Getting Permission

Last week, Emily Lloyd at Shelf Check (very funny librarian comic strip and a fine blog, too) posted What would you do if you didn’t need the approval of 15 committees? And mentioned me. Here’s what she said (make sure to read the whole post AND comment on it. It’s good):

“I think of what, for ex, David Lee King does for Topeka & Shawnee. David has lots of talent; David has lots of gear…but a lot of folks who work in libraries have lots of talent and lots of gear. What ultimately matters most, it seems to me, is lots of permission. David has that, I think–at least it looks like it from here–and most of us don’t. Many of us don’t need to be told or taught at conferences how to engage with patrons via social media, how to market our libraries via YouTube or Facebook, etc–we need our administrators to be told or taught that they should allow us to do so … You can’t seize the moment; you can’t seize the day; you’re lucky if you can seize the year. Old Spice/New Spice practically seized the nanosecond.”

She’s right – I DO have a boatload of permission. How do I get that permission? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that, but I’ll try! Here’s what I do to get that permission:

  • Most importantly, I’m actually trusted to do the right thing … so I have permission in advance. That permission was granted through my original job description, and continues through a ton of talking with my peers and with administration.
  • Did I mention talking? Yes – I actually ask for permission. All the time. I asked for permission to do things at least three times last week – on two smaller things, and on one huge thing that won’t happen for 2-3 years (if at all).
  • I sometimes get permission without asking. I share ideas and direction with other managers and with administration, and back it up with stats, with outcomes, etc. If an idea takes off, I don’t have to ask for permission – instead, I’m asked “when are you going to start?”
  • I make sure everything I’m asking for relates to our strategic plan. Or at least to the goals of the project at hand. When I ask for permission to do something, I make sure it relates to one of our big strategic initiatives. Thankfully, that’s pretty easy for me, because building and growing the digital branch IS part of the plan. But only because a big strategic goal we have is to reach people in the county … digitally.

But I’d be lying if I said that’s ALL that happens. The organization plays a big part in my permission, too:

  • Administration is full of healthy, happy people that I love to work with! Gina and Rob, our director and deputy director, are great bosses (fun people to hang with, too). They know how to give people responsibility and let them run with it. Our other managers are the same way.
  • The library works hard to hire and train people we can trust (so I can get that permission in advance thing). But then, we go one step further – we actually let our staff “do stuff.”
  • My job is a manager-level job, so I have a say at the planning table (actually, everyone who works at my library has a say – mine’s maybe a bit more direct).
  • We have a strategic plan, and we actually follow it.

Not getting that permission? Here’s what might be going on:

  • You’re not working in a healthy organization. Your library director’s not effective, you have bosses that aren’t trusting or are control freaks (or simply don’t know how to manage people and projects).
  • Your library doesn’t have a strategic plan or goals. Or you DO have them, but aren’t really following them. Maybe someone’s scared to act on those plans.
  • The things you’re trying to get permission to do don’t align with the library’s (or your supervisor’s) goals.
  • Or … you’re simply not asking for permission. End all your meetings with some next steps and a timeline.

Something to think about – no, you can’t change administration. If you have a bad library director or bad managers, the only real way to change that is to find another job (or wait it out, if you’re extremely patient, I suppose). Sorry about that.

But did you notice? The other three points under “not getting that permission” are things you can change, or at least have a say in – even if you’re not a manager. Maybe your library doesn’t have a strategic plan – you can still set annual goals for your job with your supervisor, and start working on those things. You can focus on aligning your projects with the library’s strategic goals. And you can ask for permission.

OK – I’m sure I’m missing something here, but it’s a start!

Update – make sure to read the next post, Help Others Get Permission … and make a comment!

pic by Sean Dreilinger