Management Strategies, Practices, and Decisions
Applying and assessing management strategies, practices and decisions involves identifying appropriate strategies, practices, and decisions before they are enacted. Even those without the word “manager” in their title need to be capable of taking managerial action, or making thoughtful decisions that take all invested parties into account. Often these sorts of decisions need to be effective (functional), quick, and in line with an organization’s established mission and goals.
Information professionals must be able to apply and assess managerial strategies for numerous reasons. Long-term strategies define the type of environment that an information organization such as a library is trying to provide. Is the library meeting user needs? An assessment strategy enables managers to answer that question. Managerial strategies allow information professionals to communicate a clear sense of the organization’s direction, as well as mutual goals, to stakeholders. The process of developing strategies helps librarians navigate their inherently political environments, but it can also train and assess the performance of employees. Having strategies in place helps with conflict resolution just as much as trend, issue, and technology monitoring. Finally, contributing “effective strategies regarding library services and resources” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p. 31), impacts crucial areas of library operation such as marketing and promotion, resource delivery, project sustainability, and, perhaps most importantly, funding.
Once strategies are put in place, how information professionals apply and assess them is a matter of managerial practice. The “best practices” are those strategies which multiple organizations have adopted and refined to the point that they are generally accepted as superior to alternative methods. “Practices” might take the form of policies (both official and unofficial), procedures, workflows (processes), or guidelines. Information professionals must be able to use and evaluate those practices in order to make refinements, or adopt new strategies when they find that existing ones are lacking. Continuing the cycle of sharing those best practices with others helps information professionals and organizations learn and innovate, and better serve their users by providing “organized and expedient access” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p. 14).
Ultimately, strategies and practices are executed in the form of decisions. Decision-making skills are crucial in all workplaces and roles, but especially for managers, when their decisions impact many other people. Librarians and other information professionals, in particular, must be able to apply and assess managerial decisions as a means of evaluating their organization’s strategies and practices. Managerial decisions result in the development, refinement, and adoption of strategies and practices; those same strategies and practices guide future decisions, so it’s important for library managers to make specific, realistic decisions that others can understand, execute, and evaluate in a timely fashion.
Being able to apply and assess management strategies, practices and decisions will benefit me as an information professional looking to work in an intrinsically collaborative field. Knowing how decisions trickle down from decision-maker to action-taker, and how results are gathered, evaluated, and used to develop future strategies and practices enables me to make better decisions that affect other people. Applying and assessing managerial strategies, practices, and decisions are not tasks done alone; the input of other people is required, from research and insight into issues to the execution of a decision.
With its emphasis on management and leadership throughout the Marshall School of Business’s Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) program, several courses have given me the opportunity to examine the application and assessment of management strategies, practices, and decisions. As a hands-on learner, I felt that one of the best ways to learn about management decisions was to take on the role of a leader making decisions on-the-spot. I did this as a moderator in a focus group for my Research Methods in Library and Information Management course (LIM 504).
Focus Group Moderator Guide
Artifact course context and relationship to program goal. In the context of a focus group, a moderator acts as a leader, explaining processes and guiding the flow of answers from participants, but not telling them what to say or how to say it. Per its name, the document acts as a guide, suggesting possible questions and follow-up inquiries based on participant answers, ways of tracking and sharing answers with others, and establishing a small set of ground rules (policies) for overall expectations of behavior from the participants. The guide itself acts as a set of strategies and best practices to aid in moderator decision-making during a focus group session.
Roles, responsibilities, and process. The Research Methods in Library and Information Management course permitted me to conduct a focus group with my classmates on the topic of my choosing, supposing that my fellow students qualified for the focus group based on prior market research. The guide that I created walked moderators through the focus group process, from identifying the group that guide should be used for, to detailing the questions moderators should ask participants. As a guide, not a script, the document indicates possible probing questions that moderators could ask to gain further insight into a participant’s answer. This is similar to how an information professional might conduct a research interview in order to better assist a patron, or how a library manager might work with other employees to identify and resolve conflicts or issues.
My role as a focus group moderator placed me in the role of someone within a company (specifically Jelly Belly), where the results of the focus group would impact the work of others. The process of writing the guide required me to develop useful strategies for collecting, tabulating, and processing the information gathered from the focus group session. It included best practices that I wrote in clear, concise language, such that other moderators could use the guide for their own groups. Finally, since I had to use the guide myself during a live recording with my classmates and the professor, I had to make decisions based on my progress in the guide: should I ask this probing question, or should I continue on to a different topic? Is everyone in the group following the basic ground rules? At the conclusion of the focus group, I had to evaluate whether the guide I wrote served its intended purpose and if I would need to make any changes to improve its effectiveness.
Skills and abilities. For any assignment submitted throughout the MLIS program, I utilized various technology skills, since the program exists entirely online. Using WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field (Gutsche & Hough, 2014), these technology skills can be broadly classified as Core Technology Competencies, and include E-Mail, Hardware, Internet, Operating Systems, Software Applications, and Web Technologies for accessing course materials online, creating and editing shared documents, and compositing multiple videos together for submission.
Additionally, for the creation and use of this artifact, I used Collaboration and Leadership skills by working with my peers as a moderator for my focus group, and as a participant in their groups. A moderator may guide focus group members but ultimately serves to “build an environment of trust” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p. 7) that empowers participation, collaboration, and honest feedback. Similarly, a library leader may not have “manager” in their title, but he or she still empowers others to speak up, work together, and “take ownership in decision-making” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p.10) processes. My moderator guide had to take into account the variability of participant responses so that a focus group leader could “[anticipate] and [adapt] to change and challenges effectively” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p. 11). Regardless of whether users are called customers, patrons, or some other term, information centers involve information seekers and gatekeepers. As a moderator for a focus group, I used the guide to seek information from my classmates, but I also acted as a gatekeeper by asking specific questions. I employed these Customer Service skills to gather feedback on how consumers perceive the performance of the Jelly Belly company and what the organization could improve, a process Gutsche & Hough (2014) call analysis, evaluation, and adjustment. My moderator guide exists on the assumption that the Jelly Belly company wants to introduce new flavors, but get customer feedback about what flavors to introduce.
As representatives of an organization, focus group moderators must employ Learning and Innovation skills throughout the focus group process. In the creation of my moderator guide, I not only had to adapt my thinking to consider how focus groups could relate to library and information services but reflect critically on the process: what questions did I not have the chance to get to? Were there questions that participants brought up that provided useful information, but were not otherwise factored into my guide? Did my guide make any incorrect assumptions about participants? Did my guide serve its intended purpose? As an information professional, there will likely be times when I have to process user feedback of some kind, and I will be responsible for critically thinking about how to act on it. Furthermore, writing the moderator guide meant I had to think about what kinds of questions to ask to clarify the various points of view that would provide the best data. Even though my hypothetical focus group participants all had something in common (having purchased jelly beans as a snack food in the past three months), the purpose of a focus group isn’t to get the same answer from every participant, but to understand the variety of responses from people who have at least one other thing in common. Focus group moderators and library managers alike need to “use creative and innovative approaches” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p. 13) to solicit diverse ideas and feedback, incorporate those ideas into working strategies, and refine them into best practices that benefit the organization and its patrons.
Future Work Environments
I am able to demonstrate mastery of this goal for future work environments in several ways. I will be able to rapidly determine an organization’s mission, goals, and values and identify how I am the best person for the job that helps meet those goals.
The ability to apply and assess management strategies, practices, and decisions positions me to take on leadership roles both big and small. Whether I am responsible only for my own work or the work of others, my decisions will impact other people: employees and patrons alike. Applying and assessing management strategies, practices, and decisions helps me make thoughtful decisions with those other people in mind. Who will my decision impact, and how? How can we determine if this is the most effective decision to make to achieve the needed results? Will this decision result in actions that are aligned with our organization’s vision, mission, and goals?
Management strategies and practices will help me navigate a new workplace environment and collaborate successfully with others. Acting on those strategies (decision-making) permits me to refine both my personal and the organization’s practices into a series of “best practices” that can be shared with others, thereby benefiting the information profession as a whole. These best practices might include efficient workflows, employee training manuals, surveys for gathering feedback on proposed or existing services, or methods for monitoring trends, issues, and technology that impact the organization’s users and services.
Finally, it is through the application and assessment of managerial strategies, practices, and decisions that I can contribute to vital areas of a library or information center’s operation, from marketing and promotion to acquiring or effectively using funding. Treating every single job as a necessary part of a greater whole enables me to recognize the contributions of others, market my own, and advocate for the continued future of not just “my” library, but all libraries and information centers.
Gutsche, B. & Hough, B. (Eds.) (2014). Competency index for the library field 2014 (2nd ed.). Dublin, OH: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/Competency_Index_for_the_Library_Field.html