For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 20, 2000 - Personnel Evaluations
I don't know how good other institutions are about this. But at the Douglas Public Library District we take the personnel evaluation process very seriously.
I directly evaluate some 8-10 people myself (depending on the year). After 15 years of experimentation, I've settled on a consistent approach. Here it is: LaRue's 10 Steps to A Successful Evaluation.
1. Always begin the same. Direct staff to do a SELF-evaluation. Ask these questions:
(a) What are your accomplishments since the last review period?
(b) Which of these, if any, do you consider extraordinary? Why?
(c) What were your disappointments or concerns since the last review?
(d) What do you want to accomplish by your next review?
In my experience, library staff are pretty knowledgeable about themselves. They can state their strengths in clear, unambiguous language. They aren't afraid, though, to assess their weaknesses honestly. Good people, I find, are harder on themselves than I might be.
But they also tend to record all of their accomplishments, and sometimes I'm surprised to find something I hadn't known about. Letting the staff member build the official record of achievement just seems fair to me.
On the other hand, when staff list as accomplishments things that are a basic part of the job, or comparatively minor, AND fail to notice their own performance problems, then that tells you something, too.
Incidentally, this steps ensures that the staff member is indeed ready for the evaluation; it cannot be scheduled until the self-assessment is submitted to you.
2. Write an evaluation that takes the staff member's self-evaluation into account. Here's the opportunity to fill in any gaps, both positive and negative. It's also the time to lay out your own expectations over the next year. This evaluation (and the subsequent meeting) should be completed as soon as possible after the receipt of the self-evaluation.
3. Schedule at least an hour for the evaluation meeting. It can be frustrating to just begin to get into issues of substance, then have to hurry off to another meeting. Evaluations deserve unhurried space, acknowledging the importance and priority of the effort.
4. Begin the meetings with good news. Ask probing questions about staff accomplishments. Let them bask in their achievements. This not only sets the tone, but it also gives you insight into what motivates your people.
5. Thank your employees for their good work.
6. Frankly and diplomatically (these are NOT opposites), lay out any concerns. If staff raised an issue, respond to any questions. If the problem concerns performance, and the staff member didn't bring it up in the self-evaluation, this is the time for you as supervisor to earn your keep. Keep the focus on specific staff behavior. That means observable actions, and not what you or others infer as their motivations. Keep the focus on what can be done next. Problems occur in the past. Solutions occur in the future. The evaluation marks the transition between the two. Expect people to succeed.
7. Go through the objectives for the next year. Make sure that YOUR essential objectives are recorded. Often, I also ask one of two questions. The first one is, "Is this too much for the time period?" The second one is, "Is this too little?" Don't overwhelm. Don't underchallenge.
8. Ask the question, "What can I do to help you?" Remind your staff that you, as supervisor, have an obligation to provide the resources that make further achievement possible. Let them know that you take that seriously. Give some concrete suggestions based on the objectives.
9. Tie the paycheck to the performance. Raises are not a right. They are earned. Or not. But if indeed there has been significant accomplishment, it's your obligation to reward it. Sometimes there are fiscal constraints. Nonetheless, it's important to do the best you can.
10. My staff may think it's corny, but I always end the evaluation with a handshake and a thanks. It seems to me sad that we offer our hands and eyes to strangers every day. Doesn't it make sense to treat the people who make our own achievement possible with the same degree of courtesy and gratitude?