So I’ve been running a library for a little more than six months now. It’s probably time to start talking about what I’m up to.
I decided before I even started at HPL that we needed a strategic plan–I talked about it in my interview, in fact–but once I started, I was overwhelmed by how big a task it would be amid all the other things I needed to learn and do. So I spent time thinking and observing and reading and talking and thinking some more. Finally, I made a strategic planning plan.
This is, I’ll admit, one of the nerdier things I’ve done in my many, many years of doing nerdy things, and as I was working on it, I kept worrying that I might be slipping into the Dark Side of Management without realizing it. But I persevered. I think an organization needs a plan, and I have chosen to believe that the best, most useful plan will come out of a collaborative process. The only way I could think to make a collaborative process work was to slow the whole business down so I could teach the concepts behind each step of what we needed to do, then have time for discussing and brainstorming, and then have time to make our final decisions. I created a plan that divided all of the activities into tasks I felt we could accomplish in an hour or two each month, which is what we’ve been doing in various meetings over these last few months.
This past Friday was the first time the timeline said we had to make some decisions. I have never done anything like this before, and I wasn’t at all sure how it was going to work.
This is what we did.
First, I printed out all the potential mission and vision statements we had created on pieces of paper and hung them on the wall. Then I gave everyone at the meeting five post-it flags and told them they could vote for three mission statements and two vision statements. Here’s what that looked like when we were done:
Then I took away the statements with the fewest votes so we were left with the strongest contenders:
You and I are friends, so I feel like I can tell you that this is where my plan for how this process would work ended. I decided what to do next while I was taking down the statements with the fewest votes. What I did was suggest that we start by discussing the potential vision statements, since there were so few left. We all gathered around the vision statements and talked. (Incidentally, I had people up on their feet and walking and standing for this entire meeting. Any time there was a pause, they’d try to go sit again, but I’d get all, “Nope! Now we’re going to go over here!” Personally, I liked moving around. I want to incorporate that into more meetings.) There was a lot of discussion, but it was orderly. It ended in us adding to one statement, moving another statement to the mission statement wall, and ultimately deciding not to make a decision.
So we went and visited the mission statements, with our newly edited addition:
We gathered around for another discussion, and we were able to agree on one we liked. When we brought it back over to the vision statements, we realized it was pretty similar to one of the vision statements, and so we agreed to use the other, ending up with these potential mission and vision statements:
I will bring them to the March Board Meeting for the Board to discuss.
What I loved about this process is that a lot of different people contributed thoughts and ideas that had an impact on the outcome. I’m not sure how much the staff is aware of who came up with what in these statements, but the words come from a few different people, and I love seeing that there. I loved hearing people talk about their ideas about what we do, and I continue to be so impressed by the passion and enthusiasm my colleagues have for our work and the idea of making the community a better place. Even though we weren’t at a point of talking about branding, people are already thinking that way, and I was hearing some really good ideas.
A lot of people think things like mission and vision statements and even strategic plans are hooey, and I was grateful to everyone involved in this for approaching the process with open minds. I believe that in order to create real change, you have to have a strong sense of where you are and where you want to get to, and that’s what articulating a mission and vision statement can do. It also gives you something to put up on the wall to remind yourself why you’re there after a patron yells at you or you have to deal with yet another clogged toilet or the heat stops working.
This, to me, is exciting.