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Strategy Smackdown: Organization vs. Technology

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I spoke at the recent Future Tech Strategies for Libraries organized by Jane Dysart & Stephen Abram on the fact that Technology is one of the Enablers of Digital Strategy, and is to be aligned with the organization strategy. Well, that’s what I was supposed to speak on. I was supposed to remind people that the organization’s strategy drives their technology strategy.

I used to believe that. The organization – in our case, the library – analyzes trends impacting its community or campus or parent organization, consults its markets or communities to understand their challenges & dreams, and then maps a strategy to move the library forward towards a meaningful, desirable future. And where was technology in that discussion? It was an enabler: you determine what you want to do and use technology to do it.

But now I’m not so convinced. Technology not only transforms work and operational processes, it opens up incredible new worlds of service concepts and deliver channels for us. So maybe we establish our technology strategy first? and then map our organizational strategy to align with it? This is the ying and yang of powerful drivers for libraries. There is a positive tension between the technology strategy and the organizational strategy – and that’s healthy for the library. Grasp your hands together and first try to pull them apart; breath into the pulling. Then, keep grasping your hands and push your hands together as hard as you can; keep breathing into it, and

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Hierarchy has its place

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Jane and Stephen are hosting the Symposium on “Building the Engaged Flat Army for the Library” tomorrow at the iSchool @ University of Toronto. I’m honoured to be talking about organization structures – and will miss Ken Haycock joining me. Next time Ken. The slides I’m using are below.

‘Flattening’ an organization isn’t so much about ‘pushing down’ as it is about ‘pulling up’; a large management team does, indeed, pulls ‘layers’ closer together. I’m not sure why some people equate a small management team with a flat organization — it is definitely more of a pyramid to me. The more people around decision-making tables, the more insights, the more communication, the more understanding. Hierarchy has its place. It identifies who’s responsible – and, most importantly, who is accountable for what. There’s nothing like clarity to allow everyone to see the full picture.

Does hierarchy always work? nope. Does any organization structure or design always work? nope. You can have the best intentioned organization design and yet have a total disaster. It can be flat as a pancake and still be non-collaborative with the worst collegiality you’ve ever seen. Why? Because organizations are about people working together towards a shared goal. That sounds rather motherhoody, but it is true. Organizations need people with different roles, and some of those roles are to make decisions that have broad implications, and to be accountable. If you want to call the people in those roles managers, that’s fine. And one thing

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