Part One: Special Libraries’ Evolving Role—Continued Success Requires a Business Strategy

Phil Green

Phil Green

May 06, 2017

My first job was at Data Resources Inc. (DRI) working as a consultant with a large Fortune 25 conglomerate. My role was to provide industry information and sales forecasting via timesharing to its various business units by building a model that the customer would run (ideally) for years to come. Whenever the customer ran the model, DRI generated revenue. Sounds great, right? But I learned a difficult lesson about how things really work.

The CEO of the conglomerate I worked with had announced a very simple strategy: each business unit had to be a market leader, or have very high market share in their marketplace—or their businesses would be sold. His strategy was both brilliant and simple. Market leaders make lots of money, other businesses make a lot less. Since the conglomerate had limited resources, he wanted organizational focus on winners, not losers.

As a naïve young person right out of college I believed in meritocracy. I believed that if I worked hard and I did quality work, I would be rewarded with accolades from customers and bosses.

However, when I worked very hard for three different divisions of the conglomerate, two of which were then sold because they were not marketplace leaders, most of my hard work went down the drain. Although my customers were happy, my boss was not—because future revenue from the sold divisions would be zero.

The lesson? I should have taken pains to understand the CEO’s vision, and asked questions of the division leaders before I put in all my work. Had I done so, I could have ensured that I was working for business units that were marketplace leaders, and invested my time and energy with those businesses: improving them, ensuring future revenue, and making my boss happy.

I believe that Special Librarians need to do the same thing inside their own organizations:

  • Understand your CEO’s strategy
  • Identify organizational initiatives key to that strategy
  • Attach your team to these critical initiatives/projects
  • Find ways to ensure your team’s contribution to these strategic projects is recognized

In my experience, if you follow these steps, you’ll build a winning strategy for your library. Working with (and being acknowledged by) your organization’s leaders will ensure your library gets the support and funding you need. Working without a strategy will likely result in less recognition and less growth for your library, if you allocate precious resources on projects with low impact.

Do you have a strategy for your library?

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