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A Fresh Approach to Job Rotation

by on May 23, 2019

By Monica Duffield and Terry Velasquez

Monica is a former Branch Manager at the Johnson County (KS) Library – mon121@yahoo.com

Terry is a Branch Manager at the Johnson County (KS) Library – velasquezt@jocolibrary.org

Whose library practices job rotation? Anybody? Job rotation, or “the systematic movement of employees from one job to another,”[1] is more common in corporate or academic settings than in public libraries.[2] But a discussion at our library opened the door just enough for the idea to slip in while our branch managers were wrestling with issues of burnout and
job satisfaction.

Our ten branch managers oversee fourteen branches and have between
one and twenty years of experience in their positions. Their longevity and
experience are clearly assets, ones that pushed them to decide it was time
to mine new opportunities and perspectives, to improve job satisfaction
for themselves and their colleagues. The vehicle they chose was job rotation.[3]

The Johnson County (KS) Library (JCL) administration experimented
with Janell Pierce’s version of job rotation in which an employee works a
new job for a fixed time before returning to his or her previous job.[4] We
also contacted other libraries that were experimenting with variations of
job rotation.[5] In our case, assistant branch managers started the experiment by swapping not jobs but locations, spending one week working at a different branch. Spending this short amount of time in another location gave staff valuable networking opportunities with their colleagues and built trust with staff and patrons.

The swaps emphasized ensuring that all staff are well trained for their
jobs. The first swap successfully met our goals, so we next rotated clerks
followed by information specialists, both groups with a two-week duration.[6] These early job rotation efforts helped staff build better relationships, be more flexible in their work, and understand and appreciate that they are part of the overall JCL system, not just a particular location.

Other benefits became obvious as well:

*Territorial loyalties were eased.
*A change of scenery provided a different perspective in which staff could observe new processes and procedures and also offer a new point of view.
*Job rotation alone resolved some disciplinary issues or personality conflicts.
*Problems did not move with the person.
*Employees received a new start/do-over.

After the success of the temporary swaps, the administration permanently reassigned some staff to different locations because the changes were
believed to benefit the whole system. Several examples follow.

During her years at JCL, Robin has been an information specialist at three branches, after which she chose to transfer to the central library. Most
recently, she applied for and accepted a position as an administrative support clerk because she was ready for a nonmanagement job, the new position fell more within her skill set, and the schedule change improved her work/life balance. Robin mentioned in all of her moves that she benefited from using her many skill sets in new ways. She also served on many committees throughout the system that helped her build relationships outside of her primary work location. Additionally, the organization has benefited from Robin’s moves because she is adaptable, a good role model about change, and has used her systemwide perspective. When asked what advice she would share about all these moves, Robin said, “take the initiative to find the positive.” She also stressed the importance of continuous, clear, and concise communication. [7]

Josh started as a web content developer who worked mostly independently. He realized customer service was more his passion, so he became an information specialist working on the front lines with patrons. As an information specialist, Josh enjoys the varied interactions, being around both patrons and staff, and more readily seeing the results of his work. Josh advises others to not be afraid to admit when a position isn’t right or to
ignore the impulse to try something different.[8]

Roxanne moved from one branch to another as part of the branch manager move. She was ready for a change after working at her first branch for more than four years. Roxanne’s new location at Oak Park has presented some growth opportunities for her. Oak Park has diversity in the patron base, as well as with the staff. And at Oak Park, Roxanne has an assistant branch manager, which gives her the opportunity to collaborate with another manager about services, staff, and spaces. The benefit to JCL is Roxanne’s level of expertise in developing staff, particularly in teaming with the youth services staff. She also is working on moving toward a shared workspace for information specialists and youth specialists. Roxanne’s advice about job rotation is to have conversations early and often with the incoming manager to onboard the manager and help staff feel at ease, as well as to get up to speed on the inner workings of the new location.[9]

Kristen started as a clerk at the Corinth location and then asked to be transferred to Blue Valley. She then was promoted to an assistant branch manager at Corinth and then transferred to Lackman as an
assistant branch manager. In the next year, the Lackman library will be moving to a new location, twice its current size. Kristen’s current experience as assistant branch manager will be appreciated as we enlarge the staff and building. She will use this existing knowledge to onboard new staff, including a second assistant branch manager, and open a new
building. JCL benefited from Kristen’s clerk knowledge and the efficiencies she has implemented. Kristen says having the chance to move around the
same system creates loyalty, gives more opportunities for self-growth, and is an opportunity to just refresh.[10]

Ken has been a branch manager for several locations. Most recently, he moved to Corinth and Cedar Roe to oversee these paired locations. As an outcome of the branch manager job rotation, he chose to stay at Corinth and manage just one building. The job rotation discussions resulted in changing the pairings of some locations and giving all locations access to a branch manager and one or two assistant branch managers. Ken mentioned that these new opportunities give managers a chance to grow and
build their skills. Ken’s years of experience also helped create consistency and stability at each location under his care. JCL has benefited from these changes by having managers and staff who are more energized and have a
different perspective by being at a different place.[11]

The JCL examples align with the experiences we found in the literature and with what other libraries are doing. The branch manager rotation aligns most closely with the Phoenix Library Career Enhancement Opportunity.[12] For JCL, there was a discussion with the associate director of branch services about the need for change because of burnout. The associate
director then challenged us to discuss with the primary team of branch managers and devise a recommended solution to be presented as a SOPPADA, a method JCL uses to introduce a new system, idea, or process into the organization. SOPPADA stands for “subject, objective, present situation, proposal, advantage, disadvantage, and action.” Branch managers typically convene at least annually for continual growth and development. The branch managers had just concluded some team-building and trust exercises with an outside consultant, and during the team building, branch
managers began to see themselves as a team who trust each other and work cohesively for the benefit of the whole organization. Building the trust was instrumental in giving one of the coauthors the emotional courage to share her desire for change with the primary team. The branch managers began the discussion of potential change by reviewing their individual strengths, passions, and desires for future opportunities.

We also discussed the communities of each branch and how they complemented the strengths of each manager. It took several months to hold these discussions and help everyone consider all angles of this significant change. Because this process had not been done before in this way, it was important to discuss the risks of the moves. And managers wanted to ensure staff understood that we chose these moves and were empowered to make a recommendation to administration.

Based on many months of discussion, the final SOPPADA was submitted to administration, recommending that four of the ten managers move to a new location. Three managers remained at their current locations, and three new managers were hired at a later date. Once the SOPPADA was approved, branch managers began th implementation process. The process included creating a communication plan, conducting stakeholder interviews of all major departments, and having in-person discussions with staff about the change. The process took close to one year to complete.

Both voluntary or assigned job rotations produced notable benefits, which were deemed to outweigh the challenges. Job rotation can increase curiosity
and drive, which in turn increases performance. It can reduce burnout, boredom, stress, absenteeism, and complacency. In the JCL system, we have
observed a difference in attitude at those branches that have long-term employees with no movement. Staff members who stay in the same position for a long time can fall into a rut; some outgrow their jobs. Job rotation can set off a desire to improve, thus leading to renewed interest and passion.

When the job and job duties change, a variety of challenges emerge, and the uniqueness of a new position can, in turn, boost confidence. What’s more, job rotation increases an employee’s degree of awareness; it can result in transformations in thinking and diminish tunnel vision. Staff members are more inspired to inquire why things are done the way they are done, and more likely to grasp an understanding of the big picture.

A systemwide viewpoint lessens the attitude of “them vs. us” and furthers a greater understanding of coworkers. From a supervisor’s point of view, an increase in reassignments permits individuals to expand their contacts and establish connections beyond their existing team. It can enhance customer service and spread best practices; it can result in the application
of better solutions. Assignment to the right job can resolve long-standing staff disciplinary issues and do away with personality conflicts. Collaboration between branches and less “talent hoarding” can change the tone, make things fun again, and generate a new, bright atmosphere. Because there is minimal turnover in MLS librarian positions in the JCL
system, job rotation can bring new opportunities and increase employee retention. Job rotation can be part of succession planning or professional
development; it can be an organizational tool.

The few challenges of job rotation should be proactively addressed. Job rotation may intimidate those who do not easily accept change; some might resign rather than adapt to a new building, new coworkers, and new job skills. If the rotation is not administered with some understanding, the person being relocated may go into it with an adverse attitude. It is easy for employees to be less than supportive if job rotation appears to be a top-down initiative on the part of the administration. Getting buy-in of the
participants will eliminate some of this. Communication is key—make staff aware that the first priority is how to best use resources to benefit the public, which requires staff to sometimes compromise on their specific preferences. One further challenge is having multiple supervisors collaborate on an employee’s performance evaluation due to a staff member having worked at more than one location. As library administration flattens, many employees will find themselves reporting to multiple supervisors. With suitable communication between managers,
an appraisal can actually offer many opportunities for constructive feedback.

After six months in their new positions, branch managers noted that, yes, being in a new place does create a new perspective. We want to share the
following insights:

Going into things with a positive attitude starts things off on the right foot, even when anxieties remain present.

Moving gives managers the opportunity to see a branch with new eyes. One branch manager noted she was able to get backroom efficiencies started fairly quickly. And another manager gained traction in getting the sheriff’s presence at one of the smallest JCL locations.

Some staff do struggle with a management change, especially longtime staff who are set in their ways. Other staff really blossom under new

New management is often able to proceed with staff disciplinary measures that the other manager had been unable to implement.

A new job often creates a freshness to the employee’s perspective and motivation, allowing him or her to work in a better way. And as Brené Brown would say, “You have to get
in the arena, take the risk, and face the fear.”[13]

As part of the branch manager change process, we decided to evaluate the rotation for branch managers on a three-to-five year cycle so that we did not end up back in the same rut. In addition, after seeing the process, the youth services lead librarians chose to use the same process, and some of those staff made a shift to different locations. In both cases, we learned the following important lessons:
*Employees are the library’s most valuable resource.
*Motivation is important; job rotation can and often does increase motivation.
*Clear and timely communication throughout the process is important to allay fears.
*Emphasize the importance of building a “culture of change.”
*Other employee groups could benefit from this process in the future.
*If the idea is presented in terms of career development, it might result in retaining employees.
*When recruiting, emphasize that employees are hired for the system, not a branch.
*This process potentially helps build a succession management plan.

In any case, whether you individually or your organization is looking for movement, we encourage you to start the conversation and see where it
takes you.

References & NOTES

  1. Richard Malinski, “Job Rotation in an Academic Library,” Library
    Trends 50, no. 4 (Spring 2002): 673–80.

2. See, e.g., Halelly Azulay, “Learning Beyond the Comfort Zone,”
Talent Development, January 2013, 76–77; Malinski, “Job Rotation”;
Janell Pierce, “Job Rotation: Beyond Your Own Branches,”
Library Journal, July 2001, 48–50; Mary K. Pratt, “Job Swapping
for Fun and Profit,” Computerworld, September 2007, 34–38;
Judith Sills, “Lily Pad or Jump?” Psychology Today, September
2007, 65–66.

3. One article in particular was instrumental in shaping the JCL
managers’ thoughts: Michael Fontenot, “The Ambidextrous
Librarian, or ‘You Can Teach a Middle Age Dog Some New
Tricks!’,” Reference & User Services Quarterly (Fall 2008).

4. Pierce, “Job Rotation: Beyond Your Own Branches.”

5. Some variations included (1) one branch staff person spending
one day a week at a different branch for eight weeks (Marion
County [FL] Public Library, in discussion with Terry Velasquez,
2016); (2) the branch services group doing job rotation periodically
(Austin [TX] Public Library, in discussion with Terry Velasquez,
2016); (3) staff rotation offered as a training component
(Tulsa [OK] Public Library, in discussion with Terry Velasquez,
2016); (4) five teams of two people rotating to the “new” branch
one day a week (Chula Vista [CA] Public Library, in discussion
with Terry Velasquez, 2016); (5) rotating reference librarians
(Fauquier County [VA] Public Library, in discussion with Terry
Velasquez, 2016); (6) one staff member moved to another location
with all remaining assignments, programs, and tasks rotated
amongst the other staff (Prairie West Branch, Souixland [SD]
Libraries, in discussion with Terry Velasquez, 2016); and (7) four
veteran librarians traded places for six months using a “career
enhancement opportunity program” (Pierce, “Job Rotation”).

6. Kinsey Riggs and Julia Timmins, “The Johnson County Library
Staffing Exchange Experiment,” Public Libraries 54, no. 3(May/
June 2015).

7. Robin Davin, administrative support clerk, JCL, in discussion
with Monica Duffield, 2018.

8. Josh Neff, information specialist, JCL, in discussion with Monica
Duffield, 2018.

9. Roxanne Belcher, branch manager, JCL, in discussion with
Monica Duffield, 2018.

10. Kristin Holdman-Ross, assistant branch manager, JCL, in discussion
with Monica Duffield, 2018.

11. Ken Werne, branch manager, JCL, in discussion with Monica
Duffield, 2018.

12. Pierce, “Job Rotation: Beyond Your Own Branches.”

13. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable
Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York:
Gotham, 2012).