Rick Spence quotes leadership expert Bruce Tulgan (see his books: It's Okay to Manage Your Boss, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, It's Okay to be the Boss, and Managing Generation X) on “under-management”.

Tulgan defines under-management as a state in which leaders consistently fail to provide what he calls the five management basics:

  • clear statements of performance requirements and expectations;
  • support and guidance regarding the resources available to meet those expectations;
  • accurate measuring and documentation of individuals’ performance;
  • regular candid feedback on individuals’ performance; and
  • allocating performance-based rewards or detriments.

Failure to model these (and most managers do not, apparently) leads to “cultures of neglect, negativity and constant complaints” (ever worked in one of them?), few of which reach management’s ears.

When pressed, these managers produce underwhelming excuses for their under-performance. “With increasing competition and flatter organizations, they don’t have time to give direct reports consistent direction. They also complain of insufficient training in the tools and techniques of successful management, and by the way, they don’t have sufficient resources, either.”

So what do under-leaders do all day?

Tulgan says they spend too much time doing their employees’ jobs. “We find that the vast majority of managers spend an inordinate amount of their management time in what we call ‘firefighting mode,’ solving one urgent problem after another — usually problems that could have been avoided with better planning or identified and solved more easily at an earlier point.”

When they do tackle the bigger issues, these people manage on autopilot. “They communicate with their direct reports mostly in low-structure, low-substance conversations punctuated by way too many mediocre meetings and way too many emails.”

Tulgan’s solution to underperformance is decidedly old-school: Hold structured daily dialogues with your direct reports. You’ll identify emerging problems and personnel issues sooner, use resources more intelligently, and encourage individual initiative, accountability and innovation.

Bad management may be widespread, but it’s not difficult to fix. All it takes is awareness, says Tulgan: “When managers do realize they are under-managing and make concerted efforts to concentrate on back-to-basics management, they achieve significant measurable improvements in performance almost immediately.”

Thanks to Rick Spence for this summary, much in his words.

About Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock is currently Research Professor of Management and Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, where he coordinates graduate programs in Library and Information Management.

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One Response to Do Library Managers Need to Step Up?

  1. anthony bernier May 6, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    All good back-to-basic measures. It would be good, however, to explore the range of options open to public administrators who do not have monetary incentives at their disposal to award or withhold…