Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Listen close you hear what I'm about

So, let's talk about strategic planning.

If you work in a library or you belong to a professional association, you may have been caught up in the tidal wave of strategic planning. And from the outside, it may look like all talk and no action. Or it may look like a bunch of talk that impedes action. At least, that's the sense that I get from the unhappy rumblings about the idea of strategic plannings that I've heard from within librarianship. There is a sense, I think that engaging in a strategic planning process has the capacity to take us away from the ever-changing circumstances that we encounter as library workers.

And I suppose, I can appreciate the idea that underlies this sentiment. As library workers, we don't want to lose sight of the communities we serve and the circumstances that can change rapidly within those communities. We should aspire to respond quickly and thoughtfully to those circumstances and the needs they surface for the community. And we should not reduce our communities, those circumstances, or those needs to talking points in a written strategic plan.

But having said that, I think that strategic plans are unbelievably important for libraries and our professional associations because they give leaders at every level the opportunity to define what they organization is going to be about for a given period of time. The strategic planning process allows organizations to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It gives organizations the opportunity to reassess their values. And when all of that is done, organizations decide on a direction for a given period of time and decide how resources will be allocated in service of that vision. What I think is so important about strategic planning in libraries and in our professional associations is that it gives us a compass for individual library workers and association volunteers to orient our work. Each individual project and program can be evaluated using the strategic plan as a lens. And projects and programs carried out within different parts of an organization that are in service of the same strategic plan seem more alike than different. An organization's strategic plan is something that unifies all parts of an organization that seem disparate.

But as much as I can appreciate the desire to be responsive and nimble, this feeling that we need to eschew strategic planning is short sighted. First, I think that not having a strategic plan means that your organization isn't all rowing in the same direction. Sure, if you have a solid organization culture you may be operating with the same values. But the programs and projects carried out within different parts of the organization may be in service of the mission of those parts and carried out to serve their own ends rather than to serve the strategic direction of the organization as a whole. Second, I don't think that operating under a strategic plan makes an organization inherently less nimble. Library workers can still respond to the changing circumstances within their communities and reflect the changing needs of the community back to its members. That doesn't change because you have a certain strategic direction. It just means that the projects and programs library workers choose to implement to meet a community's needs will work within a certain framework or construct. I also think it's worth stating explicitly that your organization's strategic plan should be community-centered at the outset as to avoid this false tension between working within a strategic direction framework and serving your community.

In the end, I think it's more important than ever that libraries and our professional associations take the time to figure out what we're about. We need to be clear about our strengths weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. We need to be clear about the values that drive our work. And we need to be intentional about how the resources needed to meet our established strategic directions are allocated. Doing all of this work doesn't mutually exclude the capacity for libraries and our professional associations to be nimble and responsive. In fact, I would (and hopefully have) argued that one is directly related, and intrinsically linked, to the other.

Stay positive,

No comments: