Libraries wisely seem interested in how to climb the ladders and avoid the chutes. With nearly 30 years (yikes) experience working in and consulting for businesses, I have perspectives and ideas that may help. For starters, here are key imperatives that get organizations to higher ground:
Know your company
This involves taking an honest and hard look at your organization’s culture, resources and the value it delivers. What does it do really well and what does it stub its toe on? What is your company’s value proposition? Which of your products or services are best of breed and which are me-too offerings?
It’s really important to know these things because they inform everything else on the list.
Consultants will tell you that the top 2 providers of a given product/service have the vast majority of market share; all others divvy up the rest. They’ll also advise that you need to be the top provider in at least one thing and runner up in one or two others. So knowing your competition is just as important as knowing your own company. What do your competitors offer? Can you do it better or just as well? What are the gaps in their offering and can your company fill them better than another can? Are you able to deliver something no one else can?
Libraries have traditionally viewed themselves as outside the competitive realm, however the explosion of product and service providers over the past 30 years makes a new, competition-oriented mindset necessary. People have more and more alternatives to meet their needs. Given so many choices, what will draw them to a library?
Know your resources
Assuming you know your company well, where do you turn for help outside your core competencies?
Libraries tend to rely heavily on other libraries for innovations, best practices and affirmation. It’s time for them to open up to more outside help. I’m confident residents and community members with specific expertise like marketing, publicity, event recruitment and technology would be willing to share it if they felt their advice was valued and volunteer time well spent. They’ll just as readily withdraw if they grow frustrated by library staff and Friends that cannot truly welcome new ideas and new people.
Protect the brand
Really important. I’ll take a close look at this in the next post.
Be goal oriented, and specific
Setting goals is an inherent part of running a good business. Well-run businesses continually set specific goals for themselves. Their employees have personal goals, goals for their departments and more frequently for teams and projects as well. Employees also need to be aware of and contribute to the company’s goals. In business, we got lotza goals and ask the same question of every one: is it measurable — for if the goal isn’t measurable, how will we know it’s been met?
We use the specifics of a goal to help drive new ideas and assess the value of work activities. If what we’re doing brings us closer to achievement, we keep doing it. If not we make adjustments, reassess, and abandon anything that’s not working. It’s a continuous process and becomes second nature once you get the hang of it.
Turn challenges into opportunities
Well-run businesses are pretty good at this. Sometimes the challenge arises out of pain reduction — employees will deem something a waste of time and figure out how to make it better. Or a customer rejects a product or service. At other times a manager might initiate a challenge by saying “We’ve got a lot to get done this season and can’t afford to spend so much time on [work activity]. How can we get ahead of it this time?” Either way, there is motivation to improve quality or reduce cost. In business we’re always looking for a 2-fer or 3-fer, and so regardless of the impetus we incorporate providing better service, reducing cost and promoting the brand into everything we do.
Institutional culture is key here. Does your library have specific and measurable goals to help drive success? Are employees empowered? Are they rewarded for making things better?