I also had a chance to attend former ALA President Maureen Sullivan's session on Appreciative Inquiry and strategic planning. Maureen was great as always: clear, insightful, and representing some of the current best thinking about managerial leadership. Many of us have used the SWOT exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). But there's something better: SOAR. That stands for:
- Strengths: what works today? What is the best of what is? As Maureen said, even in difficult times, there's always something that's going right.
- Opportunities: Where are the possibilities not now being pursued?
- Aspiration: What are our hopes and dreams? What "could be?"
- Results: What do we we want to accomplish? Where will we focus?
When I consulted with planning groups, I used a different spin on the same ideas. My process, which also took about two hours, went like this:
- What is the origin of the passion that brings you here? I found that these stories, mostly from board members and senior staff, not only helped the group bond, but exposed some of the key values of the group. It also articulated some of those aspirations.
- What organizational achievement are you proud of? How did you manage to do it? This lets people brag about what they've done well, and reflect on the processes or attitudes that lead to accomplishment. It affirms capacity.
- What's the "next level?" That is, as you think about libraries (although this works for other kinds of organizations, too) that are further along or "better" than yours, what do they do that you don't? I find that people do very often know what the next level is. They just haven't said it out loud before. There are indeed distinct stages of organizational development, and we tend to be aware of the next rung when it begins to be within our reach.
- What steps do you have to take to get there? So if the answer is "the next level up has an internal training department," the steps to make that happen get pretty clear. Budget for a training manager. Bring one on board charged with developing a program.
Maureen also listed some books I need to track down to further explore these ideas:
- Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
- Humble Inquiry: the Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schein
- The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond
- The Thin Book of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy by Jacqueline M. Stavros and Gina Hinrichs
At any rate, TLA, under the management of the altogether extraordinary executive director Pat Smith (now retiring), has long offered one of the premier library conferences. I was sorry to have to leave it just as San Antonio's Festival was beginning!