Improvements abound as Manatee Libraries begin incorporating Harwood principles internally

Harwood and Visioning

Posted on June 15, 2017 by Kevin Beach
Editor’s Note: Kevin Beach is Operations Manager of Manatee Libraries and a participant in the Harwood Public Innovators Lab underwritten by The Patterson Foundation for library leadership in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

As Operations Manager for Manatee Libraries, I have been involved during the past several months in employing Harwood methods throughout our day to day activities. Thinking outwardly and collaboratively in all external transactions with the community has been the natural practice to promote. Many staff members are embracing the community conversations and ASK techniques every day. But I began wondering if there was a way to employ the conversation toolkit in our internal operations as well. The supervisory team was already tasked with updating or creating several documents and policy statements, so we decided to begin incorporating a visioning session as part of each of our supervisor’s meetings. We started with the creation of a customer service model. I fashioned a basic customer service statement of policy based upon our existing practices along with a few questions fashioned from the conversation toolkit for review before our meeting:
What aspects of customer service are not being addressed? Why is this important? What barriers exist in satisfying all customers? What resources are at our disposal to be more successful? How can we see progress in customer service six months from now?

I appointed a facilitator and acted as note taker for the initial session. Having a template to work through helped put the librarians at ease and enabled the facilitator to engage with those not contributing and corral those who were getting us off course. Two full chalkboards of notes led to a hearty customer service model that we are now sharing with the frontline staff. We hope to incorporate this new customer service model into our employee orientation. The process has created a much fuller and collaborative spirit and a richer final product.

The success of this session led us to employ it once again in our long-range planning committee. Our document was due this year for updating. An open discussion guided by similarly structured questions led us to reconsider the format, the length, and the tone of the document. A new streamlined plan that is accessible to the staff for planning, while still understandable by the public is the direct result using this new collaborative tool. The staff truly feels that their input has led to a document that they can support and for which they feel ownership. The biggest change has been that more staff are now adding personal input into our organization’s policies and procedures.

Next on the agenda is the development of an in-house marketing plan. The staff is getting comfortable with the format of the visioning sessions, and these meetings simultaneously provide indirect practice for participating in true community conversations for those still unsure of their abilities. One concept that came out of the customer service model visioning was considering our coworkers as worthy of the same respect and civility afforded to our customers. Similarly, we now see staff members as a vital part of our community that deserve to have their own opinions be heard.

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