Mark A. Greene 2015-07-29 11:04:33
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a hundred times over the course of my career: “My [insert supervisor or resource allocator position title here] never comes down to the archives and doesn’t know what we do. No wonder the archives is ignored, underfunded, stereotyped, and underappreciated.” I’ve long itched for an appropriate venue to rebut this frustrating (not to say infuriating) analysis of a program’s weaknesses. Then a recent issue of Archival Outlook (March/April 2015) featured two articles that seemed to give me the perfect springboard. Kathleen Roe’s president’s column rightly noted that “To be honest, sometimes archivists seem to take pleasure in being ‘misunderstood’” (emphasis added) and encouraged archivists to employ “strong words” in describing themselves and their profession. In the same issue, Bruce Dearstyne’s column summarized the four key themes in his book1 on leadership for memory institutions, one of which is advocacy: Dynamic programs have advocacy in their DNA. It is part of everything they do, part of everyone’s job . . . . They . . . Report not just numbers of users but also user testimonials and examples of the impact of research projects. The director is a constant ambassador for the program. But advocacy is not just externally directed, or at least it shouldn’t be. Rather you should be “a constant ambassador” to your boss and other resource allocators. Internal advocacy (once upon a time referred to as “inreach”) is just as important to the success of archival programs as external advocacy. Reach Out to Your Boss It does no good to hunker down with either a “let your work speak for itself” or “but management is too self-absorbed and busy to even give me the time of day” attitude,2 ones I have encountered again and again on discussion lists, in conference sessions, and elsewhere among too many archivists. Instead of assuming your work should speak for itself, heed the advice of experienced corporate middle managers: “‘Your boss is busy and has his or her own biases. . . . It’s not like if you perform well, all will be fine.’” Instead, in the words of another manager, “‘You are responsible for making your boss appreciate the good work that you do’. . . .” And in a typical environment promoting your and your repository’s work requires much, much more than waiting for your boss to drop by or schedule a tour of the archives. It requires more than holding receptions for exhibit openings and inviting your resource allocators. And it demands more than publishing even the most engaging and colorful newsletters and annual reports. It requires, first and foremost, that if necessary you “accept that your boss does not see your area as a priority. In this case you’ll want to set up regular meetings to keep her engaged”4— don’t wait for your boss to ask you. When I arrived at the American Heritage Center in 2002 there were still, among the repository’s resource allocators—most importantly the provost (my immediate supervisor) and the president—important misconceptions about the Center, little direct knowledge of its services and programs, and no apparent interest in spending time at AHC being toured and educated about the unit. But the provost was willing, upon my request, to establish a once-monthly meeting in his office, so long as I defined an agenda ahead of time and kept the discussion under one hour. For the most part, the agenda items for our meetings were upbeat reports meant to educate him about our mission, our successes, and the specific accomplishments that supported the university’s strategic plan. I used “strong words.” I attempted, over the course of a year, to touch on all the major activities, services, and programs AHC was involved with, from acquisition of new collections to administering Wyoming History Day and much else. I also made a point to inform him if I learned that our repository stood far above the national norm in some important way, e.g., number or percentage of undergraduate researchers. When it was unavoidable or essential to put problems on the agenda, they were the mammoth problems that I could not solve on my own (for example, the continual leaks in our building’s roof, which threatened our collections’ safety5). Every so often, one of the agenda items struck his fancy and he invited me to make a presentation to the twice-monthly meeting of all the university’s deans and directors—a tremendous opportunity to brag about AHC to the entire academic leadership of the institution, as well as to educate those leaders about AHC. There is nothing new or innovative about any of this. Not only does it mirror Dearstyne’s call for archivists to be “constant ambassadors” for their programs, it is part and parcel of general management literature: You can’t assume your manager knows what you’re doing, the great progress you’ve made, or the obstacles you’ve overcome unless you make it your mission to provide that information. . . . Get on your manager’s calendar bi-weekly. . . . Instead of giving your manager a list of tasks you’ve accomplished, explain what those tasks mean in the bigger picture. . . . 6 Conduct this type of advocacy as if your program depended on it, which it might well do. Do it in your resource allocators’ offices and in their language (leave the jargon in the repository): “‘If we want someone to understand what we have to say, we must learn to speak their language, rather than expect them to learn ours.’” Advocate for Your Staff But wait. There’s more. It’s not all about you. It is imperative that your resource allocators understand the good work your employees are doing. Advocacy on behalf of your staff presents an additional opportunity to connect, in person or through a message, to your boss and to continue educating him or her about what your program does and why it matters. Also, your team’s excellent work reflects well on you. The highest level of leadership is said to be one in which the leader looks “out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for success. . . .” This is because superior leaders hire “the right people [for] the right seats,” letting them play to their strengths. And if your employees know that you tout their achievements and initiatives to your boss, it helps to build or sustain morale.8 At AHC, I asked our department heads to be sure to forward to me every written kudo they or their staffs received from outside researchers, university faculty and students, and K–12 instructors (an area of intense interest to our school’s leadership). I kept a folder where I filed these messages of praise and appreciation. And once every month or two, I would send a message to my boss, sometimes copying the president, with the content of the kudos pasted in (attachments might be more easily ignored). I introduced the expressions of acclaim by succinctly explaining the importance of the services or programs in question to the university as a whole and adding my own acclaim for the staff members’ excellent work. Less regularly, but consistently, I also made a point of informing higher-ups when our archivists achieved a particularly notable result in their profession: e.g., election to chair an SAA section, publication of a refereed article, or invitation to present a paper internationally. We must cease taking pleasure in being misunderstood, and must begin consistently using “strong words” to conduct continuous advocacy for our programs with our supervisors and other resource allocators— advocacy that, if as is often necessary, takes place outside the archives. Supervisors who relish trips to our repositories are apparently rather rare, so instead of feeling frustrated or sorry for ourselves we must unfailingly and frequently put ourselves in our boss’s face, or at least on his or her doorstep. For some of us this might seem like “living dangerously,” as President Roe has urged us to do, but if dangerous it is no more so than hunkering down in our archives waiting for the boss to drop in. Notes 1 Bruce Dearstyne, Leading the Historical Enterprise: Strategic Creativity, Planning, and Advocacy for the Digital Age (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) . 2 J.T. O’Donnell, “3 Rules To Managing Up,” Careerealism, August 20, 2014, http://www.careerealism.com/3-rules-to-managing-up/. 3 Amy Gallo, “Setting the Record Straight on Managing Your Boss,” Harvard Business Review Online, December 18, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/12/setting-the-record-straight-on- managing-your-boss.Emphasis added. 4 Jean-François Manzoni , “Dealing with a Hands- Off Boss,” Harvard Business Review Online, December 17, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/12 /dealing-with-a-hands-off-boss. 5 It took many years, but consistent lobbying for remediation of the leaks finally paid off in 2013, when the University invested more than $2 million in reroofing our building. 6 Lea McLeod, “5 Ways to Make Sure Your Boss Knows Just How Awesome You Are,” The Muse, n. d., https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-ways-to - make-sure-your-boss-knows-just-how-awesome-you - are. Emphasis added. 7 Wayne Turk, “The Art of Managing Up,” Defense AT&L (March-April 2007), p. 23, http://uthscsa.edu/gme/documents/TheArtofManagingUp.pdf. Research conducted by Erin Passehl Stoddart and Richard Stoddart from the University of Idaho presents troubling if not surprising evidence of the dominance of professional jargon in archival communications meant to influence resource allocators and other stakeholders; it is part of broader investigations into the extent to which archival units in higher education do or do not clearly emphasize their strategic importance to the larger institution’s mission. See their slide presentation, “Assessing the Strategic Credibility of Special Collections,” American Association for the Advancement of Science—Pacific Division (2012), http://works.bepress.com/erin_passehl/19. 8 Jim Collins, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” Harvard Business Review 83 (July/August, 2005), 141, 142.
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