On Strategy and Communication

I had the opportunity to meet with some people from another unit today, which, I realized as we met, was the first meeting that was more than a “get to know you” lunch or coffee, in which I was the only library representative. It was a good meeting, we came up with some ideas about how we can work together, and I’m really looking forward to our future collaboration.

The thing that stuck with me long after the meeting is that the people I met with had no idea what the library is becoming. My library is in the process of recontextualizing what we do, reinventing what we are, and building something new. Thinking about it later, of course other groups on campus wouldn’t know all that we are up to.

Imagine their surprise and excitement when they saw the new furniture and spaces we have and learned about the new directions we’re going in. I mean, I’m excited by it and at this point it isn’t exactly new news to me.

The thing that stood out in the discussion is that they came from a framework of “the library is about quiet, no food, and study.” They were surprised to learn the second floor can get quite loud, and is busy even late in the evening. And they were also surprised to learn that there are empty pizza boxes in the trash outside my office during exams (which, no doubt, originally contained pizzas that were delivered to the library).

Part of this experience helped me remember that for many of our communities we’re still redefining what it is a library is. Especially a library on the front end of a reinvention, not only is there a lot of work to do internally but there is also a lot of work to do externally to tell the story of what the library is becoming.

So, between several conversations I’ve had lately, I’ve begun thinking about what we’re trying to do in this way:

values, purpose, vision, mission, strategy, goals, tactics

The values of the people working in the organization underpin all the work we do. That the organization has to have a driving purpose (e.g. “to empower the community,” “enable creativity,” etc.), which supports the vision of what the organization is to become. The vision has to support the mission for what the organization is doing (and that mission should be rooted in the values, purpose, and mission of the organization). From that you can derive strategic priorities which is a necessary step for identifying the goals or outcomes you want to see, which tells you which tactics to pursue. (Though, when thinking about it, some of this is driven by different perspectives. I can imagine someone arguing “purpose” and “mission” more more similar than not, or that mission drives vision. This is just the framework that makes the most sense to me at the moment.)

With a framework like this, it’s easy to decide what projects to invest time in…. it’s just a matter of if they are connected to this system of ideas.

It also simplifies the communication strategy. If you’re looking for stories to tell: you tell stories at the tactic and goals levels. If you’re good at telling stories, you use these tactical and goal driven stories to outline the bigger ideas of what you’re trying to do. When you’re trying to get the message of what the organization does, then you focus on the bigger picture, mission/vision/purpose/values ideas.

At least that’s how I’m thinking about it for now.

So I think the specific interesting stories we have, and how do they tie to the bigger philosophical reasons for our approach. But when I think about how to give an elevator speech about the library, I want to be sure to frame it from a philosophical standpoint, using specific tactics and outcomes as evidence supporting the argument.

Now, identifying values, crafting a purpose, vision, and/or mission statement… that’s an entirely different post.