Friday, 14 December 2012

Earning a capital M

In late 2011 I applied for and was awarded a funded place on LSE and Imperial College's joint sponsored Diploma in Management, a level 5 qualification awarded by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but people I trust recommended the course and before I knew it I was at the 1st workshop in January. A blink of the eye later and the 10th (and final) workshop has passed and I've hugged goodbyes to group of new friends.

One thing I haven't done is finish the course yet though. It requires a series of written assignments that are based on a range of management theories and practice, and a large assignment to be completed within 6 months of the final workshop. I have plenty of work to do yet but this feels like a good time to reflect on the experience of the workshops.

My peers on the group are a mix of managers from all sorts of departments across both institutions, and I was the only librarian/information professional. This was undoubtedly one of the best aspects of the course. So often we live in the bubble and echo chamber of library-land and hearing about the challenges of managing people, resources and services across higher education was hugely valuable to me. I was able to draw great encouragement from hearing how people in very different roles to my own were facing familiar challenges and potential pit-falls. I was grateful to be able to learn from them the various techniques they had all individually learnt or developed to cope.

The course facilitator did an excellent job throughout of using our experiences to compare to, and test against, best practice concepts and techniques from the best management literature. We were able to see how our real-life work could be changed by paying really close attention to how we were going about our work. Throughout we were constantly reminded that anyone can learn to be a good manager, and even a leader, if they are mindful of how people and organisations work and apply the knowledge gained on the course.

The modules we covered included reflecting on our own learning preferences and styles, and how those affect our interactions with others. We covered the range of general management responsibilities such as planning resources, managing services, ensuring quality, performance management, projects and the differences between management and leadership.

One theme seemed persist throughout the workshop - using common sense. It's remarkable how much more straightforward so many of the issues we discussed seemed in the workshops compared to dealing with them in the workplace. I think all of the workshop participants felt afterwards that they were now much better prepared to deal with management issues in their stride. For all the theory out there, it feels that the skills of listening to people, being open to new ideas, being honest, and thinking carefully about what your place of work is there to achieve will get most managers through the average working day, and beyond.

I've pondered a lot recently about the range of skills that librarians need today to forge a career, and I do  feel that a lot of the skills I learnt through these workshops, such as people skills, communication skills and the ability to influence and negotiate with others, that ultimately makes the library world go round. I think they  deserve recognition of their importance alongside the information skills we all value so much in the profession.

I'm lucky to have had a lot of exposure to professional development activities in my career so far, and right now it feels that this programme has pushed me further than anything else I've done before. The fact that the skills I've learned about are non-library specific, or in CILIP's recent 'Professional Knowledge and Skills Base' terminology, generic skills, is really significant to me.

A great number of librarians have 'Manager' in their job title, but how many feel confident in stating those skills with anything like the confidence they do their 'Librarianship' skills? I hope the capital L continues to come first for me, but I feel empowered now to use the capital M more often as well.

A good incentive then to finish those assignments and complete the qualification! If you see a need to develop your management skills I can highly recommend this level of qualification, and undertaking it in an environment with peers from elsewhere in higher education has been a really invigorating and rewarding experience.


Postscript: I could write a whole separate post about changing jobs - twice - during the programme. I'm indebted to (and extremely grateful for) the support given to me by LSE Library and now Information Services at the University of Kent

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Pecha Kucha for professional presentations - Do's and Don'ts

I've seen a lot of Pecha Kucha presentations recently and I'm developing opinions on what makes a good one work in a library/IT conference context. The format requires a powerpoint presentation that features 20 slides, each one a single picture, that automatically moves onto the next slide after 20 seconds. Here are my personal do's and don'ts:

  • Use abstract pictures rather than diagrams. You shouldn't try and get into too much detail. A picture that illustrates a concept or an approach is better suited to PK and can help prevent you getting bogged down in detail.
  • Use pictures you took yourself where possible - these are much more personal than using polished stock photography or trawling Flickr.
  • Practise it first! Timing is so important to Pecha Kucha.

  • Put text on your slides. People won't read them properly in 20 seconds and it'll only distract them from your talking.
  • Cram too much in. Be realistic! It's a short slot. Cram too much in and people will be less likely to remember anything. Better to give them a few key things to take away and communicate those clearly.

You're telling a story in 6 minutes or so, illustrated with pictures. I think it's best to treat this format as completely distinct from a normal presentation. The best Pecha Kucha's I've seen don't look anything like a traditional 20 minute conference talk but others feel like a standard presentation squeezed into a space that doesn't really fit.

PK's are refreshing to watch and will reward the time put into them. I like the punchier and concise format but I think we should try and keep the format closer to the ideology that it was originally born with; with the emphasis on pictures and storytelling.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Caretaker roles - done right they are a win-win staff development tool

I'm coming to the end of a very chellenging and enjoyable six months, a period during which I've been partially covering for a vacancy more senior than my main post. Football fans might like to compare it what Stuart Pearce has been doing for England.

I've not been fully acting up or doing the full range of tasks that the new postholder will be doing, but I've really noticed the step up I've had to make a successful stab at it. It's not been a secondment either, as I've retained my current role as well during this period. This post aims to reflect on the benefits of the process, and also acts as a personal bookend to this period for me.

The scenario was this: a vacancy appeared at the head of a large group in our Library. Senior positions like this take time to fill and something needs to be done to cover the vacancy until the post is assessed, advertised and filled. Every situation is different, but often managers choose to temporarily give someone some extra responsibility to help fill the void. This is what I was asked to do in October last year.

At the time I said yes, but was wary about what this would all mean. From the Library senior management's point of view I guess they saw this as a large-scale piece of delegation. Some of the same rules as normal delegation apply - ultimate responsibility is yours, give the person the info they need, let them know where to find you and then stay out of their way - but there are other factors too. The result of this action can be a temporary promotion, in effect, and this can develop an ambitious person (like me, let's be honest!) but this needs to be carefully managed from above, and also takes a big commitment to learn from the person taking the work on.

You shouldn't under-estimate the latter point - I probably did. It's not so much a case of being let loose with some responsibilities as being given the chance to learn what those responsibilities really mean. The best thing about was that it was in a controlled environment, with a fixed end. This was a temporary scenario so the risk that anything could go awry with this arrangement was minimal.

I've concluded from my time in this scenario that temporary promotions / extra responsibilities can be a very good thing, from both pragmatic, operational needs but also from a staff development point of view. Here are some conclusions:

Managing expectations is critical:
I didn't get carried away and that will really help me get back into the swing of my main role. My boss was great at setting the right boundaries for me here. The temporary nature of such a scenario gives you a great environment to learn in. This has allowed me to try on for size the kind of role I didn't know if I wanted before I waded in, without overwhelming me.

Embrace the opportunity:
Finding the confidence to start working at a new level is hard in a new post, as this wasn't much different. I focussed on thinking that they wouldn't have asked me if they didn't think I could do it. Secondly, I was not there to do the full-fat version of the job from the off - the job needed a caretaker, so the best approach was to not be intimidated and get stuck in!

Pay it forward:
You can use the opportunity to delegate work yourself more effectively. I've been delegated to so many times that I've learnt most of the tricks now, and I was able to use this period to give my team some new work too.

It might lead to something new!
At the beginning of this process I did not think I was going to be a potential candidate for the post I was helping to cover. However, as I settled into some of the new responsibilities I started wondering about it and found I was more confident about my ability to work comforatably at that level. In the end I gave it a good go and although I didn't get the job I think I got closer than I thought I would, and I certainly hugely benefited from the experience of the last 6 months - before that I probably wouldn't have even applied.

My bosses were able to take the time needed to fill the vacancy they had in the right way, without rushing or compromise. I've learnt absolutely loads, and I am definitely going to be better at my old job because of the experience I've gained. I'm also more employable as a result - there's no doubt my cv is bolstered, and that I'm better prepared for whatever comes next in my career.

If you are a manager with a vacancy to fill then if you use this tool correctly you can buy yourself some time, develop a member of your staff and keep the show on the road. If a vacancy appears where you work, you've got bosses you trust and they ask you to take on some extra responsibilities then say yes!