Public Libraries: Dancing through the Minefield of Change

change will reinvigorate libraries

Libraries are at the forefront of Organizational Change.

If you had to put an underlying theme on my career, or even my life, its that I try to level the playing field by clarifying the rules of the game for those who are outside the “in-crowd.”

That’s why I love public libraries. They are an attempt to provide information to those who might have no access to it otherwise. If you go back as little as 100 years you’ll see how rare it was for many people to own more than one or two books or get an education past the 8th grade level. Libraries gave people a chance to catch up, or be exposed to what they had missed.  And if you couldn’t afford private tutors or travel to a large city to buy countless books on a subject, libraries brought the world of knowledge to you, if you wanted it. Is learning to play the violin from a book the same as learning from Itzhak Perlman? Heck no, but it’s a start.

Libraries also try to purchase and source credible materials for their collections. Best practices include buying well-researched books that promote opposing viewpoints.  For every “pro this” book, you were to also purchase a “pro that” book. There was a certain trust factor with the collection at the library offered scholarly, balanced, validated information. How can Librarians curate the internet? Every whack job in the world can publish on the internet if they want to (Exhibit A right here).

Now libraries are having to change with the times, caught in a squeeze between decreasing funding, new technology and a changing user pool. Do they invest their scant funds in books? Or in computer systems to grant internet access? Or do they lease “ebooks” in order to increase the availability of titles for their patrons but then not “own” the book?   Some libraries are now promoting the use of their space as a community gathering spot, a learning hub type environment, but others, stuck with a limited budget and small facilities are having to get very creative.

And how do you decide? If you were the head of the library system or on the library board, what choices do you make?

Five years ago you could make the argument that there was still a significant portion of the population without internet access. The advances in smart phones changed that. There are still many people in the US without access, but the overall curve has moved significantly (its not unusual to find someone whose electricity has been cut off but they won’t let their phone get cut off!).

So, do you provide more internet access? Or offer more e-books? Digitize the current collection? Do you clear out the physical books to make room for your own servers? And do you even keep a physical “library” building anymore?  Will school age kids still make the obligatory “field trip to the public library” to get library cards? What new advances will we be seeing in just five years, most likely the timeline it would take for most public institutions to execute a major change? (You haven’t lived until you’ve had to work through a government RFP or RFQ process).

How do you get public support for an institution that served such a vital function for so many? Is there some new, magnificent function that libraries can serve that will somehow allow for those who don’t “have”, to at least glimpse the world of “what can be”?

I don’t know the answer for public libraries but an Oscar nominated film team is exploring how some libraries are coming to terms with finding their answers. Here’s a sneak preview:

What would you do? What do you think libraries should do? Share in the comments.

book by Jeanne Goldie

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What are you prepared to do?! (cue Sean Connery)

What are you prepared to do?

Eliot Ness knew when to double down. And don’t bring a knife to a gun fight either!

Business success requires you to get down in the dirt and fight. It’s not theory in a business book. It’s day to day, minute to minute, choices.

Your “non” choices can hurt you even more than your active choices. “Decision by not deciding” is usually more deadly than making a wrong choice. Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon. There are no points in life for “not deciding” your way into a mess, but we often treat the messy results as “not my fault” because we didn’t actively choose our path.

So what are you prepared to do?! (Feel free to re-enact Sean Connery saying this line in The Untouchables. It will make you smile.)

1. What are the five most important things you need to do to immediately impact your success?

2. What are the five problems/situations/people you’ve been dodging/ignoring/sweeping under the rug?

3. What are five things you’re currently doing that aren’t driving revenue/creating the change you want but still need to get done? Can you delegate them, minimize them, automate them?

Taking Action:

Sit down for  15 minutes. Make the lists. Title them: Do, Deal With, Delegate. (I’m hoping you can tell which is which!). They don’t have to be perfect. They do have to be items that would have significant impact on your business revenue/project success/ enjoyment of life.

Next Step:

Do, deal with or delegate one thing on each list. Right now. Yes, now.

No, not next week. Not when your horoscope suggests you turn over a new leaf. Not after American Idol. Now.

And decide which thing you will Do, Deal With or Delegate tomorrow.

Eliot Ness and Jim Malone would be proud of you.

Need a reminder of what a blood oath is? Watch here.

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Have you gotten our copy of “Reading the Terrain” yet? Its a great way to speed read a company, either a new one you may be considering working with or even the one you’re at right now. Its free, just subscribe at right.

#3 of 3 Great Reasons why what Worked for you Before, isn’t Working Now.

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it stopped? Here’s three reasons why it may have stopped working

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

Joined us in the middle? See Reason #1 and Reason #2

Reason #3. Your product is wearing the wrong clothes.

Your product/business/idea may be great, but it may be dressed in the wrong packaging for your intended audience. Now this isn’t usually the main driver, but can be why growth has stalled. What do “the wrong clothes” look like?

  • Your high tech/impulse purchase product isn’t optimized for mobile access, or you created a high tech mobile product for a “not very high tech” audience. You may have reached the saturation point for the people that recognized your product in the space it is in, but you may be missing a much larger market that is playing in another playground.
  • Your choice of market place isn’t reaching the maximum audience.  Are you a retail store? Are you in a indoor mall? How is your foot traffic vs the foot traffic at a strip center (and yes, it was a very different story 10 years ago)? Or maybe you’re a business website with a non-visual based business who is doing all your marketing over on Pinterest.  Blogging when your audience wants podcasts? It may not be that you’re located in a bad place, you just may not be located in the optimal place.
  • Your packaging doesn’t match what your audience’s expectations. Are you a luxury business with a pre-canned, pre-formatted word template for everything from invoices to your website that reeks of beginning Microsoft 101? Is your website loaded with “Coming soon” and a copyright date of 2011 running across the bottom?

 Well that’s just great, Jeanne. So what do I do now, Little Ms. Fix it?

Read our next article, Charging Back Uphill, Blasting out of a Stall. 

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3 Great Reasons why what worked for you Before isn’t working Now (Pt. 2)

 

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it stopped? Here’s three reasons why it may have stopped working.

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

(Go Here if you missed Reason #1, “The ground under your feet changed”)

Reason# 2.  You mistook a one-hit wonder for permanent success.

Pet Rock? Business theory flavor of the month? You had a great run but suddenly its not working,  and now you’re stuck.  Hopefully if you intentionally produced a gimmicky app, product or snack food you knew it was going to be short lived and planned accordingly. But sometimes, you and your product are the beneficiary of lucky circumstances, timing or a specific moment in the market, which can create a false sense of a more permanent success.

Think of a musical group that has their song picked for the soundtrack of a hit movie. The song skyrockets to the top of the charts. Now it’s time for a follow up. Maybe it’s a winner, maybe they were the beneficiary of a moment in time. There will be a big difference in their future between living on the residuals of one mega hit vs owning the Rolling Stones catalog.

Notice I didn’t say that the musical group was any more or less talented or hardworking than any other musical group. Hard work and talent count but there are a lot of hard working and talented people out there and they’re not all giant successes.

In the business world, the markers of what made a particular set of circumstances unique often aren’t known until hindsight kicks in.  Years ago I worked in the non-profit arena where many large grants and funds were available due to a specific set of circumstances in the market (bank mergers coupled with mirroring a favored business theory of the then current government administration). The trend continued for nearly 5 years. If you began or started a non-profit in that space during that time, it was easy to raise funds and gain support, giving you a sense of success and a feeling that you “knew how things worked.” Except that was a moment in time, not replicated at any point for the next 11 years.

Were you attached to a popular business theory that “ran its course?” In the past few years we’ve had “The Secret”,”Get Rich Quick” schemes,  and a host of other short term mega hits. If your work is closely attached to a theory that is now discredited or fallen out of favor, even if your work is sound, you will need to repackage it and rebuild success based on a new foundation.

You may have even been the cute new “upstart” in a business sector, and now you’re the “middle-aged” stalled out player, not venerable enough to be one of the “big boys” you ran circles around when you started, and not youthful enough to be as nimble as new market entrants. Many of the “dot-com” wonders of the early 2000’s are facing this dilemma now. Your growth rate no longer thrills Wall Street, because it’s hard to match the early years of phenomenal growth, and the “new market” players may have more immediate upside potential. And the old boys either went under or figured out how to address the threat you made to their market share all those years ago. You’re in the middle, and need to regroup.

Our next article: Reason #3 “You’re wearing the wrong clothes”

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3 Great Reasons why what Worked for you Before isn’t Working Now. (pt. 1)

rapid rise and descent of a business strategy

Your strategy was working great, then it suddenly stopped?
Here’s three possible reasons why.  

It was Working.

Now it’s not working.

Why?

It’s hard to continually grow success. With rare exceptions, the line to the top of the success platform is more often a series of “one step forward, two steps back, a side step, a loop de loop,” and then, finally, “up we go”. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with in both business and personal life is when something that had worked so well for you previously is now not only not working, but may actually be working against you.

So why isn’t it working?

Reason# 1. The ground beneath you has changed.

Think of little girls in school. Most are rewarded for being quiet, polite, raising their hands, doing their work conscientiously and neatly. This gets them A’s not only in school work but those goofy awards like “Best Friend” “Teacher’s Helper” and, later in life, “Girl most likely to be doing her boyfriend’s homework while he’s off doing whatever cool thing he does that makes her want to date him.” Boys in school are not expected to be as quiet, or as well behaved, and while it might get them a “C” in deportment or behavior (or the more modern version, endless red cards), it doesn’t generally hold him back.

Now move these kids to a different playing field. What happens when these two get into the business world? One has the forward focus of doing what he wants or needs to do to get what he wants. One is a worker bee. Which is more likely to be CEO?

Shift that to a business model. During the recent turbulent times you kept your business super conservative. This helped you survive very rough seas and may have even gotten you some public praise. To be conservative you cut inventory to a minimum, watched receivables like a hawk, cut expenses, minimized staffing and got them to multitask like no one’s business. You “won” the recession. But slowly, maybe without you noticing, things change. As the economy slowly improves, your inventory looks tired, minimal. Your team, exhausted, starts getting other offers. Things start to break down, because you didn’t replace them, or they’re out of date and you’re now doing more creative things to work around the outdated system every day. New competitors (maybe even sinking severance pay into a new business) suddenly appear, shinier, newer, with newer systems, fresh inventory, a fresh perspective. Many will go out of business shortly because they don’t know what you know, but at the same time, they will take their hits on your market share. Some may even survive. Your old staff may work for them, coaching them on the areas they don’t know a lot about. The ground changed beneath your feet, and you are still fighting the war using the tools that worked before.

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Time to reassess. We’ll give you some tools at the end of this series. (If you want to start seeing your business with fresh eyes today, sign up for our free booklet “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing to our newsletter today.)

Our Next Article: Reason #2: One hit wonders…

Taking Stock of this Week: How Effective were You?

time management

The year is already one quarter gone, what did you do this week?

It’s Friday. How did you measure up this week?

Did you:

1. Drive revenue?

2. Cut expenses in a way that will allow the business to grow?

3. Solve an ongoing challenge in a way that will allow the team to move forward?

4. Open a new market, test a new product, develop a new strategy for growth?

5. Say no to the things that weren’t working and cross them off your list?

6.Seek out a new perspective or new methodology that might help your team move forward?

7.Hold meetings that were relevant, valuable and not “birthday parties.”

8. Pull the tooth?

9. Look for new talent?

10. Have that uncomfortable conversation you’ve been dreading?

If not, what can you do to make sure that next week you spend your time on the things that really matter? (need some more ideas? try this)

Get your free copy today of “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing in the email box. It will help you have many more effective days!

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Uncomfortable Conversation #1: “We need to shut down a business line”

 

Empty interior of building

Making the Tough Call isn’t Easy

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” Tim Ferris

The Situation:

Your team, after doing your research, running the numbers and looking at a challenge from every angle has come to the conclusion that a business line or project needs to be closed.  This will impact staff, facility leases, and even some customers who have come to rely on the services or products of that team.  You need to present the information to the Sr. Leadership team, two of whom made their careers by working in the very business you are proposing to close, and some of their protégé’s are working in that division right now.

What you wish would happen:

  1. Someone else would do this. Anyone else. Maybe that external auditor could suggest it.
  2. You could just drop the anonymous suggestion in a suggestion box.
  3. A recruiter would call you with the job of the century this morning so you could skip the conversation entirely.

Things to have with you:

  1. A clear, simple visual of financial projections that can be viewed at a glance, along with much more detailed information in a separate package. Graphs or charts are a good option for the overview.
  2. A plan showing the impact of keeping the line open, vs. the costs and impact of closing the line. Do one for best case, worst case and average scenarios for each option.  Be sure to incorporate your country’s or state’s requirements for staff reductions etc., in your projections (i.e. legal notice, severance. Also include the non-staff costs – leases, equipment etc).
  3. A clear proactive plan for notifying staff, customers and media (if applicable) along with a budget and timeline for the wind down effort.

Having “The Conversation”:

  1. Pick your spot. Don’t just slide it in during a random meeting or a regular staff meeting. This calls for a special meeting to just focus on this issue.
  2. Line up your sponsors beforehand.  This means having lots of one-on-one small, private meetings with discreet senior people to serve as advocates.  If everyone at the meeting is grappling with a new idea at once, the normal response would be to shoot it down or delay it.
  3. Expect that there will be delays.  Most executives will want to do a deep dive on your methodology and your numbers. (That’s what the supporting details in Item 1 of “things to have with you” are for.) However, make sure one of your exhibits shows the costs of delaying the decision by more than a month.
  4. Be sure to acknowledge the human costs involved as you discuss the topic. This is a fine balance; do not recount every detail of every family that will be affected (“Of course we’ll have to cut Mike Smith, and he’s the sole provider for his widowed mother, her six children and he has a disabled son at home”) but don’t go to the opposite extreme either, treating staff as widgets that need to be offloaded.  That will make people question your judgment. Suggest areas of opportunities for the people in the affected unit, by pointing out growing units that require similar skill sets or staffing. If there truly is no internal option, suggest an outplacement strategy.

What will happen next (most likely):

  1. Understand that once you have “dropped the bomb” you lose control of how the information is absorbed and acted upon. Don’t be so strongly wed to your proposal that you devalue attempts at compromise or restructuring. Simply stay firm, polite and open to input. Use your alternative case scenarios to help look at various options that may be proposed.
  2. Once the decision has been made, having the clear communications and action plan ready is imperative.  If you have executives who argue for delay, and it appears that even with delay, the company will have to cut the unit, you will want to point out that doing it sooner rather than later may allow the company to allot a greater amount of resources towards the displaced staff than waiting will.
  3. Take the heat. No matter who makes the final call, you and your team will eventually be “outed” as the architects of the plan. That means you’ll have some team members, even those who get to stay, looking at you in a different way.  Respond to inquiries with a firm, compassionate response and rehearse other team members as well. This is also not the time to upgrade to a better car (even if you’ve been saving forever for it) or take a long exotic vacation.  Low key empathy is the best response.

This post is part of our “Uncomfortable Conversations” series. Our next Uncomfortable Conversation: The project budget has cost overruns. Big Ones.

Have you ever been the “lucky” person who got to deliver this piece of bad news? Share how you did it and what did or didn’t work in the comment section!

book by Jeanne Goldie

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Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

 

Rule# 6: Build a Measuring Stick.

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to costs or revenues!

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to reducing costs or increasing revenues!

I was raised to be “of service” to others. My mother is the first to volunteer for any task that needs doing and we all developed a strong sense of duty towards others.  Most likely that is why I spent much of my early career in government and non-profit work before turning to the corporate world.

I was very effective in getting financial and executive support for my projects because I had a secret weapon. I majored in accounting in college, and it gave me a firm grasp of the numeric value of any activity and the importance in being able to attribute activities to the revenue or expense ledger. At a non-profit or government agency I was always the person trying to measure our results, determine the activity’s value relative to costs or expense and then find someone who would be willing to pay for it.  We were famous for having all of our employees able to recite chapter and verse how many people we had helped at what cost and with what results, preferably tied to a monetary measurement. Later, when I worked for an insurance company and had to evaluate non-profits for partnership opportunities, an instant mental “No” was rendered when they couldn’t reasonably demonstrate some quantifiable results or outcomes, and the “No” was doubly reinforced if the staff gave me significantly different answers than the director or development director.

It’s not easy to measure things, some defy easy quantitative measurement.  If I keep fifteen teenagers in an after-care program that keeps them from going home alone in the afternoon and possibly getting into mischief, how do you quantify it? Graduates of your program may not have made it to college yet, so you don’t have a warm fuzzy story for the fundraising brochure (but as soon as one of them does, put that kid in a college t-shirt, on campus, holding a bunch of textbooks and get that picture! Sells ’em every time).

In for-profit businesses there are initiatives that can also defy easy quantification. What does “deliver better customer service” translate into in dollars and cents? What about community outreach or sponsorships?  What exactly does reducing customer response time yield that will make a dent in earnings season?

Find a way to measure it. There is almost always a way.  Talk to people in similar arenas, and talk to some not in the industry.  Talk to your Human Calculator, give them all the approaches you came up with and have them get creative.

If you can measure the value it adds or the costs it saves, and if you chart incremental progress, you can demonstrate success, which keeps enthusiasm high for your project, even if there is a bobble along the way.

So how DO you measure the Teenager After-Care example?

One approach:

Studies show that kids between 13 and 15 are X times as likely to get pregnant  and Y times as likely to get into trouble that will do Z to their criminal record when they go home alone after school.

A pregnant  teenager costs the American taxpayer (or county taxpayer or city taxpayer) $___, while a juvenile arrest costs the taxpayer $____.  By funding aftercare for these 15 teenagers we are greatly reducing the odds of these things happening, and saving taxpayers $(all of the above multiplied by the results expected if the 15 kids weren’t in care) which is ten times (or hopefully some other ridiculously high number) the cost of providing funds for the program. So we save our community 9 times every dollar we spend!

How have you found ways to quantify things that defy easy measurement? Share in the comments below, you’ll be helping everyone!

By the way one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is “Everything that can be
counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily
be counted.” Very, very true. But to sell your idea, you need to try to count it!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

A Field Guide to Help You Speed Read the Corporate Landscape.

 

 

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© Jeanne Goldie 2015