Purpose and Productivity

How leaders can empower their team through reskilling

January 2, 2024

Cathryn M. Copper

In many libraries and organizations, it is leadership that shapes employees’ expectations and their growth opportunities. As a new year begins, let’s evaluate how those who manage teams can foster a better workplace by providing ways for workers to reskill, or develop new skills outside their current expertise.

First, leaders should create a clear sense of purpose for their teams. For example, if you have decided that you’d like to increase risk-taking and experimentation in your organization, that should filter down through everything you do. You must realize the impact you can have on an organization and remember that your actions motivate and inspire others. Communicating expectations and modeling positive behaviors is the most effective way to bring about change.

When employees enjoy and are passionate about their work, they are more engaged and productive. Take the time to understand your employees’ strengths and skill sets and what type of work each team member favors. This can help leaders make informed decisions about how staffers can contribute to ensure the best outcomes for projects of all kinds. For example, if a staffer gets excited about planning and executing a vision, leverage that enthusiasm and ask them to lead a design thinking exercise during the ideation phase. Another staffer may enjoy analyzing user needs, a skill set that is indispensable during the evaluation phase. If you are unsure of your team members’ interests, ask them during meetings or have them complete a survey.

To reskill, it is necessary to create opportunities where people can practice skills or learn new ones. Consider organizing training with your team. This is a chance to engage in new processes, methodologies, and technologies that are essential to experimentation.

Institutional or professional cross-training programs can have a considerable impact on undoing existing silos and sparking new ideas across departments. If your organization does not have a formal cross-training program, reach out to colleagues whose work you are interested in and learn more about what they do. You can glean a lot from talking with colleagues in other departments or disciplines, and all of you may decide to start an informal cross-training initiative. There is no substitute for the chance to directly observe colleagues or engage with them on new skills and ideas.

Another way for employees to develop new skills is through mentor­ing, which can help them achieve career goals and build confidence. If your organization does not have a mentoring program, consider implementing one. Ones that pair newcomers with experienced senior staffers could have lasting benefits beyond reskilling.

It’s also important for teams to have the ability to review a project. As librarians, most of us are trained in collecting and analyzing user experience data. Tap into this expertise on your team to improve your knowledge of evaluation techniques. Build the capacity to include user feedback as a required task for your team, which can help prioritize assessment.

If you are a leader who is empowered to make change, include benchmarks and outcomes related to reskilling in your strategic plans. Setting the tone in these documents can be transformative, especially when such goals align with the mission, vision, and values supporting organizational change and innovation.

Recognizing the skills on your team and where members need development is a hallmark of being an effective leader. To cultivate a more productive work environment, be sure to encourage everyone’s ideas and acknowledge everyone’s accomplishments. When you spot talent, nurture it—and give those under your leadership the freedom to do what they do best.

Adapted from The Experimental Library by Cathryn M. Copper (ALA Editions, 2023).


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