Strategic progress, and some waiting

Where developing the Strategic Plan was something of an exercise in visioning of an ideal state, implementation has proven to be more of a reality check. Where I had assumed the transition between development and implementation would be a simple baton pass, I have instead come to better understand the oft-repeated business trope: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Six months into our new planning cycle, I observe that UW Libraries sustains a culture of waiting: top-level administrators waiting to hear from their directorates; staff waiting to hear from leadership; campus liaisons waiting to hear from external stakeholders; waiting for new hires, new programs, new resources… Unquestionably there are benefits to a “waiting” approach that connotes patience, caution and certainty. But I’m still waiting for someone to grab this baton!

Tempering my personal tendency toward impatience, I can report a significant amount of good work on advancing our strategic goals:

  • Some level of strategic goal-setting has happened in nearly every area of the Libraries, including Research & Learning Services, Distinctive Collections, Administrative Services, Collections & Content, the Health Sciences Library, UW Bothell, UW Tacoma and various tri-campus committees.
  • Libraries Cabinet has prioritized near-term goals related to IT infrastructure, communication and equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • All Libraries portfolios are in the process of articulating near-term strategic actions to achieve in 2019.
  • Across the organization, we are pursuing opportunities to insert strategic-goal language into accountability documentation like project proposals, performance evaluations and annual reports.
  • Cabinet will build out specific actions with definitive leads, milestones, timelines and success measures—and will establish new channels to sustain communication on our progress.

As much as has been happening, I still feel like we could do more. My amateur organizational-behaviorist perspective is that we haven’t yet completely embraced our aspirations toward becoming a learning organization, one that continuously transforms itself and values exploration, experimentation and even failure in the face of a waiting culture.

3 thoughts on “Strategic progress, and some waiting

  1. Thank you for this great, candid post. I feel the same! It’s frustrating to have had the momentum of this great Strategic Plan, only to be told that now we have to … wait. For Advancement’s part, we’re deep into consultations with Campbell and Company, who are conducting interviews as part of a feasibility study to see if we can truly raise enough funds to support the Strategic Plan via the Catalyst Fund for Innovation. While they interview donors, we … you guessed it … wait. The Catalyst Fund will be publicly unveiled at Libraries Unbound in May, so we will have better insight and talking points by then. In the meantime, deep breaths and cheers to the waiting game.

  2. I too would love to see more progress and buy-in for learning organization goals! & I wonder if there are ways that direction and encouragement could come from leaders in the organization to help us find ways to contribute to advancing on the path and/or recognizing when we are doing things that advance the goal of developing as a learning organization.

    Help in understanding what it means to be/become a learning organization and why it matters hasn’t been evenly distributed across the Libraries. So providing regular opportunities to engage with what that means on a Libraries and Portfolios wide level would be very helpful. Also, instructions (and motivation) for people leading units on how to bring this to their teams could help build momentum in the opposite direction. Are there ways to modify practices or questions we can ask about how we are doing things now that we can use to make incremental but meaningful changes?

  3. Thank you for this post. Maybe we could benefit from a “Learning Organization” team with a charge in the way that there is now a Cabinet Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Group? I have appreciated recent efforts in EDI.

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