Sunday, 20 August 2017

Sunday August 20, 2017 Good to Great

Thunder Bay Public Library is undergoing a transformation into a Community Hub and you may have noticed some of these changes, including self check outs at all branches, hub:north at Waverley, and Northern Nature Trading at Mary J. L. Black Library. This transformation has required changes to the strategy, structures, systems and organizational culture at TBPL. The model we have followed in making these changes is based on a series of books by Jim Collins.

Built to Last:  Successful Habits of Visionary Companies(1994) identified the successful habits of visionary organizations.  Drawing upon a six year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Collins took eighteen truly exceptional and long lasting organizations and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. He examined the organizations from their very beginnings to the present day and asked ‘What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?’

The lesson we learned from Built to Last is that TBPL needs a clear ideology, which we call the Community Led Library. We need to make sure that everything we do at TBPL is consistent with this approach. We also need some of what Collins callsBig Hairy Audacious Goals’ which are a commitment to challenging and often risky goals and projects which will stimulate progress at the library. If you use Waverley library you will have noticed that we have been experimenting with the space on the lower level to boost performance.
Good to Great: why some companies make the leap and others don’t (2001) was based on the premise that ‘Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great governments, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good – and that is their main problem.’

If we extend this argument to libraries we can say that we don’t have great libraries, principally because we have good libraries. TBPL is a very good library with over 3.3 million interactions with the community every year. But we also have to ‘Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)’, as Collins puts it. The brutal facts are that only 29% of residents are library members, yet we never lose faith that we can increase this to 40%, 50%, 60% and beyond.  
Great By Choice: uncertainty, chaos and luck – why some thrive despite them all (2011) recognized that ‘Uncertainty is permanent, chaotic times are normal, change is accelerating, and instability will likely characterise the rest of our lives’. Organisations which continue to be great (10x better than their competitors), even during turbulent times, display three core behaviours: fanatic discipline; empirical creativity; productive paranoia. Some of Collins’s findings were counter intuitive. For example, the best leaders are not more risk taking, more visionary or more creative than their competitors; they are more disciplined, more empirical and more paranoid. Innovation by itself is not the trump card in a chaotic and uncertain world; more important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline. Following the belief that leading in a ‘fast world’ always requires ‘fast decisions’ and ‘fast action’ is a good way to get killed. The great organisations change less in reaction to a radically changing world than their competitors.
TBPL is certainly facing many political, economic, social and technological challenges as it continues on its journey towards becoming a Community Hub. But our path from good to great is being guided by solid research and best practice, including the inspiring work being carried out by Edmonton Public Library.       
John Pateman

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