Let us not make any illusion: we are in the midst of a very unstable and turbulent world which is in perpetual mutation. There is no sector which is not affected and every organisation needs to be prepared to face the challenge of change. Change is on agenda and it has been rightly said that there is nothing permanent except change. Change remains the only constant factor. Library and information services in Mauritius also have to manage the change which could be the result of a combination of both external and internal factors. Libraries have to change to ensure a future but this change does not happen by itself. People make it happen. The future can be both exciting and challenging for libraries if they are able to change. To be able to successfully manage change, libraries and information services need to develop strategies or strategic planning. But what is strategic planning and what does it mean for libraries and information services?
Put in simple terms, strategic planning is finding the answers to the following questions: who are we, what the organisation is doing, why we are doing it, where it is going in the 2-3 years and how it is going there. Strategic planning is long term planning and visionary. A plan is not strategic if it lacks any of the critical elements such as internal and external scanning, redesigning and reviewing mission and vision statements to determine what the organisation should look like, and appropriate action plans to show how the organisation intends to get to the vision. A strategic plan is not a one-time exercise, once drafted and kept in the drawer, almost as a confidential document. All employees, stakeholders and even library users should be aware of the strategic planning of the library. Moreover, strategic planning is ongoing, comprehensive, participatory and systematic. Strategic plans have to be constantly reviewed, monitored and adapted to the changing environment. The response of the organisation should be appropriate.
What have we seen in our local context? It may sound odd to say it but strategic thinking and analysis, evaluation of aims and target settings, involvement of staffs and communication of aims, objectives and plans for the formulation of strategic plans are not well-developed and embedded activities in the local library and information services. Is it that we are in short of resource persons to conduct strategic planning in libraries? Or is it that we are totally cut-off from the realities and we are happy in our ivory tower? We know institutions which have sponsored their representatives to attend workshops overseas on strategic planning but coming back home nothing concrete seems to have been implemented.
For too long, librarians had faith in the ‘value’ of their libraries and saw their services as ‘social benefits’ which would never be challenged. They could not think of the idea of being questioned about their raison-d’être. Fierce competitions in the information industry along with the forces of globalisation and rapid application of information and communication technologies have created a new scenario. Nothing is taken for granted and each library, be it public, academic, special or national, has to demonstrate its contribution to the ‘outcome’ it is supposed to bring and provide justifications for securing funds. The two axes of reforms namely the Programme-based budgeting system and the Performance Management System recommended by the PRB report 2008 is in line with this new philosophy.
How to develop strategic plans? There is no “one best way” to undertake strategic planning and what is important is the method of doing it. In the absence of such ready-made formula, very often the following important steps are recommended:
- Conduct an external/internal assessment to identify “SWOT” (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats);
- Undertake strategic analysis to identify and prioritise major issues or goals;
- Design major strategies to address the identified issues or goals;
- Formulate vision, mission statements and corporate values;
- Establish actionable plans;
- Monitor, review, evaluate results and update strategic plans
Benefits of strategic planning
If the exercise is conducted properly, there are numerous benefits associated with it. There is clear definition of purposes of the organisations with the establishment of realistic goals and objectives consistent with the internal capacity of the organisations and within a defined time frame. There is better communications at organisation-wide level. The use of the scarce resources of the organisations are maximised with a focus on priorities and this produces more efficiency and effectiveness. Other benefits include the building of strong teams, involvement of staffs and their empowerment to contribute effectively in the achievement of the goals of the organisations. Usually full participation of employees in a climate of trust, openness and frank discussions yields better results. For this reason, very often ‘library retreats’ are organised away from the office premises and an expert is often hired as moderator.
Strategic thinking v/s micromanagement
Strategic planning is a management tool and the process is strategic because it involves preparing the best way to respond to the dynamic environment (external and internal) of the library. Strategic planning requires strategic thinking which means asking questions such as ‘are we doing the right things?’, ‘are we doing the things right?’, ‘where is the library leading?’ etc. Strategic thinking will involve making an assessment with a proper understanding of the environment and being creative or innovative in developing effective responses to those changing environment. Critical thinking and analysis is necessary in this exercise. Managing Directors or Bosses wasting too much of their time in petty things and eager to micromanage the library fails in strategic thinking. Managers who are micromanaging spend excessive time trying to control the details of work done by “competent” staff, rather than focusing their energy on the strategic necessities of managing. If Managing Directors waste their time on checking attendance of employees for example, they are wasting precious time and money of the library.
Are we doing the right things in our libraries? Do we have a future? Strategic thinking is necessary!