Purposeful change management

Any kind of change can be challenging. Humans are naturally hesitant to change for very good reason. Unexpected change? Well, that can be traumatic. And if the crisis management we’ve all experienced over the past two years has taught us anything, it’s that change management can no longer be an afterthought. And yes, change and crisis management are different. Too often our approach is to wait for the effort to be in crisis before taking action.

As we shake off the stress of constant reactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s take control with purposeful change. There’s no better time to reflect and learn from experiences, good and bad, and help your organization not only move out of crisis mode, but also be better for it.

Changing on purpose

I recently spent some time reviewing the “New Model Library: Pandemic Effects and Library Directions” briefing. The organization and visualization tool helps understand current strengths and weaknesses, a key ingredient for successful change management activities. And the learner guide explained by my colleagues in a recent post provides a grid for thinking about experiences you’d like to analyze and transform.

Let’s say that we want to consider how to improve collections experiences for users, like the resources provided and how people find and interact with them. In this example, we’ve identified that there are great online resources and an effective resource sharing service. But, when we need to digitize something, it takes a lot longer than our users expect. How can we use the New Model Library grid to think about proactive changes?

It probably doesn’t make sense to try to improve more than one area at a time. So, if we take stock of other strengths, we can think about aligning them with the change you’re focusing on. For example, you may have some training budget and good internal teamwork. Maybe there’s opportunity to cross-train someone to do more digitization? But it should not be the person who is already tapped out because they’re the only one who knows how to set up and provide online training programs, even if some of their skills might closely align with the digitization project.

In real life, your analysis would (and should) be much more detailed. And I also recommend gathering general and specific feedback, including opportunities for staff to identify areas for improvement and a formal process for getting input on a specific direction.

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Using the tool to assess how your community views you in terms of your mission can also be beneficial. It will provide context to help evaluate what permanent changes might benefit users most, rather than just being different for the sake of it … which can often be annoying.

Moving quickly in the right direction

My guess is that you’ve probably pieced together the right course of action for my hypothetical library:

  • Focus on improving our on-demand digitization capabilities
  • Leverage our existing training budget
  • Don’t impact our training staff
  • Rely on our existing teamwork

As you can see, using the framework helps pull disparate pieces together and identify constraints to draw meaningful conclusions about how to move forward.

Unexpected change is part of life. I think we all know this now all too well. And libraries will adapt and meet those challenges with focus, purpose, and action. Sometimes in familiar ways, sometimes with solutions that are surprising and inspiring. At the same time, this is the moment to take charge of our future and change in ways that we control. Your staff and your community will thank you.