Monday, February 11, 2013

Teaching the Unteachable

When I first began this blog I wrote about the importance of assessing and understanding the needs of those you work with.  I suggested asking employees what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to grow.  What I didn't cover, however, is how to teach those who have no wish to learn or grow. Although there is nothing intrinsically bad about not wanting to learn or grow, it can be a potential nightmare for trainers and supervisors.  Before a situation can be improved, however, we must identify the underlying problem.  After all, doesn't everyone deserve to be happy in their job?

Growing is often associated with growing up.  Going from child to adult or junior associate to CEO are all examples of growing upward.  Yet in the library field, growing up is quite difficult without an MLS.  Many workers employed by library systems, however, are non-professionals (meaning their job description does not require a degree in Library Science.)  But this does not mean they haven't made a profession out of their job.  During my time in libraries, I have met many professional non-librarians who care just as much about the state of the library as their card carrying librarian coworkers.  The only difference is the desire, or lack thereof, to grow upward through the organization.  This often means these professional non-librarians have been doing the same job for years. And they are comfortable doing what they do.  So, how do you train the person who already knows their job?  You don't.  You train them to do the job better - to grow outward.

In most library systems, having an MLS is what separates managers from employees.  But management isn't the only thing taught in Library School.  I would certainly hope that if you are a librarian, you took at least one core class on searching.  This one class, which often covers an entire semester, is hastily taught to new hires in their first week.  Using Model Reference Behaviors, conducting better searches, and evaluating information are everyday practices which can always be improved upon.  For the employee who does not wish to grow up, training based on the information they need to do their job is essential for them to grow out.  For these employees, a survey may give you some answers but a conversation will get you the results you want.

When an employee has no wish to grow up or grow out, you may feel like you've hit a brick wall.  This person is simply aimed at getting the job done to make ends meat.  If there are no performance issues at play (ie. the employee does the job satisfactorily but has no interest in learning or training,) you may want to consider two reasons:
  1. Personal: The employee has personal issues that are currently distracting his ability to put in additional effort at work.  This is often the case if you notice a drastic change in behavior or personality. You don't need to know specifics of a personal problem, but knowing that there is an issue can help both you (the trainer/supervisor) and the employee.
  2. Professional: When an employee is no longer motivated by the job, disinterest is the result.  When we first start in a position, we are filled with the excitement of learning new things.  As time continues, we often get stuck in a rut. 
For both of these situations, a one-on-one conversation is the way to go.  Such a conversation should focus on the employee's goals, both professionally and personally, and should be motivational for the employee  (beginning a conversation with "I've noticed something lacking," is not the right way to go.) With some creative thinking, you may be able to find a way to satisfy personal aspirations with professional ones.  For example, an employee who loves scrapbooking but has been lacking motivation may find training coworkers on reader's advisory for scrapbookers or starting a scrapbooking club at the branch uplifting.  By engaging the personal and translating it to the professional, you increase the likelihood of this staff member wanting to grow, learn, and participate more.

Unfortunately, there is no tried and true formula for teaching the unteachable - it's different for every employee.  Starting with a good conversation, however, is the key to any staff member's success.

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