During the same change that bumped the Assistant Manager from my last post from librarian, the branch manager position was eliminated in favor of a regional manager system. Part of the process allowed Branch Managers to apply to be a Regional Manager (which will mostly be referred to as RM for the rest of this post), but there were less than half of those positions available as there were Branch Managers to fill them.
I was not surprised that my previous Branch Manager was chosen to be one of them. He is one of those managers that inspires and motivates. He’s organized, communicates well and creates a team out of a gaggle of individuals. One of the things my library system does very well is hire talent as well as skill.
I interviewed him on a rainy day at one of his slower branches. We met in his office, which was a strange alcove in the basement of a Carnegie library, open to the rest of the work room on that floor. Mostly we were alone, but other staff would flit through on occasion.
I asked him the same questions I asked the AM, but of course the answers were very different. He was promoted and got a raise, but also a lot more responsibility. He felt some remorse to be moving again, as he hasn’t been in one place for much more than a year since coming from another system 4 years ago. He’s read that it takes at least two years to really get settled in somewhere and feel like you are making progress. Coming up on my two-year mark at this branch, I agree.
When he got his posting, he was relieved that he was appointed to a region where he had managed a branch, to at least have a point of reference. Even so, he’d only had experience at that one branch, so had 3 more to get to know. He felt that his success depended on what region he was assigned though, so that was one stress removed.
One surprise he’s experienced is how isolated he’s become. Branch Managers worked closely together and most of what they did was pretty transparent. RM’s don’t see each other often, and while they do have some of the same deliverables, there is no “right way” to accomplish them and a lot that differs from region to region. RM’s do meet, but they have a lot of system wide business to discuss during that time so there isn’t a lot of talk about day-to-day activities.
He described how the picture gets bigger the higher up in the organization you go. A majority of front line staff don’t have a big picture of what the library is. Librarians have a better idea of theory, but tend to have a narrower view. As you continue up the food chain, the view gets wider. There are pros and cons to this–too wide and you lose sight of the little things, but a wider view can allow for greater insight as to what the public needs in their city library system, what their “wants” really mean.
As for management style, he focuses outward. Customer service is really important to him. He sees his staff as part of a team that makes good customer service happen. When a member of staff is resistant, he admits that helping them is the hardest part of his job. He feels that ultimately you can’t change someone’s mind, they have to do it themselves. Sort of the “you can lead a horse to water” theory. It frustrates him when he has to have ongoing discussions with a staff member that doesn’t have the same high customer service goals.
One of the strongest draws to management for this RM is the control he gets to have over his work environment. He takes pride in how is branches look and how they function. He likes to create a team and find ways to get them to work together. He enjoys motivating individuals to be the best they can be and to internalize library goals and values.
I really enjoyed being one of the members of his team when he was my branch manager. I miss having more direct interaction with a manager; there’s a real loss in not being able to benefit from their experience. If I’m lucky, I see my RM once a week, usually it’s once every two, and that’s not unusual in this model. They are trying to visit 4-5 branches in a reasonable amount of time. They have a lot on their plate and not a lot of time to spend with individual staff members. I am amazed with how much they are able to accomplish.
There’s only one avenue for someone in my position, Librarian, to get into an RM position in our system. There are two intermediary managing librarian positions at Central and many librarians who would like to fill that roll. On top of that, they aren’t likely to be vacated any time soon. This leaves management minded librarians feeling that the only option is to leave the system.