Developing Your Library's Strategy Requires More Than a Once-a-Year Planning Session: Business Conditions Can Change on a Moment's Notice. to Keep Up, You Need to Make Sure the Plan Still Matches the Goal

By Schachter, Debbie | Information Outlook, August 2007 | Go to article overview

Developing Your Library's Strategy Requires More Than a Once-a-Year Planning Session: Business Conditions Can Change on a Moment's Notice. to Keep Up, You Need to Make Sure the Plan Still Matches the Goal


Schachter, Debbie, Information Outlook


A significant amount of time and energy are focused on developing and updating business strategy, including the effort that goes into traditional strategic planning activities.

In the past, strategic planning was known as "long-term planning." That was before the rapid changes in modern industries and the realities of the global economy made the concept of "long-term" planning not quite obsolete but certainly of a much shorter timeframe. Planning beyond one or two years is still important, but in most industries plans becomes less and less reliable the further the planning horizon. The trend for a number of years has been to focus on "strategic planning" and "strategic decision making," and more and more it is apparent that strategy development cannot be considered solely an annual event. It must better reflect the fluidity of other business processes--continuously evolving and adjusting even within the developed strategic plan.

As with all management trends, strategic planning "must-dos" of the past decade are now becoming obsolete. Some of the business literature even goes so far as to propose a complete revamping of how strategic planning should be undertaken. Michael C. Mankings and Richard Steele write, "Many executives have grown skeptical of strategic planning. Is it any wonder? Despite all the time and energy most companies put into strategic planning, the process is most often a barrier to good decision making, our research indicates. As a result, strategic planning doesn't really influence most companies' strategy." ("Stop Making Plans, Start Making Decisions," Harvard Business Review, January 2006).

Many organizations are devolving the strategic planning processes to incorporate more regular analysis and redevelopment of strategy. This is contrary to the more traditional approach of waiting for the annual strategic planning review and redevelopment, as results from the current plan are taking shape. The heavily structured and controlled strategic planning review and retreat processes of recent years now seems to be too cumbersome and ineffective for developing effective strategy.

As you may know, the term "strategy" comes from the vocabulary of the military and then taken on by the field of management. The Oxford English Dictionary defines strategy as "The art of a commander-in-chief; the art of projecting and directing the larger military movements and operations of a campaign." How the term is defined in the business environment adds some clarity: "In (theoretical) circumstances of competition or conflict, as in the theory of games, decision theory, business administration, etc., a plan for successful action based on the rationality and interdependence of the moves of the opposing participants."

Applying this aggressive type of win-or-lose concept to the library world seems almost inappropriate. But we always have and always will create strategies to ensure our success and continuing value in our organizations. We don't do this in isolation but based on our purpose within the organization and the needs of our customers.

The strategy for your library is taking what you want to achieve and determining how best to achieve that end. Good strategy is about how best to deploy your scare resources to achieve your objectives. It can only be developed through a thorough understanding of your mission and purpose and with access to accurate information about your clients and their needs, and awareness of the competition (if any).

Undoubtedly, your organization as a whole has a strategic plan, and you must develop your goals to align with the broad organizational goals. The tactics that you devise to reach your objectives are, of course, unique to the library. Your strategy doesn't need to be unique or revolutionary, but it must be entirely fitting to your library and organizational context.

Strategies cannot be static. It seems that the most important thing about strategy development is to understand that it is an ongoing process. …

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