The High Performing Library


The majority of libraries are not excellent libraries in terms of being able to exceed all standards, all employees having a positive attitude, providing excellent services, being customer focused, being an integral part of the community, and achieving their full potential. Despite the many reasons why this situation exists, the goal of virtually every library is to be the best possible library that they can be. The problem becomes how to achieve excellence from your current library situation by first recognizing where you are as an organization, and then deciding what type of organization you want to be.

The High Performance Programming (HPP) model was created by Linda Nelson and Frank Burns (Organization Transformation, 1983) and offers a perspective to assess what kind of organization you are – what kind of library organization you are:
• Reactive
• Responsive
• Proactive, or
• High Performing.

The High Performance Programming model illustrates a way of thinking about the process and strategies that can assist in transforming an organization into a high performing one. The structure of the model provides a nested framework for diagnosing current levels of performance, as well as for understanding the potential for performance at the highest levels. The term “programming” is used to emphasize the fact that an organization’s present performance level is a function of past implicit and explicit operating actions.

In the same manner, future performance will be determined by how the organization’s culture is being shaped now. This critical issue is the key to unlocking the performance potential of an organization. Leadership is the key to shaping the organization’s culture.

This graphic representation shows three frames of reference that make up the body of the HPP model, plus the REACTIVE frame of reference.

Each of these four states represents a distinct operating frame of reference. With the exception of the REACTIVE frame, these frames are nested one inside the next to reflect a basic concept of the model that each larger frame builds upon and provides an enhanced cultural context for the frame(s) within it. The PROACTIVE frame is an extension of and enhancement of the RESPONSIVE frame, and so on.

Frames of Reference: The concept of frames of reference, as applied here, is a useful way of examining the difference between organizational change efforts that merely re-sort and re-label the organization’s elements and functions, from change efforts that truly result in a new and transformed organization. Actual improved performance will result only if there is also a corresponding change in the frame of reference of the people in the organization beginning with the leader. Change in today’s environment is no longer a choice, it is a requirement. Its direction may take different forms.

An organization facing increasing complexity and change, such as the 21st Century Library, will either evolve toward a more connected and integrated form or drift into an increasingly fragmented condition. The fragmented condition is termed REACTIVE because it is drifting toward a fragmented survivalist condition. Organizations desiring to evolve toward a high performing condition can follow the High Performance Programming model which provides new ways for leaders to think coherently about how they can influence the transformation to excellence.

The REACTIVE Library:
The REACTIVE state is not the state where most organizations have their beginning. But, it is the state where many organizations find themselves stagnating and struggling for survival. In these organizations members do not; share a common purpose, have a sense of accomplishment, feel as though the leadership really cares, share a value system, or demonstrate the characteristics of excellence. The eleven dimensions shown in Figure 2 can be used to diagnose the culture of REACTIVE organizations. The air of “covering your rear” and “putting out fires” pervades the atmosphere in REACTIVE libraries. Leadership assumes the role of law enforcement, compliance with policies and procedures, and sheer survival are the motivators for most people. The lack of shared purpose has a telling effect on the structure of the library. The structure, despite its meat appearance on paper, is in reality a fragmented collection of separate elements, often working at cross purposes and competing over resources and territory.

Another lethal aspect of REACTIVE libraries is the almost total lack of caring about people. Subordinates have an unwillingness to tell their leader bad news. The leader rarely praises people for good work because “that’s what they get paid for.” People become insensitive in order to survive and “shut down” in these painful environments. Leaders also contribute to the perpetuation of this type environment by becoming blind to individuals and focused only on the short term perceived success of “kicking butt.”

The RESPONSIVE Library:
To move the organization out of a REACTIVE frame of reference into a RESPONSIVE one requires a carefully balanced approach that entails both patience and leadership. Change must occur in the frame of reference of the members and the organization concurrently. Positive leadership to clarify goals, values and the worth of the individual must be implemented in a way that builds mutual trust. This HPP model proposes that leaders must begin by re-focusing the organization on clearly defined goals, developing action plans for accomplishing tasks, solving problems, building teams and using the “situational leadership” model developed by Hersey and Blanchard (Management of Organizational Behavior , 1986).

A successful transformation from REACTIVE to RESPONSIVE type library will result in the changes depicted in the Model. Members are focused on producing results in the present through planned activities to achieve near term, clearly defined organizational goals. The leader is a coach and mentor that motivates group members by meaningful participation, rewarding high performance and incentives based on merit.

The PROACTIVE Library:
The PROACTIVE frame of reference requires looking to the future and seizing the initiative. It is a frame of reference from which leaders see the future as a choice to be made rather than as a situation to be endured. It is a view of the future as something to be chosen, not something waiting to happen. The critical factor in moving beyond the RESPONSIVE frame of reference is for the library to have a well established value system. The vision of the future must be one that is widely shared by library members, congruent with their value system, and an attractive and compelling force for them. For example; President John F. Kennedy proposed his vision of a man on the moon by the end of the 60s decade for America. Neil Armstrong did just that in July of 1969.

The vision of the future needs to communicate a choice that places high value on people – caring. People are simply not willing to put forth personal effort beyond being RESPONSIVE unless they feel the library they work for is their library that values them personally and professionally. The future vision must reflect a commitment to human values from which people derive a deep sense of personal meaning and satisfaction. High purpose, to be achieved, must be based on high order values. Thus, an enormous amount of energy that might otherwise be tied up developing, perpetuating and enforcing official rules is released to work on attaining the desired future state.

Achieving a PROACTIVE culture in your library requires “transformational” leadership that interacts with followers at the values level, as opposed to merely activating them at the material level. The transformational leader relates to the whole person of their followers by finding ways of developing their potentials and satisfying their higher needs. Genuine transformational leadership demands a resolute commitment to fundamental ethics and integrity, demonstrated “through congruent behavior. The role of leadership in PROACTIVE libraries is to keep the members purposed and well-tuned. The results of these leadership efforts are in the diagram.

The HIGH PERFORMING Library:
The more progressive perspective afforded by the PROACTIVE frame of reference is still insufficient to generate the level of performance observed in HIGH PERFORMING organizations. The phenomenon of library excellence is characterized by a high level of energy that unleashes human spirit and results in a marked improvement in productivity. The leaders of HIGH PERFORMING libraries have found ways of managing the flow of energy patterns and the human spirit these energy patterns release, as well as attend to those indicators with dedication that equals or often exceeds their dedication to the more visible performance results.

The HIGH PERFORMING library’s choices about strategy are made in the context of an underlying philosophy and “folk lore” that gives meaning to the library’s vision. The task of leadership becomes one of strategically navigating the library along a course established by the vision and the long range plans. Likewise, the performance management system required for a PROACTIVE library finds extra meaning in a HIGH PERFORMING library because it includes designing the plans for the library’s evolution.

Another key feature of the HIGH PERFORMING frame of reference is the emphasis on developing Metasystems as well as formal systems. Metasystems are groups, teams, or pockets of excellence within the larger organization to shape the cultural milieu throughout the library’s formal structure. Metasystems already exist in all libraries. Sometimes called the “good old boys” these informal structures provide pockets where leadership can begin to influence the desired value systems and spotlight the small successes. These can be used as think tanks for new ideas, for communicating (in both directions) with the organization informally, and for testing trends and moods of the organization. These informal leaders carry valuable influence which cannot be discounted or overlooked.

The kind of leadership required to achieve and sustain a HIGH PERFORMING library is nothing less than the excellent leadership described in literature. Excellent leaders also see their library as a contributing factor in the significant contributions to their community. In HIGH PERFORMING libraries the focus is on achieving high standards of excellence through identifying new potentials, seeking out new avenues of opportunity, and activating the human spirit. Leaders must have a frame of reference that extends beyond simply identifying results to be achieved. They must be able to see and feel the culture and spirit of the HIGH PERFORMING library through its members. Leaders operating in this state of flow are able to sustain for themselves (and communicate to their followers) an appreciation of the rich legacies, proud traditions and positive legends that are the valued roots of the HIGH PERFORMING library’s past.

The perspective of leaders operating in the HIGH PERFORMING frame of reference includes the importance of the synergistic effects of the library culture. As well as developing strongly cohesive teams and integrated sections, HIGH PERFORMING leaders look for ways of consciously strengthening their library by building a strong culture. They understand the uses of ceremony and ritual in creating and perpetuating the positive legends and proud traditions that give each member of the library a strong, proud heritage to maintain and reinforce. This attentiveness to the culture of the organization enables the leader to act in ways that support individual pursuit of excellence and fulfillment within the purposes and goals of the library.

Not only do leaders in HIGH PERFORMING libraries have the unique ability to think far into the future and keep their library aligned around a great vision, they have the parallel ability and courage to turn their people lose to pursue it. These leaders lead through their ability and willingness to empower their followers; to push power down into the hands of people so that they have the energy and freedom to seek adventure, creativity and innovation. Most importantly, they lead by virtue of caring deeply for their followers, which produces the mutual bond of strong emotional commitment and reciprocal loyalty that are the well-springs of excellence.

Summary: The High Performance Programming model provides a coherent framework for understanding the different levels of functional effectiveness that libraries can attain and the cultural frames of reference associated with each level. At the REACTIVE level, libraries are caught in frantic rounds of activity as their leaders think mainly of survival, enforcement of old rules and policies, and the protection of the old system. At the RESPONSIVE level, libraries handle their requirements competently as their leaders think mainly about building cohesive teams and solving problems as they arise. At the PROACTIVE level, libraries are oriented on achieving long term outcomes and their leaders think mainly about developing aligned and well-tuned people systems that are focused on a positive and purposeful future. At the HIGH PERFORMING level, libraries are flowing with excitement and spirit as their leaders think mainly about the further empowerment of their people so that together they can make even more significant contributions to the larger communities they ultimately serve.

A central concept in this model is that the three higher states of effectiveness are nested. That is, a PROACTIVE library must continue to be RESPONSIVE as well, and a HIGH PERFORMING library must also be PROACTIVE and RESPONSIVE. The frames of reference associated with each of these states are similarly nested. Leaders must not become so fixated on achieving a future state that they neglect to attend to the needs of the present, nor should they unleash their people completely without first making certain they are thoroughly aligned with the library mission and vision.

This High Performance Programming model brings into focus a coherent way to accomplish excellence within your library. As always, whether you make it happen depends on your willingness to put forth the necessary effort and dedication to exercise your leadership responsibilities excellently.

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