Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When the Answer is Always No (or at least it seems to be)

Last month I wrote a post about how I got management experience. That post resonated, but people wanted more:

Before I give you advice on dealing with human embodiments of NONONONO Cat up there, I want to remind everyone of the big ol' caveat that comes with every piece of advice I give. All tips and tricks that I give here, on Twitter, via email, or even in person, are all colored by my past experiences. Sometimes they are things that I tried that worked for me. Other times I share things I wish I'd tried, because whatever technique I did employ did not work. No matter the flavor of my advice, however, you must always remember: your mileage may vary.

Okay, on to dealing with "a 'no' culture." Truly, the best way of getting stuff done in this kind of atmosphere is to do your work ahead of time.
  • Take time to think about all the possible reasons someone - a coworker, a boss, a colleague at another library - will say no. Do this ahead of time and come up with counters for every possible reason someone could turn you down. Think of it as doing a mini-SWOT analysis (or a major one if you're proposing something at the level of a program change).
  • Consider when and who is most appropriate for you to ask. More than once in my current job I realized long after starting a process that I'd asked the wrong people to begin with. The most startling example of this was when I called advice about what kind of information to include in a proposal, only to be told, "You don't have to write a proposal. I can do that for you. I do that for other people around campus, so it's no big deal."
  • Find examples of similar things that have worked at other institutions and/or look at the research related to the topic. That's how I got to incorporate gaming into our outreach efforts at one institution, and how I got permission to build a graphic novel collection at another.
Sometimes those won't be enough. You could get a question/concern that you didn't anticipate, or the money really isn't available, or maybe Professor Doe is just ornery and curmudgeony and doesn't like the cut of your jib. What should you do then?
  • Wait and try again. "I know you didn't have time last semester, but could we talk about it again?" I don't want to be specific, but this worked with a former colleague. He was always too busy. Always. But I never gave up. I smiled whenever I saw him. Asked about his research and the classes he was teaching. Cookies may have entered into the proceedings at one point. Eventually he cracked.
  • Find someone else to ask. That's how I got my cultural literacy series off the ground back at my last library. Asked person A, got a "no, thanks." Person B? "Great idea, but I'm too busy." Person C? "I can't, but you should ask [person A]." Person D? "I'd love to, and I can squeeze you into my schedule, but I don't have a lot of spare time and can't take a leading role." Person E? "Oh! I'd love to!"
  • Realize that you won't be able to get every idea off the ground.
Finally, I want to discuss one of my biggest pet peeves. Lots of people espouse an attitude of, "it's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission." I'm not saying you should never do this, but I don't recommend doing it at the beginning of your career (or during early days of a new job), and you should only do it sparingly if you are later in your career or in your tenure at a particular institution. Do this early on or too much, people will think they can't trust you. 

How about the rest of my audience? What are some things you've tried that have worked for you?

1 comment:

  1. As mentored to me, and in experience, I've learned there is always the "planets in alignment" factor. Are there certain organizational shifts, personnel changes, that have to happen before you can get your idea off the ground? Assessing the state of readiness for change has been very important for me in digesting why a particular proposal didn't get off the ground. In some cases, I've had to wait a few years *cough*collection development*cough*, but trying again sometimes pays off.

    If presenting a proposal at a meeting, sometimes it works to go in with a buddy, i.e., seek out a champion before the meeting who is able to reinforce the worth of the proposal--generate buzz. This has also backfired on me on one occasion, when the person was on board one-on-one, but reversed in the group discussion--doh! So, I waited....