People too often dismiss futures planning or strategic planning or scenario planning as a bureaucratic exercise they need to do for “the Board” (in the case of public libraries) or “management” (in the case of academic, corporate or government libraries). Those people need to reframe futures planning as creating solutions for the problems the library is beginning to face today and will most certainly face tomorrow. A future scenario or vision should not be a motherhood, lofty statement or story; it should be a solution to successfully confront emerging situations – be they opportunities or challenges.

We’ve just always believed that those who will be implementing the vision should participate in creating the vision. We’ve based that on common sense, really. It just made sense to Jane and I that staff who “see” themselves in the “future state” and like what they “see” and understand what they “see” have a vested interest in developing that future state. We didn’t have a lot of proof other than people’s testimonies that when they collaborated on creating the strategic plan they became more quickly and willingly engaged in implementing the resulting actions and initiatives.

Once again, a good ol’ Harvard blog has pointed me to evidence that this is indeed the case. The evidence has been around since the early 1980’s (I’ve been around the workplace since then too, so maybe I did learn back then that this approach was based on research and not just farm-girl common sense.) Today’s HBR blog by Scott Kellar “Increase Your Team’s Motivation Five-Fold”  says “When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome — by a factor of five to one.”

The approach we’ve advocated for visioning is to have the leader, be it Manager, CEO or University Librarian, write out their draft vision and to send this to everyone prior to the strategizing discussions.  All staff are asked to write their vision, and, based on their own vision to then jot down what they “like” about the leader’s draft, what they need to better understand, and what they’d like to see added to the leader’s vision.  People are always quick to say what they “don’t like” about something, so we encourage people to quell that instinct, and to put more thought into what is in common about their vision and the leader’s vision and what would make them more compatible.  The result is a much richer vision or future scenario in which more people see their parts, their involvement, their stake.

Kellar’s blog gives me more ideas – and I’m positive there are many more possibilities than I have bursting in my brain this morning.  There is nothing like seeing something in writing to spur people to details.  And it is the details in creating services and solutions that are most important. So when a library team must solve a workflow or service problem, why not use the same approach that we use for strategic planning visioning? Have each staff write their scenario for the situation in which the problem no longer exists – or the situation in which the service is delightful(!) for all involved, customers and staff alike.  Then keep combining and building on each staff’s scenarios to co-create the scenario or potential solution.  This can be done in sessions (don’t go beyond 2 hours — it just doesn’t work too well any longer) or in an online environment.  We’ve done this with reports – so why not with a service or workflow solution?

Yes, this takes more time. And, yes, the uptake is much faster and much smoother when people have buy-in.  Buy-in simply means that they have ‘bought into’ the tasks they face prior to be asked to undertake the task.  Once we’ve ‘bought’ we are much more likely to follow-through.  The adage, “pay me now or may me later” continues to hold true; invest before hand for a higher rate of return during implementation.

One other idea from Kellar’s blog are questions for staff to consider and discuss that will certainly get and perhaps keep the focus on what the library’s role is and what their individual and collective roles and responsibilities are. Have a look at this:

Consider David Farr, CEO of Emerson Electric, who is noted for asking virtually everyone he encounters in his organization four questions related to his company’s story: 1.) How do you make a difference? (testing for alignment on the company’s direction); 2.) What improvement idea are you working on? (emphasizing continuous improvement); 3.) When did you last get coaching from your boss? (emphasizing the importance of employee development); and 4.) Who is the enemy? (emphasizing the importance of “One Emerson”/no silos, i.e., he wanted to emphasize that the “right” answer was the competition and not some other department).

Fantastic.  Start to ask those questions of yourself. Then introduce them in staff discussions. Let people think on each for a while and then dive in. What the heck? What’s the worst thing that can happen? To me the worst thing that can happen is if we DON’T co-create solutions and DON’T consider how we make a difference and what improvements we’re thinking about.