by Toby Pearlstein, Boston Chapter, Business & Finance, Leadership & Management Divisions
by James Matarazzo, Boston Chapter, Leadership & Management Division
“The Future is Not Set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”1
Since the most recent recession began in late 2007, all types of libraries and especially corporate libraries, have found themselves struggling to weather ever more turbulent times. In fact, turbulence seems to be the one constant we can all count on in a business environment that has become increasingly ambiguous.
Beginning about two and one-half years ago, we began writing a series of articles for Searcher Magazine addressing the topic of Survival Skills for Librarians and through our research, trying to understand to what extent IS professionals allow themselves to be victims of this turbulence and how they might proactively contribute to their own survival. Whether writing about the dangers of misunderstanding the kind of business case your management expects2, or being caught by surprise when your management pulls the rug (i.e. staff and space) out from under you3, or how IS must drive the analysis of the benefits of alternate sourcing4, or figuring out the implications for your IS of a corporate takeover5, or taking risks in applying your IS skill set in entrepreneurial ways within your organization6, or thinking about what’s going on in the information professional as a whole so you can decide whether or not you need to repurpose your existing skills or learn new skills to match up with the opportunities that are available7, our central theme continues to be the absolute requirement for IS professionals to be tuned in to what’s happening in their organization so that they may own and be responsible for the means of their survival. This can only be accomplished through the overarching principle of alignment with the parent organization’s vision and mission. A critical component of ensuring alignment is strategic planning: the right kind of strategic planning.
Writing in the Financial Times on July 7, 2011, Professor Hans H. Hinterhuber calls the reader’s attention to the general definition of strategy espoused by Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the Prussian general staff and considered to be one of the greatest strategists of all time. Hinterhuber quotes von Moltke: “Strategy is the evolvement of the original guiding idea according to continually changing circumstances.”8
We would argue that strategic planning helps bring the imagination and creativity so necessary for survival into focus. Four actions form the basis of the kind of pragmatic and ongoing planning process that von Moltke
- Develop an internal vision statement (one the mirrors that of your organization and outlines IS’s contribution to that vision)
- Refine this with the involvement of your stakeholders (so that it is their needs, rather than your perception of their needs, that drives the process)
- Create a 360 degree view of the information needs of your organization (understand thoroughly how IS contributes to bottom line success)
- Identify and prioritize target audiences (trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for disaster).
There are two survival tools that can inform your strategic thinking on an ongoing basis as outlined below. Both the Predictive Model and the Balanced Score Card can help you frankly assess your situation. The
Predictive Model identifies 5 red flags that you need to be constantly watching for:
- Decisions are being made at the top without consulting IS users
- There has been a reduction in the number of IS customers
- Outside resources (both within your organization and outside) are competing for your customers
- You are not evaluating your services on a regular basis in ways relevant to your organization’s vision and mission
- There is evidence of a financial crisis in your parent organization.
Using the Balanced Score Card (illustrated below) on an ongoing basis can help you figure out if elements of the Predictive Model exist and can help you measure what you do so that you’ll have the data to inform your strategy for providing the services your organization values.
Von Moltke suggests that strategy is an ad hoc system of expedients and “nothing else than the application of good common sense.” Strategic Planning can no longer be a three or five year exercise. The organizations we support and the work environment are simply changing too quickly. We find ourselves having to prove our worth every day. The increased information literacy of our clients is driving us to “up our game.” In today’s tumultuous environment, self-defense is the best offense, if you want to survive. Thinking and planning strategically on an ongoing basis so that you can be the master of your own fate is a critical tool for that survival.
Source: Pearlstein & Matarazzo. May not be reproduced without permission
1 Terminator 2, Judgement Day.
2 Matarazzo, James and Toby Pearlstein. “Resuscitated! The EPA Libraries’ Near-Death Experience.” Searcher, May 2009.
3 ——. “Survival Lessons for Libraries – Corporate Libraries: A Soft Analysis and A Warning.” Ibid., June 2009.
4 ——. “Survival Lessons for Libraries – Alternate Sourcing: A Critical Component of Your Survival Toolkit.” Ibid., September 2009.
5 ——. “Scenario Planning as Preventative Medicine: The Case of the Unexpected Takeover.” Ibid., December 2009.
6 ——. “Survival Lessons for Librarians – Staying Aﬂoat in Turbulent Waters: News/Media Libraries Hit Hard.” Ibid., May 2010
7 ——. “Survival Lessons for Libraries: A Microcosm Points to Broader Implications. Positions Advertised in For-Proﬁt Libraries in New England 2006-2009.” Ibid., December 2010.
8 Hinterhuber, Prof. Hans H. “Dose of common sense helps make the best strategy.” Financial Times, July 6, 2011, p.8
Toby Pearlstein is retired Director, Global Information Services, Bain & Company, Inc. a global management consulting firm. James Matarazzo is Dean and Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College.