Trickling down from the top: How big decisions impact us

Often in our line of work, people above us make choices without fully comprehending what will happen next. The impact often trickles down (and usually gains momentum) and we as librarians and professionals need to be ready to handle the outcomes. While these decisions are often frustrating, I think we are in a perfect position to make the best of the situation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these trickle down impacts in my current assistantship as a library supervisor at two of the seven residence hall libraries on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. We recently found out that three of these libraries will be consolidated starting in the fall semester. While I will not be a supervisor in these libraries next year, the work that will need to happen in the spring semester to prepare for the consolidation will change my job responsibilities. It is sad to see these libraries close, especially since I believe they help to serve the specific residence hall communities they reside in.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a top down decision affecting my job. This past spring when Illinois funding was cut, the grant I was a part of through the Department of Commerce and Economic Development abruptly ended two months before the grant was supposed to finish. My department ended up paying me for my work until the end of the semester but since we had no state funds, we were unable to purchase more equipment or really finish the job we had started back at the beginning of the grant.

Photo from martinak15 on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Photo from martinak15 on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

These decisions are frustrating, especially because once it has been made and I can do nothing to reverse it. The focus of my job also completely shifts – for example, instead of solely concentrating on continuing the community building and collaborations I began this fall in the residence hall libraries, my job will now entail both this intense relationship building along with figuring out how an entire collection will be consolidated (weeded or moved) and how the remaining library collection will be revised to make way for materials coming from these consolidated libraries.

As someone who has become even more in tune with community engagement since starting graduate school, when these decisions are made, I can clearly see the ramifications they will have. For me, I get upset that sometimes orders are given without any idea about these trickle down effects or an understanding of how the communities benefit from these soon-to-be-cut services. An impact will be felt, but often not by the people who made the decision in the first place.

However, instead of getting upset and letting this one thing bog me down, I have to become the forefront spokesperson. My job is simple: communicate the impending change to others, articulate the effects this change has, and also be a leader as we move forward. Both to talk about what is happening and to plan for the future. Essentially my new goals are: how can we make a difference in the time we have left and how can I help create a smooth transition, both for consolidating a library and in terms of building relationships for the incoming supervisor? I do not want to let this consolidation take away from the work myself and the clerks I supervise have done this year. Here are some of my initial thoughts on dealing with the trickle down:

OPTIMISM: This one is hard. In some situations, we just can’t be optimistic. However, in my opinion, I think it’s important to keep optimism in mind. Sure, the situation frankly sucks but as my dad would say, “Play next.” Focus your energy on making the best of this bad situation, not stewing in the ridiculousness/frustration/anger/etc. of said decision. If anything, stewing is just bad for your mental health and won’t allow you to see the ways in which you can use this change to make things better.

MAINTAIN PROFESSIONALISM: When you get a bunch of angry and upset people together, things can get intense. While it can be stress reliving to blow off some steam and vent, we have to remember there’s a time and place for that. And sometimes that place is not where we work, aka the place where the decision is happening. As a good self-care technique, it’s important to have peers, family, and friends that you can vent to. These are the people who you can be honest with.

SET GOALS AND PRIORITIES: So things have to change, change is inevitable. Use this decision as a time to really sit down and think through what an ideal world might look like. Set the bar high for what you want to accomplish. This decision gives you the space to try all the things you’ve talked about doing but never had the time and or enough intrinsic motivation to do. It also gives you a chance to reflect on what has been working well and what hasn’t (and maybe how things can be changed). Also, by writing down your goals and priorities this helps you create talking points when discussing the decision with others and when navigating administrators who are helping follow through on this decision. If you are confident in what you want to happen, then you can play a vital and critical role in the transition to a new normal.

PASS ON YOUR VISION: Tell people what you are trying to do constantly. There is never a bad time for an elevator speech (well, that’s probably debatable but besides the point). And when you talk about the decision, remain optimistic (again, hard I know). This might mean jotting down a few talking points and practicing how you will talk about this decision and how you will spin it to promote the awesomeness of the actual place and or people you’re working with. As I learned in giving tour guides in undergraduate admissions, being able to spin something bad and highlight the best aspects is truly an invaluable skill.

PREPARE TO BE FLEXIBLE: As you set new goals and priorities, know that you might need to be flexible. You still have to remember the context you’re working in – what are the organization’s goals and what have you been told by your supervisor to do? As you receive new information it’s important to adjust your goals, priorities, and visions as necessary.

BE SUPPORTIVE AND SEEK SUPPORT: If you’re feeling down about a decision there’s probably a good chance your co-workers and or supervisor are feeling similar. Rely on them for support — things are usually better when you work together.

So how am I dealing with this big decision? Better now than when I first heard about it. Writing this blog post helped and I also see the ways in which taking a leadership role in the consolidation process expands my supervisor skills and makes me a stronger candidate when I seek out jobs. It’s a challenge I’m ready to take on and I think myself, my co-workers, our clerks, and my supervisor can do great things this spring as we make this transition. As usual, I’m optimistic.

Now I’m curious – anyone else out there affected by these trickle down decisions? If so, how have you dealt with the decision and did I miss any tips or pointers?

4 replies

  1. Great post about something we all have to deal with at some point. It’s so important that Illinois even offers a class on change management. I’ll keep your advice in mind next time I’m going through something similar!

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  2. This good advice can apply to other situations, too. Without articulating them, I’ve been attempting roughly the same steps during a challenging time that doesn’t relate to a specific decision like this. Thanks for sharing!

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