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Are You Good? Or Great?

by on November 20, 2015

The fourth post in this series will focus on turning a good library into a great library. I review points from the tiny monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins. It is a fifteen minute read, packed with relevant information for libraries and nonprofits.

“We should be more like a business”

“I hate calling patrons customers”

“We’re more than books”

Sound familiar? While libraries strive to remain relevant, you can see the slide to the “let’s run it like a business” mentality. I firmly believe we need to think outside of the box of traditional operations of a library. Creative problem solving is a must in our business! I picked up this monograph and was surprised to be faced with a different line of thinking—we don’t need to be like a business, we just need to be great.

Exceptional performance

What is exceptional? What makes a library great? Figure out what that means for your library and work every single day to get there. If you spend too much time looking at your barriers, you won’t focus on this goal. Let’s review some options for how to make a library great, in practical terms:

Superior performance

  • Every interaction with every customer is treated with respect and dignity
  • Every politician knows your name and your library’s mission
  • Demand for your services increases every year

Distinctive Impact

  • Everyone wants to talk about your services (word-of-mouth-marketing!)
  • Other libraries copy what you do
  • You win awards, receive grants, and make an impact

Lasting Endurance

  • People give your library money—lots of money
  • People return after years to tell you how you made a difference
  • You change the world

As managers and world-changers, we must lay the groundwork for greatness. I have to tell you, the political jungle gym that is a government job does not make it easy to advance the organization. We all know this to be true, but that shouldn’t stop you from working every day to get to greatness. Collins makes the point that people want to be a part of something great. Yes! They do! And not just staff—this includes community leaders, politicians, companies. If you work tirelessly to make something great, they will be drawn to your organization.

So, what’s next?

As a manager, you have some options to start laying the groundwork for greatness.

  • Make sure your mission statement and strategic plan are updated and relevant— no joke, start at the start
  • Review employees early and often—consistent reviews show that you are disciplined and you have high expectations of your employees
  • Only accept the highest goals with the loftiest priorities—don’t let employees get away with weak goals that don’t move the organization forward
  • Be more than books—alter your space, be creative, don’t settle
  • Change the culture—yes, it can feel like beating your head against a door, just keep at it

I highly recommend this monograph. I’m sure the parent book From Good to Great is even better. I hope to read it soon, and I hope you all focus on greatness at your library.

More resources:

A great organization starts with great communication: How to Build a Great Organization By Doing Something You Already Know How To Do http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/06/25/how-to-build-a-great-organization-by-doing-something-you-already-know-how-to-do/

What makes a company a great place to work? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-hardman/best-companies-to-work-for_b_2287193.html

Podcast: Building Greatness with Jim Collins http://www.jimcollins.com/media_topics/building-greatness.html

Collins, Jim (2005). Good to Great and the Social Sectors. HarperCollins. http://www.amazon.com/Good-Great-Social-Sectors-Monograph/dp/0977326403

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