This situation appears to be all too common among the vast majority of librarians I’ve heard from, especially library directors. So, what is it with that situation? How do busy directors and managers have time to plan for a better future for their library?
Apparently, one of the major obstacles is simply the volume of issues facing librarians today. A good friend metropolitan library director sent me the following list of day-to-day requirements. [Makes me tired just reading it.]
• Security: guards, crisis plans, theft from patrons of material and anything not nailed down (someone stole a fake plant), homeless issues (bathing in the toilets), illegal drug use (the doing, the ODs, the needles, the aftermath of the person ON drugs), drinking (in the library, leaving bottles hidden behind books, or just being drunk), mentally ill (violence, are they on or off their meds, and unfortunately you get to know them well enough you know, disturbing others), medical issues, with long term homeless or drug users, which include seizures, collapses, involuntary loss of bodily fluid control (vomit, urination, defecation), theft by staff of overdue fine money or materials, vandalism of library property inside and outside,
• Personnel: discipline, behavior, hiring firing, schedules, social issues (dealing with conflicting personalities), staff shortages, training or lack of, staff manuals, union negotiations, human resources (benefits, civil service – in places that have it -, pensions, workers comp, unemployment insurance, etc.)
• Budget: heaven help me – where do you start? year budget, audits, accountants, forecasting, going out for bid an contract by law,
• Legal: making sure you do everything right, and have a great labor attorney
There is more, but I think for those of you who have been there – you know first hand. For those who have not, I think you get the idea.
“Planning for Those Too Busy to Plan”, an article by Heather Berthoud & Bob Greene, Berthoud Consulting, addresses this subject pretty well. “Being too busy to plan is like running alongside your bicycle because you’re too busy to get on.”
Finding better ways to check-off to-do items still begs the questions, “are these to-do items truly important?” and, “where are these activities leading us?” Planning is about establishing priorities.
As consultants, we often hear: “we tried planning before, and it didn’t help.” Unfortunately planning is often confused with wishful thinking, lofty mission statements, and long to-do lists disconnected from environmental trends or organizational resources. Instead, planning should identify strategic responses to a changing environment and establish doable, measurable action steps. [Emphasis added.]
The article goes on to offer some very useful suggestions for short-, medium-, and long-term planning. The authors conclude that, “If you are too busy to engage in planning now, short- and medium-term fixes may be necessary. Recognize, though, that sometimes the busy-ness is a result of taking on too many disconnected tasks because “they seem like good ideas” and not because they are driven by a plan for the future.” [Emphasis added.]
In light of the multitude of disparate tasks described above, this approach to fixing the problem of no planning seems very simplistic. But, the point is that one must separate the routine demands from the overall vision and plan, so they do not lose sight of that bigger plan – that larger vision.
Truly successful businesses excel in at least one of three key areas and adequately execute in the others depending upon the strategic focus they choose in delivering outstanding service to customers. These key areas are:
1. Product Excellence – Strategies that deliver the best product (or service) at the best value – e.g., Apple;
2. Customer Intimacy – Strategies that cultivate relationships and satisfy the unique needs of customers – e.g., Nike;
3. Operational Excellence – Strategies that deliver efficiency, low costs and make doing business simple and hassle-free – e.g., Wal-Mart.
Achieving excellence in these areas requires attention to 10 key critical success factors:
Many business owners say they are too busy working in the business to be able to concentrate on all these areas. Which is the reason why planning becomes so essential. It is the vital process that focuses your attention on the critical issues that will insure long-term success for your business. The development of winning strategies and their implementation requires effective planning and analysis to understand where your business is now, where you want it to be in the future, and how you are going to achieve your goals. [Emphasis added.]
The three key areas noted are especially applicable to the 21st Century Library – Product (Service) Excellence – Customer Intimacy – Operational Excellence. In order to achieve any of these the director and staff must PLAN.
One remedy I’ve read about and found successful is just start small to change. Start small – accomplish one short-term goal – and then keep going. Before long you’ll have an appreciation for how successful planning can be. Hopefully, that will develop a desire to make it work on the larger scale of a Strategic Plan.