Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Developing Empathy for our Patrons - and Each Other

Warning!  This is part one of a two part post.  The second part is: "What We Thing of Each Other's Jobs"

I have found over the last two years that the job of Cluster Leader involves much more than dealing with the logistics of overseeing six individual libraries, their staff and their communities.  It is continuously keeping a finger on the pulse all things North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries. This is partially done by listening carefully to verbal as well as non-verbal communication.  It helps tremendously that there are several staff members from up and down the ladder who will apprise me of the prevailing attitudes of the group.  Several months ago, I detected a significant dip in morale, attitude and customer service levels throughout the cluster libraries.  There seemed to be numerous reasons for this, which need not be addressed here.  It was time for action.

At the September meeting, I introduced an activity which I deliberately kept fairly open ended. Using resources from the Design Thinking for Libraries pre-conference training at the 2015 American Libraries Association conference, I chose the Define a Design Challenge Activity.  The activity has four questions.  Groups of 4 - 5 staff identified a user group and worked on their scenarios.

  1. Who is the user group?
  2. What are the problems they struggle with that you could solve?
  3. Is there the potential to explore multiple solutions?
  4. Is it feasible to complete in a 5-6 week timeline?
The scenarios where then passed around to the other groups for a rating process described below.

Rate each design challenge, then add up your score.
Considering the project with the highest score is a dimension that can help you select your project.

Each element is rated from 1 - 5
  1. Instinctively, how excited are you about this design challenge?
  2. What potential for impact in your community does this design challenge have?
  3. How feasible is it to tackle this challenge over the next 5-6 weeks

The groups identified in descending order of their rankings were:

  1. Group:  Patrons
    Problem: Lack of Computer Skills
    Score: 47
  2. Group: Jobseekers
    Problem: Struggle with online applications
    Score: 44
  3. Group: Children (4 - 10)
    Problem: Bored/Unattended
    Score: 38
  4. Group: Staff
    Problem: Lack of Communication
    Score 36
  5. Group: Students
    Problem: Computer help/Boredom/Programs
A month later, at the October meeting, I took this process one step further.  Using the book, Game Storming : A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown & James Macanufo, I found something called an Empathy Map.  The object is to quickly develop a customer or user profile.  We did a map for each of the groups mentioned above.  My initial intention was to create a simple "Bill of Rights" for each of the user groups as a reminder to staff about why they should be delivering outstanding customer service to everyone. (Photos of the Empathy Maps are at the bottom of this post.)

Close examination of the Empathy Maps indicated some really intuitive insights into all of the user groups, and showed potential paths to take for each.  However, the staff map was screaming for attention.  Clearly, that is where we should be focusing our attention right now.  I spent the next several weeks considering how to address this.

I finally had a plan for the November meeting.  Our activity was very loosely based on exercises I had participated in many years ago at a diversity training.  I divided the group by their job classes. Municipal Guards. Library Assistant 1's.  Digital Resource Specialists with Library Assistant 2s/3s. Librarians and Librarian Supervisors were also together.  Each group was charged with developing a list of the five best and worst parts of each of the other groups' jobs based on their own perceptions. (The results of this is in the post mentioned above - "What We Think of Each Other's Jobs")

We processed this exercise very briefly because of time constraints.  The feedback I received is that there were several "aha" moments for everyone.  There are parts of all of the jobs they had not considered before, and there is a better appreciate for everyone's job.  Next in the plan is to use this insight to build a North Philadelphia Staff Bill of Rights.  What can all staff expect when they come to work every day?  While most of that might seem obvious, my experience is that there are almost always a few surprises when any team comes together to this type of work.

Stay tuned.

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