Incorporating organizational values into the strategic planning process
Libraries have adapted a number of practices from the for-profit sector, including strategic planning. Because the attitudes and beliefs of employees influence their acceptance of and commitment to organizational goals, a values assessment should be an initial step in the planning process. This article looks at the importance of identifying value systems prior to engaging in strategic planning in libraries.
For a variety of reasons, organizations in the non-profit sector are implementing more techniques derived from business. As they seek continued existence in a changeable environment, hospitals, institutions of higher education, and libraries of all kinds have adopted a growing range of practices borrowed from the business world. In recent years libraries have ventured into the unfamiliar process of strategic planning.
There are indicators, however, that librarians may be missing some of the benefits that can come from this new process by skipping a crucial first step. Not all planning models include a recognition of the important role played by employee value systems and beliefs. Final plans may look good on paper, but, unless supported by the values and beliefs of the people who must implement them, programs and services outlined in the plan may not develop as envisioned.
Strategic planning process
As in budgeting, different varieties of planning processes wax and wane in popularity. One of the current forms in vogue, strategic planning, has been widely used in a range of settings and is described in numerous texts (See George A. Steiner, Strategic Planning: What Every Manager Must Know (New York: Free Press, 1989); George A. Steiner, Management Policy and Strategy, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1986), Joseph P. Peters, A Strategic Planning Process for Hospitals (Chicago: American Hospital Association, 1985), and Timothy A. Nolan, Applied Strategic Planning in a Library Setting (San Diego, CA: University Associates, 1987). While this particular technique also exists in slightly different variations, it commonly consists of seven sequential steps whereby the organization:
1. identifies its internal value and belief systems,
2. assesses environmental factors,
3. writes a concise mission statement,
4. creates program strategies that state goals and timeframes,
5. reviews past and present performance
6. scrutinizes its ability to achieve the plan, and
7. develops contingency plans.
The scope of step one may vary, but a values audit can identify professional beliefs, staff preferences, ethical considerations, and other important values that need to be reflected in the new plan if it is to be successful.
For our purposes the term values will refer to those abstract ideals, both positive and negative, that guide attitudes, actions, and interpersonal relations. Values may be vague, such as beauty or honor, or they may be specific, such as a belief that a person should always behave in a certain manner under given circumstances, but they are quite often individualistic. A group may hold the same general value or a related set of values, yet have slightly different interpretations among group members.
The business literature
The general strategic planning model has been widely applied in the business world, but the library and higher education literature shows little evidence of the model’s adoption. In discussing the strategic planning process with a consultant from the Office of Management Studies at the Association of Research Libraries, the author learned that, of the libraries that do practice strategic planning, few seem to be including the values audit step—a marked departure from other fields.
The business literature reveals several significant areas that may be clarified or revealed through a values audit:
- the role of idealistic values,
- ways to reinforce the congruence of personal and organizational values, and
- the differences in values among groups within the organization
On the first theme, Harmon and Jacobs, writing about the establishment of a broad company credo, point to the many benefits of idealistically stated values (e.g., the intent to be socially responsible in all business decisions [Frederick G. Harmon and Garry Jacobs, “Company Personality,” Management Review 74 (October 1985): 36-40]. Besides energizing employees, idealistic values can provide a framework that shapes response to crises or helps identify the avenue of choice when difficult decisions are required. Librarians voice such ideals when advocating freedom of information, freedom from censorship, or patron rights to privacy.
Popular writers such as Tom Peters and Rosabeth Moss Kanter claim that corporate success is determined by a firm set of underlying organizational beliefs. (See Tom Peters and Nancy Austin, A Passion for Excellence (New York: Random House, 1985), p. 330-331; and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Change Masters (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1983, p. 116) Posner et al. take the same position while pointing to the necessity of aligning personal and organizational values (Barry Z. Posner, James M. Kouzes, and Warren H. Schmidt, “Shared Values Make A Difference: AN Empirical Test of Corporate Culture,” Human Resources Management 24 (Fall 1985): 293-309). Looking at the consequences of conflicting values, Barone describes the problem of unintended miscommunication and the need for team members to minimize conflict by explicitly discussing personal values at the outset of major change (Frank J. Barone, “Can Conflicting Values on the Change Team Work?” Training and Development Journal 40 (August 1986): 50-52). Wilkins and Ouchi relate that Japanese businesses generally hire inexperienced personnel and then put them through a rigorous socialization process that helps them internalize the company philosophy and goals. (Alan L. Wilkins and William G. Ouchi, “Efficient Cultures: Exploring the Relationship between Culture and Organizational Performance,” Administrative Science Quarterly 28 (September 1983): 468-481) On the other hand, some firms (like Hewlett-Packard) intensively screen applicants in order to increase the likelihood of hiring those who already are compatible with certain extant organizational values and orientations.
Further stressing the need for shared values, Alexander outlines a training program designed to inculcate a business philosophy into the minds and decisions of new employees. (George P. Alexander, “Establishing Shared Values Through Management Training Programs,” Training and Development Journal 41 (February 1987): 45-47). During one part of the program, participants learn to make choices based on company values in situations resembling the ambiguities and contradictions of the real world. The shared values thus become filters for all decisions and new employees learn how to use them in guiding their actions.
Finally, the business literature reflects the fact that values are also important in relation to one’s background or profession. Bamberger reminds us that personal values are influenced by social norms, by values in an industry or community, and by the culture of a given organization (I. Bamberger, “Values and Strategic Behaviour,” Management International Review 26 (4): 57-69). Miller et al. warn that strategic planning may decrease productivity if the plan fails to embrace the values of a key professional group (Gerald J. Miller, Jack Rabin, and W. Bartley Hildreth, “Strategy, Values, and Productivity,” Public Productivity Review 43 (Fall 1987): 81-96).
From the above it is evident that values have an impact at several levels. They determine both what is done and how it is accomplished. Peters and Austin claim that “any closely held value, no matter how well concealed (even from yourself), inevitably prompts action that is consistent with it.” (Peters and Austin, Passion for Excellence, p. 333). The library profession has a number of deeply held values which tend to have a direct impact on behavior. In discussing the philosophies of public service agencies in general, Posey et al. make several statements that describe libraries quite well.
Their internal organizational values emphasize the quality of client services, often at the expense of the agency itself.
When client services are underfunded or not totally staffed, it becomes difficult for most practitioners to accept diverting valuable staff time or funds into strategic planning.
Agency members instinctively respond with tactics designed for individual or program self-preservation rather than agency survival (Pamela A. Posey, Barbara McIntosh, and E. Lauck Parke, “Preparing Public Service Agencies for Strategic Planning,” International Journal of Public Administration 10 (December 1987): 421-437).
In other words, values will drive behavior whether they are acknowledged or not. According to the seven-step planning model, the library’s philosophy of service must be explicit and built into its mission statement. Unless the professional and idealistic values underlying librarianship are set forth, library management and staff make short-term decisions that lead to long-term failure. Librarians are frequently concerned about values and ethics, especially as they relate to client services. It is fitting that they be clearly outlined as a foundation for a successfully strategic plan.
At the same time, success is unlikely if personal and organizational values are inharmonious. Plans have little hope of being put into place if they lack support or, worst of all, violate strongly held beliefs. Staff values need to be identified and, once known, efforts must be made to further link them to the guiding principles of the library. While the rigor of the Japanese assimilation procedure may be more than desired, thoughtful orientation and training for new employees helps strengthen the bonding process and produces a variety of benefits, as related by Posner et al (Posner et al, “Shared Values,” pp. 298-301).
Erez points out that performance is determined by a proper balance of goal-setting with the culture and values of a work group (Miriam Erez, “The Congruence of Goal-Setting Strategies with Socio-Cultural Values and its Effect on Performance,” Journal of Management 12/4 (1986): 585-592). A strategic plan developed by the upper echelon of a rigid hierarchy will not perform well if the majority of staff are alienated by the content or the way in which the plan was instituted. Librarians have applied this knowledge in setting up teams to implement automated systems, but such involvement may be dropped at the conclusion of a given project and not considered in general planning.
In a recap of human reactions to technological change, Fine shows that “the negativism and outrage that result from the violation of traditional and cherished values will compromise the employee’s identification with the organization or the profession” and will produce resistance in one form or another (Sara F. Fine, “Technological Innovation, Diffusion and Resistance: An Historical Perspective,” Journal of Library Administration 7 (Spring 1986): 83-108). Haven’t we all witnessed the reluctance of some staff to let go of manual procedures or the confrontations between veteran librarians and a new library director who proposes change? On an operational level this kind of conflict frustrates and holds back everyone. The underlying issues need to be identified and worked through, yet it is much better to do so early in the strategic planning process rather than continually butting heads over undisclosed beliefs.
On the positive side, libraries can use the values assessment as a springboard to revamp operations in a way that elicits enthusiasm and support from the staff. Human resources are a key factor in achieving success. The Bank of America learned through an attitude assessment that employees believed it was best to avoid risk and to be “nice” rather than frank (Robert N. Beck, “Visions, Values, and Strategies: Changing Attitudes and Culture,” Academy of Management EXECUTIVE 1 (February 1987): 33-41). Consequently, an intensive change agenda was devised to create a commitment-driven organization where managers adopted and modeled behavior consistent with honesty and risk taking.
Similarly, libraries can narrow the gap between existing beliefs and desired ideals. Managers can demonstrate actions based on preferred values and encourage subordinates to do the same, thus increasing the likelihood of organizational success and staff empowerment. The old maxim “Practice what you preach” applies to organizational values as well as to other attitudes.
Through identification of staff values, those leading the strategic planning process can more realistically develop an implementation package. By acknowledging values and making an effort to blend them into the plan itself, the chances of successful and timely completion are increased. For example, our library’s audit revealed a somewhat unexpected outlook among support staff. Despite being firmly enmeshed in a bureaucratic state system which repeatedly emphasizes seniority, staff expressed a preference that rewards go to those who demonstrated competence and commitment much more than to those who simply showed strong organizational loyalty. In our case it will be important to find ways to distribute some rewards in accordance with staff values rather than relying solely on a state-prescribed system that conflicts with the way employees measure their own worth.
The following are logical actions that libraries can take to incorporate values into the strategic plan.
Early in the planning process assess the work and service values of all employees. A number of assessment instruments are readily available, but the library might be happiest using these as ideas for developing its own tools. Beware of instruments that require complex scoring, however. (University Associates, Inc. publishes an excellent annual compilation of short articles, assessments, and group exercises for human resource development. Two values audit instruments from earlier publications may serve as useful starting points: Roger Harrison, “Diagnosing Organizational Ideology,” in The 1975 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, ed. J.E. Jones and J.W. Pfeffer (San Diego: University Associates, 1975), pp. 101-107; and Mark Alexander, “Organizational Norms Oppionnaire,” in The 1978 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, ed. J.W. Pfeffer and J.E. Jones (San Diego: University Associates, 1978), pp. 81-88).
Clarify values through a feedback mechanism. Report the audit findings back to employees and ask for discussion, questions, and validation. While some audit responses will give a clear picture of group beliefs or attitudes, others may be inconclusive. Results may suggest that a particular question has been interpreted differently by different individuals or in a way other than was what originally intended. Drawing firm conclusions can be a tricky matter, calling for action to seek clarification or expert assistance.
Throughout the strategic planning process look for ways to mesh values with implementation methods. When library goals are consistent with personal and professional values, resistance is minimalized. When employees are also comfortable with how the goals will be achieved, accomplishment is even more probable.
Repeatedly point out the alignment of values with the plan. Everyone needs to be reminded that they took part in defining the organization’s explicit values and that, in turn, those ideals are directly related to the general direction and daily operation of the library.
When orientating new employees, stress values and philosophy and how they are to be relied upon in making daily work decisions. Give staff a framework for weighing the impact of their choices and encourage the habit of referring back to the strategic plan as a guide.
For existing personnel, outline the same framework and reinforce their efforts to use it in decision making.
These six ideas derive from personal experience with planning. In the author’s workplace the audit revealed numerous values that are currently being incorporated into the planning process, the strategic plan itself, and the mechanisms for realizing it. Once staff responses to the audit were tabulated, the results were presented at an information meeting. Questions and comments during the meeting and over the next several days helped clarify the responses and their meanings. Follow-up meetings have since been held to emphasize the congruence of the strategic plan with organizational values and to point out the derivation of daily priorities from the overall direction and overarching priorities of the plan. As new employees are hired they will be grounded in library goals and philosophies.
One unexpected outcome of the clear identification of library values is a new benchmark for use in hiring. We now have a much better idea of what attitudes and beliefs will make potential employees happy or unhappy in our library, and their ideals can be explored as part of the search for a mutually satisfying match.
Although our librarians presented no surprises in the service philosophies they held, the support staff showed clear preferences for how the plan should be accomplished. Recurring throughout their responses was the message that they prized active involvement and recognition of their worth as responsible employees. They also wanted an open climate with full disclosure of task requirements, conflicts, decisions, and how personal interest could be matched with unassigned or changing duties.
These attitudes are being built into several areas in the library’s strategic planning, with preservation being a case in point. Recently two small units were merged to form a Collection Development and Preservation Department, which will take responsibility for developing and incrementing a comprehensive preservation program. Support staff will be key players on a team charged with creating the plan. They will be active participants in determining what needs to be done, what tasks will take priority, how jobs are redesigned, and how organizational needs are balanced with personal desires. Involvement in this work is seen as both recognition and reward for competence and as a response to employee wishes for participation.
Attempts to factor values and beliefs into strategic planning have complicated the process to some extent. It takes more thought to link people with organizational goals, but the values audit has given a clearer picture of what issues must be made congruent between the two. By both incorporating some values and remolding others, the library should benefit from a strong internal commitment to implementing the plan.
by Rick. B. Forsman
Rick B. Forsman is Deputy Director, Denison Memorial Library, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO.