Ask a Storytime Ninja: Getting Staff on Board

This is a big one, folks. If you have something to contribute (I’m betting some of you do) please add your thoughts in the comments.

This week’s question:

I have a more theoretical/management question to throw out to you all. How do you get staff on board with new ideas? I am trying to do something specific (reorganize the children’s area into subject neighborhoods) but I often have new projects and would be interested in hearing how other people get staff invested and comfortable with new ideas especially if it’s staff you do not directly manage and who don’t like change in general.


Brooke (@berasche) says:
I make sure that I am confident in my idea/decision before I bring it to staff who are uncomfortable to change. If you sound hesitant when proposing the idea, you just give them another reason to not want it. I also try and make sure I have all my ducks in a row before announcing it to all staff. When I am ready to present the idea to everyone I have information printed up, sample ideas, etc.
Also, I’ve found with some staff who are very hesitant to change, it is easier to approach them one-on-one with the new idea. This way you can answer any questions they might have, and you don’t have the “mob mentality” working against you. Good luck!

Tabin says: 
In writing this I’ll probably seem like a cruel and heartless bunny boiler, but I’ll take that risk.
Implementing new projects isn’t a big deal since you can theoretically host Mommy and Me Margarita Lapsit as long as you have permission, preferably in writing. (If you manage to pull this off, please invite me!) But as for getting people on board, it’s not actually your job to get staff on board. I know, it sounds horrible. However, the thing is people who don’t like change don’t like change. And your standard line of defense—sharing ideas, asking for help, chocolate—isn’t for those who are open to change. It’s for staff members who are still mad that the card catalog went away and that you tossed the Mayan apocalypse prep books. The only thing they’re willing to change is their underwear. Do you think I tried to get non-changers on board when I hosted a job fair or a Super Bowl Widows Party with a live band and a halftime show? Heck no. Even the ones who didn’t work that day would have had something negative to say, so they found out when my supervisor showed them the flyer. After dealing with staff members who were upset that it was busy when I had a Chicago Bear read to the children and that there was no parking when the Sacramento Kings were in (despite the fact that there’s no parking ever), I’ve realized if you, your supervisor and your system are already on board the bus, your job is not getting everyone else on board; your jobs are to stop the bus long enough to announce the destination, answer reasonable questions, allow them time to board, make sure you pick up the frantic stragglers racing to the bus stop, and move towards your destination. When people don’t get on board you’ll find yourself asking, “Is the bus on fire? Are the tires flat? Is it out of gas? Are zombies on board?” Nope.  They just don’t want to get on board. It could be pouring raining and they’re wearing a white dress; the bus could be taking you to a magical land where there’s no cellulite and Mojitos flow out of water fountains; they could have the Raider Nation chasing them down and they still won’t get on the bus. When they refuse to get on the bus, keep going. Don’t miss out on an awesome destination. Pretty soon you’ll have another bus going to another great destination and when you’re driving it, stop, offer them a ride, and keep moving.

Sara (@PLSanders) says:

I’ve worked with a wide variety of people over the years. My first answer to this question is to definitely pick your battles: is this the project you’ll have enough enthusiasm for to break through the stubbornness? If not, save your energy to fight another day. But f it is, here’s some tips:

1.       Buy-in to change: Do you know why you want to make the change? This is imperative to convincing others. What will the benefit be of the change you’re going to make? What current problem will it solve? Write these ideas down and internalize your reasoning as you push forward.

In order for people to want to change something that doesn’t seem to them to need fixing, they need to visualize how it will make their lives a) better or b) easier. In the case of subject neighborhoods, this image could take the form of less patron congestion when all the third family in line wants is Thomas books, or less patron frustration when all the specific princess books they found online happen to be out (even though you have others). Happier patrons will make the lives of librarians easier for obvious reasons.  You can even give scenarios, like ones I just mentioned, and demonstrate how a subject neighborhood will relax their work environments.

2.       Baby steps:  everything goes much faster than it used to and this sometimes makes enormous changes unfeasible. What if, in your particular library, you took the time to reclassify all your books and your desired outcome (say, a circulation increase) didn’t happen in the expected amount of time (say, two months)? The amount of time that people put into an effort they’re not completely sold on is inversely proportional to the amount of time in which they want to see an outcome and call it successful/a failure. Is this counterintuitive? Maybe, but it’s true. Try making a “permanent display” of a high demand subject (say, superheroes) and see how that goes. If staff starts to see the benefit of putting those books all together, you can take more baby steps toward your change.

3.       Give it up: I don’t mean trash your idea. I mean give it up to your colleagues and see where it lands. Put your feelers out to see if you have any allies for a project like this, and work on it together. Flush out any misconceptions or concerns staff might have about it, and make sure you address those. Remember, they might not be ready this year but maybe they’ll be ready in a year or two. By then, another team member might bring it up again and work can start, even if that means you don’t get all the credit. But sometimes, giving up your share of the credit is worth getting a good idea off the ground.

Kim (@librarylady2u) says:

I learned the hard way that the best method to get other staff members on board with change is to involve them somehow in the process. Whether that means that they get help you make the final decisions or whether they are able to just merely voice their opinions. In general, I’ve found that people will be more open to change if they feel like their thoughts/feelings are being heard.

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About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on September 17, 2013, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Tabin, I want to get on your bus!

    Great answers, y’all. I just started year #2 at my library, and we’re in the middle of THE GREAT YOUTH SERVICES TRANSFORMATION (yes, all caps, all the time). It’s hard to “get staff on the bus” especially if they’re super resistant, however keeping goals clear and realizing that changes are usually for the good of the patron, and not for the staff, are the most helpful ideas for me.

  2. This was my question and I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts! Happily, my big project – Neighborhoods – is getting off the ground, slowly but surely!

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