Making Library Technology Changes Easier…12.02.08

2 12 2008

Since it seems like many of us librarians have a difficult time instituting and/or accepting change and much has been written and discussed about it, the following excerpt from Ed Batista’s “Technology is Soft” [http://www.edbatista.com/nonprofits/index.html] post this last May on his Executive Coaching and Change Management blog [http://www.edbatista.com/] is relevant and helpful.  I would suggest reading the post in its entirety here: http://www.edbatista.com/nonprofits/index.html

“Given the topics I’ve discussed here over the last few years–leadership and management, personal and organizational development, and the effective use of technology–if you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet that you’re someone with an interest in making change happen and that you see opportunities to help your organization or your community find better ways of doing things, particularly when technology is a factor.

So here’s a mental model to help make the process of leading change easier: Technology is soft.

Let me make a brief detour in order to explain what I mean by that.  In the late 1970s Tom Peters, Bob Waterman, Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos developed a framework for analyzing organizations known as the “7s Model” which looks at different aspects of an organization and which I still find highly useful.  (The graphic at left is from BuildingBrands.)  The 7s Model is often interpreted as dividing organizations into “hard” and “soft” elements–the former category includes the three concepts in red at the top of the graphic:

• Strategy
Your high-level goals and how you plan to achieve them.

• Structure
An organization’s “blueprints”: how people and resources are allocated, how work and responsibilities are distributed.

• Systems
All the ropes, pulleys and gears, so to speak, that get things done in an organization.

These elements of the model are seen as “hard” because they’re more easily reduced to tangible artifacts–plans and documents and infrastructure–but that designation also reflects a value judgment in our language.  “Hard” stuff can be complex and difficult, but it’s also serious and important.  “Soft” stuff, in contrast, is ambiguous, unreliable, secondary.  (I hope it’s apparent that I think this is bias needs to be challenged, and Tom Peters agrees.)

We’ve traditionally located technology among the “hard” elements of an organization, and that’s what usually comes to mind when we think about “Information Technology.”  We have IT plans, IT departments (or people whose responsibilities include IT), and, of course, IT systems.  Thinking about technology from this perspective may seem logical, but I believe the implications are profound, unhelpful and increasingly outdated.

Some aspects of technology will always be classic “IT”: hardware, storage, connectivity.  But these are commodities.  You get the best price you can for them, and you don’t expect them to add strategic value to the organization.

I believe the strategic aspects of technology that have the greatest potential to actually make a difference in an organization fit into on the other side of the 7s Model, the “soft” side:

• Staff
Not the org chart–that’s part of the Structure–but the real, flesh-and-blood people, and all their strengths, weaknesses, hopes and aspirations.

• Style
Management style, or organizational culture: The tacit norms that govern how work gets done and how people interact.

• Skills
The full range of competencies possessed by an organization, including interpersonal skills, learning.

Thinking about technology as “soft,” as an aspect of an organization’s staff, style and skills, may seem counterintuitive, but increasingly this is where it truly resides (and it’s where you’ll have the greatest leverage when driving technology-related change.)…”

I posted other great material from Ed Batista in August about “The Influence Pyramid and the Solo Librarian” [ http://lonewolflibrarian.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/the-influence-pyramid-and-the-solo-librarian080808/] which may also be of interest if you’re reading this.

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