Reviewing the reviews

As part of my role as liaison librarian, I am the shelving supervisor for the Social Sciences floor. Mostly the shelving ticks along nicely, but I am often involved in arranging cover for busy periods (like right now!). Another part of being shelving supervisor is delivering annual Staff Development Reviews (SDR) for our part-time shelvers. This year, I was responsible for two SDRs. This was the first time I have been in a supervisory role, and my first experience of a formal management responsibility. I was feeling quite nervous, but also fairly excited.

The university is very good at providing opportunities for personal and professional development, and to my great relief provides workshops for both new reviewees and new reviewers. Although I fell under both categories, I only attended the workshop for new reviewers, since there would be a significant overlap in content. I had expected this workshop to be full of management jargon, but in actuality it was incredibly helpful.

The presenter was knowledgeable and relatable. All my concerns and questions were addressed, and I came out of it much more confident and relaxed about delivering my two SDRs. Some of the advice I found particularly useful (though not exhaustive), and things I learnt from the two SDRs included:

  • Block out time for writing up too – The SDRs took 30-45 minutes, but I blocked out an hour and a half of my time, so I could write up our discussion straight-away. It stops you forgetting things, but also I feel it demonstrates your commitment to their professional development.
  • They should be talking 70% of the time – ask open ended questions, which are far more conducive to discussion than yes/no answers. In my first SDR I found myself slipping in this regard, which leads me to…
  • Plan what you will talk about, and practice– that might feel a bit weird for a one-to-one discussion, but remember that the more prepared you are the better you’ll feel, and the better they’ll feel. There’s nothing worse than your manager rifling through papers trying to remind themselves what exactly it is you do!

In particular, I received some great advice about SDRs with staff who have been with the institution much longer than you have:

  • Frame it in light of changes – This was easy for me, as we are about to have some major rewiring and refurbishment, and had just undergone some significant book moves.
  • Might be related to objectives from your own SDR – we were advised to have our own SDRs before setting the agenda for theirs, as our own objectives may well feed into theirs.

Additionally, I found Simon Barron’s Idiots Guide to Annual Staff Reviews both helpful and comforting. The later comments about impostor syndrome were, too, very reassuring!

I am glad I did these SDRs, as it is very likely I will be in a job role in the future which also involves the supervision/management of staff and therefore carrying out annual reviews. Now I have done them, they are not nearly as scary as I had thought. Plus, it’s a useful addition to my Chartership portfolio.

Adding to my experience of management

In September I did just under two weeks of temporary work in Oxford, working on a reclassification project at the Bodleian. Although I was only there for a couple of weeks, I learnt a lot from the experience. It was a contracted out project, something which I hadn’t done before, so a lot of it, such as management style, was new to me.

Since I’ve not had experience of a managerial position, I found reflecting on the experience valuable in helping build and shape my own management style for the future.

You don’t need to tell people the whole grand scheme. Although context for project work is useful, it is more important to those doing the work to know what task to be getting on with right now.

Avoid patronising tones, even when they’ve done something wrong. I made quite a few mistakes, so I definitely understand that people can do things wrong, but being (perhaps unintentionally) patronising makes people defensive.

Anxiety in a leader will communicate across to the team. Sometimes a manager will need to get away from the rest of the team to think things through and work out kinks without expressing any anxiety to the team members.

When trying to meet productivity percentages and targets, people can be inclined to skip breaks.  In the end this is less productive! This is also something I’m experiencing with my new job (blog posts about that to follow!). It’s important for managers to be aware of the workload of their team. I found that, with an emphasis on meeting targets, and productivity percentages influencing pay, there can be a higher inclination to skip a break to get the work done.

Training needs to match the task in hand. The timing of training can be important. For example, in-depth information about reclassification software isn’t as useful right at the start, rather it should come with a chance to do it yourself. Appropriate training for the task is also crucial. I have taken for granted the manual handling and shelving training I have received in the past. A lack of manual handling or shelving training is perhaps in the nature of temporary or contractual work – if anyone has any knowledge or opinions about this, I’d be very interested to hear it.

The most valuable thing about this work was actually to get me used to getting up early, which prepared me for starting my new job with a longer commute!