Navigating Organizational Culture

Margot Note

Margot Note

February 19, 2024

The role of archivists goes beyond the conventional tasks of collecting, preserving, and managing records.

They are not custodians but influential agents shaping organizational culture and safeguarding institutional memory.

Archivists should adopt an advocacy-driven approach. This strategic mindset evaluates their department’s position within the larger institution. It involves a comprehensive assessment of crucial areas such as budget management, staff recruitment, professional development, and establishing advisory bodies.

Archivists embracing an advocacy-driven approach recognize the need for strategic thinking to elevate their department’s perception within the larger institutional framework. A key aspect involves meticulous budget management, where archivists must secure adequate funding and allocate resources to meet the diverse needs of preserving and organizing archival materials. Doing so requires a forward-looking perspective that anticipates technological advancements, evolving collection requirements, and the dynamic nature of archival work.

In addition to financial considerations, staff recruitment becomes a critical component in fostering a robust archival department. Archivists must attract skilled professionals who bring diverse expertise and perspectives to the team. The recruitment process should align with the broader goals of the institution, ensuring that the archival staff contributes to the organization’s mission. Professional development initiatives further enhance the capabilities of the archival team, keeping them abreast of best practices, emerging technologies, and evolving standards in archival management.

Establishing advisory bodies that include internal and external stakeholders further strengthens the department’s connection to the broader institutional community, fostering collaboration and shared goals.

Deciphering Culture

To advocate for their departments, archivists must first understand the organizational culture in which they operate. This understanding hinges on two fundamental factors: the organization’s internally or externally focused orientation and its inclination towards maintaining control or embracing change.

Advocacy may face limitations in bureaucratic cultures where adherence to strict rules is paramount. On the other hand, competitive cultures, characterized by a certain level of flexibility, allow room for advocacy efforts. Community-oriented cultures provide a conducive environment for advocacy, and entrepreneurial cultures encourage it, valuing innovation and assertiveness. By recognizing these cultural nuances, archivists can navigate the landscape of their institutions more effectively.

Archivists should also be attuned to power dynamics within the organizational structure. The success of advocacy efforts often depends on the ability to identify decision-makers and influencers. Understanding the formal and informal channels through which decisions are made allows archivists to position their advocacy messages strategically. Moreover, acknowledging the diverse perspectives and interests within the organization is crucial. Inclusive advocacy that considers the needs and concerns of various stakeholders fosters a collaborative approach, increasing the likelihood of garnering support for archival initiatives. By aligning advocacy strategies with the intricacies of organizational culture and power dynamics, archivists can champion their departments and contribute to a more resilient, responsive workplace.

A Strategic Tool

A valuable tool in this navigation is the STARS model, designed to assess organizational scenarios and guide leaders in tailoring their strategies. The acronym STARS represents five scenarios: start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, and sustaining success. This model elucidates each situation’s characteristics and challenges, such as launching a new venture, rescuing a struggling initiative, managing rapid expansion, revitalizing a previously successful department, or following an accomplished predecessor. Each situation influences how archivists can approach advocacy within their organizational culture.

For archivists facing a start-up scenario characterized by launching a new venture, the focus may be establishing the importance of archival work within the organization and securing the necessary resources. In a turnaround situation, where the goal is to rescue a struggling initiative, archivists may need to advocate for restructuring and reallocating resources to revitalize their departments. In cases of accelerated growth, archivists must advocate for the necessary support to manage the rapid expansion of their responsibilities. Realignment scenarios involving revitalizing a previously successful department call for advocacy efforts to adapt to changing circumstances and ensure continued success. Finally, sustaining success requires archivists to advocate for maintaining the momentum and relevance of their departments following the achievements of a predecessor.

Shaping the Future of Archival Work

The STARS model, therefore, becomes a dynamic tool for archivists to comprehend the unique challenges presented by each scenario and tailor their advocacy strategies accordingly. As a compass, it guides them through organizational change and adaptation complexities. With an understanding of organizational culture and the model’s strategic insights, archivists can position themselves within their institutions. By adopting an advocacy-driven perspective, they contribute to preserving institutional memory and become instrumental in shaping the culture and trajectory of their organizations.

1 Adapted from Michael D. Watkins, “Picking the Right Transition Strategy,” Harvard Business Review (January 2009).

Margot Note

Margot Note

To learn more, please join us for a free webinar, Organizational Culture and Internal Advocacy, Wednesday, March 13, 2024  at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now 

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