Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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I’m looking through you… or maybe not

Posted by lpearle on 20 January 2014

“Transparency” is one of those terms that’s tossed around a whole lot these days, particularly when it comes to governance.  There’s a lot to be said for it, and most of all when a governing body makes some sort of change.  As Karen says in her brilliant take on ALA’s new Code of Conduct, some quiet calls and conversations could have gone a long way towards buy-in, even if the process didn’t seem to be transparent.  So perhaps we should add “common courtesy and sense” to “transparency” as ideals?

What follows may – or may not – apply to a few situations that have bubbled up in my worlds recently.  What I mean is, some of the things below happened longer ago than one might think but could also be taken for current events.  In every case, transparency and what Quakers call plain dealing were sorely missing.

  • In a hiring situation, opinions are solicited from a variety of members of the community – yet it’s clear that the final decision takes none of those opinions into account.
  • Management asked the office manager how to deal with an employee who clearly had addiction issues and then ignored that advice, continuing to give advances on salary and time off; the office manager was reprimanded for “attitude” when making the recommendation to stop both.
  • Someone working for a number of years on a professional publication was told – via e-mail – that their “contract” was not being renewed, while another person was given the courtesy of a conversation (they weren’t working on the same publication but knew each other).
  • Changes in organizational direction and focus are opened for “discussion” but that discussion will not lead to anything other than what the management wants the organization to do, damn the constituencies – full speed ahead!

Does any of that sound familiar?  Believe it or not, some those happened over twenty years ago.  Yet, as Wendy’s blog post points out, nothing’s changed except the names and places.  And I’m seeing it in more than just her example. Primarily, it seems to me, we have a failure to communicate.   Management needs to communicate what the agenda really is (“give me permission to keep this employee on” or “I only want to hear love for this new initiative”) rather than allowing people to give advice that is, ultimately, not going to be taken.

Another communication failure?  When, for some reason, management feels that the organization needs to shift focus or direction and the rest of us don’t.  I’ve been on both sides of that and it’s never easy.  Some times it’s because plans change – suddenly.  Trust me, nothing makes you shift direction and focus faster than having your place of work burn down.   The methodology around rebuilding the program and collection might have made for an interesting conversation but sometimes it’s just easier to say “here’s what we’re doing and how”.   What I’m seeing in a few areas is change not born of crisis but of disconnect, disconnect between management and the people on the ground, working hard at making the organization’s work happen.  What the people want is ignored, or discarded, by those in charge.  Why?  Because.  Because they can, because they have another agenda, and just because they don’t have to care about what the others want.

Just look at politicians who promise something and fail to deliver.  Of course there’s a reason (usually either they had no real power to have made that promise, or they weren’t fully informed about the situation and implications).  But is it ever explained by that person?  Did President Bush ever say, “yeah, about that No New Taxes pledge… well, here’s why there actually are going to be some”?  No.

It’s demoralizing.  It’s annoying.  Even worse, it’s treating the people without whom the organization won’t function at all as children.

As one of the many, not one of the elite, it’s difficult to know what to do to ameliorate things.  I know people who are planning to voice their opinion(s) Loudly.  Some already have, and yet… nothing changes.  Is the solution to start a new organization (that’s happened before)?  Can one work from within so that we, the people, have more say and the them, the management, is more transparent about why and how?

Thoughts to ponder as I (and you) prepare for ALA Midwinter, and the many conversations about transparency (or lack thereof) within that organization.

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