Reinventing the Organization

Jim Collins (author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t)  says greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline. This is really hopeful news, because it gives us control over our destiny in these uncertain times.

Here’s what I think conscious choice and discipline can mean:

Conscious: Know what should never change. Revisit your core values and timeless purpose. For tools to help you do that, see Collins’ Web  site.

Choice: Determine the strategic value of your organization in the context of your community. Know where you fit in, and be at the table when important community decisions are made. Don’t limit yourself to participation in kindred organizations. For example, libraries have traditionally aligned with education and literacy, but librarians should also be involved in economic development initiatives, community planning, recreation and other areas of community building.

Discipline: Create a culture of shared leadership and discipline in your organization. A recent partnership between the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation explored how local governments can use their public libraries in more innovative ways. Here are the leadership skills that may be important in this new environment:

  • Participate. Leaders belong “at the table” with other local decision makers, involved in overall planning for community betterment and service provision.
  • Share your mission. Service providers should know and share the strategic mission of local government. They should find areas of commonality and ways to share resources and efforts with government departments.
  • Build partnerships. Partnerships with public agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector strengthen programs. Effective partnerships require time and effort to establish, but they are worth the effort if they support the vision of the community.
  • Appreciate diversity. Differing cultural norms (organizational and community norms, for example) should be recognized, understood, and respected; and adjustments should be made as needed in program planning and execution. Flexibility and adaptability are key characteristics, needed by all involved in joint ventures.
  • Communicate. Communicating with partners, stakeholders, and the larger community is important to grow and nurture partnerships.
  • Foster champions. Champions and advocates are important to make programs successful and sustainable. Champions have a clear understanding of the organization’s services and the role it plays in the quality of life of a community. They can contribute support in any number of ways, including time, funds, influence, services, goods, and related items.

[Adapted from Donelan, Molly and Liz Miller. “Public Libraries Daring to be Different.” PM Magazine 92 (September 2010).]

How do you plan to reinvent your organization in this new economic and political environment?

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