All posts by Katherine Kott

About Katherine Kott

Management, organizational effectiveness, and organizational change consultant in the academic sector. Experience working with libraries, museums, archives, and other not-for-profits to manage change and enhance organizational effectiveness. Areas of expertise include meeting facilitation, team building, leadership development, volunteer program development, organizational design, performance improvement, change management, systems thinking.

New Article on Strategic Planning

I am pleased to report that an article Kathy Dabbour at California State University Northridge (CSUN) and I wrote has just been published in the Journal of Library Administration 57 (4). The article, Dialogic Approaches to Strategic Planning in Academic Libraries, a contribution to the Strategic Planning and Assessment column edited by Wanda V. Dole, discusses trends towards strength-based methods for planning and describes how we used Appreciative Inquiry for strategic planning at CSUN.


Academic Libraries, Community Engagement, and Service Learning

Are community engagement and service learning strategic priorities at your college or university? Are you wondering how your library can be more involved in community engagement and service learning? Do you want to know how you can take your service learning program to the next level? Continue reading Academic Libraries, Community Engagement, and Service Learning Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Implementing Your Strategic Plan

The plan is complete! You’ve engaged stakeholders and set new directions for the organization. Now what? What can you do to ensure the plan comes to life instead of being relegated to a drawer or posted on the web but never visited?

The first challenge is to integrate the plan into the organization’s work so that the plan becomes the work rather than an add-on. The groups in your organization that are responsible for leadership and management might work together to break strategies down into goals or tasks and think about where in the organization responsibility for the task belongs.  Does it fit within the purview of an existing department or work group or is a new cross-functional task force or team with skills from different areas needed? What is the department or task force expected to accomplish and by when? How will they know when the task has been completed? Members of the leadership and management group will need to communicate this information to department heads, supervisors, team leaders, etc. and integrate a regular strategic plan check-in into their meeting agendas. This will ensure that the leaders and managers are aware of progress towards goals. If any initiatives stall, leaders and managers can help remove obstacles or make a decision to revise the plan.

As members of departments, teams, and work groups begin new projects, launch new programs, etc., it important for them to provide regular feedback to management and leadership on their progress as well as the need for resources or additional training, adjustments that may be needed in scheduling, etc. Finally, if managers and team leaders include check-ins on strategic goals in regular coaching and performance conversations with employees, individuals’ work will be aligned with new strategies. This is the kernel of organizational change.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Cultivating Coaching Cultures

Last month, I attended a panel discussion on Creating a Coaching Culture in Your Organization sponsored by the Bay Area Organization Development Network. Only one of the panelists actually talked about how coaching becomes cultural–the others discussed the practice and discipline of becoming a coach. Nonetheless, the event prompted me to think about coaching and reflect on the ways coaching fits within a performance leadership framework. Cultivating a coaching culture has the potential to create an environment in which people are encouraged to see the importance of their contribution to organizational strategy, goals, and objectives. A recent Harvard Business Review article, Finding the Balance Between Coaching and Managing noted that “effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.” Recognition of each person’s role in organizational success helps keep employees engaged and motivated.

But what is a coaching culture, exactly, and how does coaching fit within a performance leadership framework? And by the way, what is performance leadership?

Unlike a traditional performance assessment process, in which supervisors evaluate employees on an infrequent basis–e.g. annually–performance leadership is a framework that involves all members of an organization in regular goal setting, aligned with overall organizational strategies and objectives. Managers, supervisors, and other leaders (team or program leads without supervisory authority) commit to engaging colleagues in regular (weekly, if possible) conversations about the work, the employee’s interests and skills, obstacles and opportunities, and progress towards goals. Regular conversations about priorities and obstacles, and consistent attention to alignment of employee interests and aptitudes with organizational needs contributes to organizational effectiveness. If the organization is required to comply with an annual performance assessment process, that process may be integrated into the performance leadership framework, although the integration must be undertaken carefully due to the difference between directive supervision and collaborative coaching.

For a successful transition to a coaching culture, leaders in the organization will need to learn what coaching involves and how it works, and to become familiar and comfortable with different roles and relationships with subordinates and colleagues. A workshop such as the one I have developed on performance leadership, which includes exercises to prepare leaders to become coaches–including role playing activities–can be a good way to launch a coaching program. Once the first cohort in the organization has had some experience with coaching, a train the trainer approach can be used to infuse the entire organization with a collaborative approach to reaching organizational goals that expects everyone to take responsibility for organizational effectiveness.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

The Year Ahead–2016

Happy New Year!

What’s on tap for 2016?

  • Continue consulting to organizations–especially libraries–that are motivated to transform themselves through leadership, strategy, and innovative organizational design.
  • Integrate a lifelong commitment to community service through service learning advocacy.
  • Explore the possibility of bridging polarized relationships that are obstacles to transformative change.

I am excited about the publication of a chapter on developing service learning programs in academic libraries forthcoming in Service Learning, Information Literacy, and Libraries in April. Publication of the book will follow a working session on developing an assessment framework for service learning programs in academic libraries at the Libraries and Service Learning Embedded Institute before the Campus Compact 30th anniversary conference: Accelerating Change: Engagement for Impact. Involvement in service learning provides an opportunity for all types of academic libraries to participate in their communities at the campus level and beyond in a variety of ways.

Could libraries prototype models for overcoming structural obstacles to transformative change? It would be great to explore possibilities for creative destruction of barriers to change. Many of these issues were topics at the Taiga Forum at DLF Forum 2015 in Vancouver, BC last October.

Colleagues here in the bay area shared an inspiring story about a direct conversation between union member and managers of a local transit company that they facilitated. Drivers and managers met to exchange information about one specific process–scheduling, but left the meeting with their relationship transformed. For the first time, they had communicated directly rather than through lawyers and mediators about an issue important to both parties and about which there was little initial agreement.

Libraries generally include both managers and union members in strategic planning processes, so it is not really the case that union members and managers do not discuss important issues directly. However, sensitive issues that fall under the Taiga Forum topic “employee relations”  are usually omitted from these discussions–sometimes out of fear of grievances or otherwise motivated by conflict avoidance. Even in non-union environments general discussions about faculty status or tensions between librarians and other library workers are rare.

What would it take to try something different? I don’t have a plan, or goal, or preconceived notion about what might create a shift in structure to create positive change but would love to collaborate on an experiment in this area. Ping me if you’re interested!Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Sliding off the Bandwagon: Academic Libraries and Isomorphism

Earlier this summer, I had a couple of moments when I wondered what had happened to a trend that was really hot for awhile but seems to have died down. One was as I read through the ACRL Environmental Scans for 2015 and 2013. In 2013, MOOCs were seen as a phenomenon that would have an impact on every college and research library whereas in the 2015 report, they were only mentioned in passing as a market-based alternative to “traditional place-based programs” (p. 2) without mention of impact on library services.

The other was as I was reading an article that mentioned using Second Life for service learning, online reference, and information literacy instruction. While it is still possible to find popular articles about how virtual reality environments will transform higher education, the pressure for libraries to jump on the Second Life bandwagon quietly subsided when Linden Lab changed their business model.

Analyzing what has happened to MOOCs and to Second Life would be interesting. What is really intriguing is the apparent lack of reflection as we slide off these bandwagons. Why did we think we needed to jump on them in the first place?

In Redefining Academic Libraries: How Trends in Higher Education are Driving Change, a talk she gave at the ACRL President’s Program at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco in June, Constance Malpas of OCLC Research talked about isomorphism, a phenomenon whereby organizations of a certain type become more similar to one another.

Ms. Malpas focused her remarks on normative isomorphism–the force professionalism exerts on organizational change (or the lack of it), approaches to problem solving, etc. Mimetic isomorphism is the tendency of organizations to jump on (and off) a bandwagon during uncertain times. Perhaps developing an awareness of these isomorphic tendencies would help us, as a profession, develop more thoughtful responses to environmental changes.

To that end, I would love to hear about people/libraries that are still actively experimenting with producing and/or supporting MOOCs or that are using virtual reality spaces for research support, information literacy instruction, exhibits, etc. How did you think about and plan for integrating MOOCs into your work? For people/libraries that were once involved in MOOCs or Second Life but have disengaged, what was your thinking when you decided to get involved? What made you decide to give it up?Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

From Scarcity to Abundance: Libraries, Learning Spaces, and Collections

Last week I had the good fortune to attend a workshop on creating learning spaces at the Fielding Graduate University Winter Session. The workshop created a learning space in its own right in a large hotel ballroom. We participated in exercises to expose us to the different experiences two Fielding graduates had as they taught online courses for the first time. We heard about the model a student had built to show the difference between collaborative and networked online learning experiences.

Finally, the space was transformed into a maker space as we broke into groups to respond to a design challenge–to create a prototype exhibit for a museum. This was a real life problem and as part of the exercise we presented our prototypes to a member of the museum staff who provided feedback. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to use her feedback to refine our designs, but we had a chance to experience a design process that emphasizes rapid prototyping and gathering feedback early.

Besides being fun, it was great to get outside of ourselves and work on a problem that was new and fresh. Later in the day, we got bogged down when we started to think about what Fielding’s learning spaces should be. We were too close to the problem and had too much invested in solving particular problems.

On the same day, Barbara Fister posted Schrödinger’s Library on her Library Babel Fish blog. Barbara thoughtfully analyzed the trend in libraries toward repurposing library space from “storage” for collection to “a digital scholarship center or study spaces that students clamor for or a new classroom where students can use archival or rare materials”. She also cited the Ithaka research that shows a gap between faculty and library directors’ views about the purpose of the library. I have seen this dichotomy in focus groups with faculty and librarians at client sites.

It has occurred to me that what may seem like nostalgia on the part of faculty for their graduate school days when they could browse the stacks and come upon material serendipitously may represent a kind of learning that is important and that should be accommodated, particularly in certain disciplines. I am also concerned that if librarians focus on the learning process–regardless of how sophisticated the view of that process may be–they will lose opportunities to collaborate with faculty on learning outcomes that may involve deep engagement with content. If faculty and librarians are embattled over who is responsible for information literacy, the students stand to lose.

When a domain such as higher education is undergoing change and is under threat, one of the results can be turf wars. Is it possible that the polarization between librarians and faculty over the issues of the purpose of the library and responsibility for student information literacy comes from a scarcity mentality that results from being under threat? What if librarians changed the conversation from either/or to both/and? What if learning space design specifically addressed concerns faculty have expressed about the need to engage collections in certain disciplinary areas (art and music come to mind immediately)? What if learning space design engaged the question of how to incorporate the kind of learning that results from serendipitous discovery into the use of digital collections?

In last week’s learning spaces workshop, the design assignment we received was abstract but included some important underlying principles such as the goal to have visitors leave the exhibit area feeling hopeful. While my ideas about learning spaces in libraries are also somewhat abstract, they also include some basic principles:

  • shift the conversation from one of scarcity (dividing up responsibility for information literacy, housing collections or creating learning spaces) to one of abundance
  • think about ways to expand the use of print collections in learning spaces beyond engagement with “special” collections
  • model serendipitous discovery in the digital environment
  • use rapid prototyping to design new learning spaces and programs that can be refined and adjusted based on feedback from stakeholders, including librarians, faculty, and students

Perhaps some of these principles are already in use in some places. If so, I would love to hear about these efforts.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Working with Volunteers

The outreach coordinator and a board member of a not for profit organization contacted me for advice about working with volunteers. Like many similar organizations, their organization relies on volunteers to accomplish much of the work they do. They were wondering what they could do to insure that the relationship between their organization and their volunteers is positive and beneficial to both parties.

The advice I gave them was based on my experience with two different types of organizations. One was a membership-based professional organization and the other was a cultural heritage initiative. Despite the differences in the organizations, the principles and practices I used for engaging volunteers were similar. These principles and practices are applicable to any organization that recruits individual volunteers for specific jobs. Organizations that recruit large numbers of volunteers for events (e.g. coastal cleanup days, etc.) might take a somewhat different approach.

The first step is to develop a volunteer program. This means using a standard approach to recruit volunteers whenever a position becomes available, just as you would if you were filling any other type of position. For the professional organization, I worked with my colleagues (mostly other board members) to create position descriptions. We figured out who would be responsible for mentoring the volunteer. We posted the positions on our web site, recruited volunteers at the events we hosted and went through a lightweight interview and selection process.

For the cultural heritage initiative, my methods were less formal. Generally, I contacted people I knew who I thought would be interested and were qualified. If there is a trick to recruiting volunteers, it is to learn what sparks a person’s interest in volunteering. Do they want to learn, or build their resumes? Try to find a match for their interests that are aligned with the organization’s goals.

Once volunteers were in their positions, I checked in with them and with their mentors periodically to see how things were going. Sometimes we needed to make adjustments to duties or time commitments. Sometimes the volunteer needed a reminder or some coaching about expectations or some training on how to accomplish a particular goal.

Occasionally, things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes people are reluctant to fire volunteers because volunteers are not getting paid. However, it is a mistake to allow a person who is not performing or is not a good match for the job to continue in a volunteer role. Organizations rely on volunteers for critical work and use resources to mentor volunteers. In addition, volunteers are often seeking experience to explore a career change. They should be able to rely on an honest appraisal of their abilities to help them decide whether or not the career they are exploring is right for them.

Creating a volunteer program can be rewarding and an effective strategy to accomplish organizational goals in not for profit organizations. In the membership-based professional organization, volunteers staffed our board, ran our events, and updated and maintained our web site. For the cultural heritage organization, volunteers developed a new set of standards and created a web site for access to primary resources for scholars. How can creating a volunteer program help your not for profit organization meet its goals?Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

A Natural Systems Approach to Reducing Workplace Anxiety

One of the fundamental principles I bring to my consulting practice is that people are better able to solve problems and think creatively when they are less anxious. In an article based on my dissertation research, I explain how this idea fits with neuroscience research–that cognitive impairment, which translates into poor problem solving and reduced creativity is related to high levels of anxiety. I also explain how a consulting approach based on Bowen theory–the approach used by the consultants I studied in my dissertation research meets the challenge of reducing workplace anxiety.

In the article, I provided examples from my own experience and from stories participants in my study had told about their work. These examples show how, by applying principles from Bowen theory, the consultant can be a catalyst for a shift in the work system. Anxiety goes down and the organization begins to function more effectively.

The article Applying Bowen Theory to Work Systems, was first published in Volume 46, Number 3 of OD Practitioner, the peer reviewed journal of the Organization Development Network. The theme of the issue is Reflections on the OD Network’s 50th Anniversary and Beyond. I was honored to have my article on Bowen theory–a theory that is less well knows than it should be among organization development professionals included in the section  called Rethinking Core OD Practices and Exploring New Roles for OD.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Holding People Accountable

What does it mean to hold people accountable in the workplace? Must a person be in a position of authority–a manager or a supervisor to hold another person accountable for his or her actions? It is certainly important for people in leadership roles to hold employees accountable for fulfilling their job duties. However, holding people accountable goes far beyond a manager’s responsibility to set expectations with employees about job performance.

Holding people accountable involves a willingness to confront unproductive behavior directly rather than complaining to others about what someone else has done. While it may seem that the culture of an organization is what prevents people from holding each other accountable, culture is formed from the collective action of individuals. If the leader holds individuals responsible for their actions, not by holding them up as examples in meetings, but by talking with them one-on-one about expectations, the culture is likely to shift rapidly. But any member of the organization can contribute to a change in the culture by being direct with colleagues in a firm but respectful way.

Suppose you belong to a work group that has decided to use consensus for decision making. A member of the group who is your peer “checks out” during meetings and does not participate in discussions about important topics. Outside of the meetings, she makes it clear to other colleagues that she does not support the group’s position. How could you hold your colleague accountable for her actions?

What if you started by having a one-on-one conversation with your colleague about your observations? Something like, “I was surprised to learn, after the group meeting that you did not agree with the decision we reached. Is there a way we could adjust our process in the group to make it more clear when we have reached a consensus?” With this approach, you address the individual’s counter-productive behavior and invite her to participate in a solution.Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail