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New Way of Thinking

Johnson County Library

Problem Statement

JCL Staff members sometimes demonstrate bureaucratically rigid behavior in response to complex patron problems. Such behavior is not the result of willful disregard for good customer service, but a need to follow the rules at any cost. Barriers to good service: worst-case scenario thinking assumes bad motives in patrons; literal-mindedness, rote-thinking, low tolerance for ambiguity; culture of complaint and negativity; fear of making mistakes, moving beyond one’s comfort zone; massive procedural documentation, procedures are overpowering the values and policies; weak decision-making skills in staff; impatience, lack of empathy with certain populations.


Change the organizational culture with a broad-based, in-depth, and ongoing approach to service that sets staff free to solve problems and adapt, wherever possible, to the needs of each patron. We set these goals: live our customer service value; give staff reasoning tools; set staff free to solve problems; de-emphasize rules and procedures; change terminology to expressions with positive wording.

Our overall approach was through a New Way of Thinking (NWOT) Committee, which consisted of members from several departments: Administration, Circulation, Branch Managers, and Training / Development.


Our NWOT initiative has touched every part of the organization, at some level—
  • Interviewing. When interviewing potential new staff, we’ve revamped our interview questions and introduced a ‘role-play’ activity that puts candidates in a situation where staff can measure their attitude, ability to think on their feet, and how they’ll react to questions.
  • Orientation. We’ve kicked off a successful New Employee Orientation program (NEO), which gives new staff a solid foundation of institutional values, lets them meet with senior management to discuss policies and their role in the organization, and gives them training on our ILS software, all within the first week of hire. This program has been so successful for new staff that existing staff are clamoring to go through it.
  • Decision-Making. To fulfill NWOT’s goals, we implemented two new classes, Decision Making and Top 10 Policies. Each of these offerings is meant to give staff a basic understanding of how to make an informed decision when a situation arises that doesn’t fit neatly into a set of conditions.
  • Policies and Procedures. We’ve reformatted our policies and procedures to have easier-to-understand language. Also included is the purpose of the policy/procedure (a ‘big picture’ summary) and a clearer process map of which steps to follow (and in which order).