As I’ve mentioned before, Lisa Hinchliffe and I presented on and authored a paper for the Library Assessment Conference in October. The spoke about applying the High Performance Programming Model of organizational transformation to building a culture of instructional assessment in libraries (and then applied that to our own libraries!). One of the major characteristics of a high performing organization is that everyone is very clear on what the organization is working toward. There’s a shared vision. If asked what their organization’s vision is, each staff person’s answer will be strikingly similar. As most of us know, this is rarely the case in most organizations.

If you want to read more about the model, it’s aptly described here: Nelson and Burns “High-Performance Programming: A Framework for Transforming Organizations” in Transforming Work: A Collection of Organizational Transformation Readings, Alexandria: Miles River Press, 1984.

Clearly Qualtrics is reading from the same playbook. As I’m becoming a Qualtrics ninja with the survey I’m conducting now, when I saw a New York Times article on the company pop up in Google Reader, I was eager to read it. It was an interview with Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith who talked not only about the company, but about how he’s built a transparent culture there. Given how awesome their software is, his methods are worth listening to:

We’ve been extremely transparent, but not so that we can be cool. And it’s not about an open environment, because that’s not what makes a company transparent. It’s more around the fact that everyone needs to know where we are going and how we are going to get there… That’s one obstacle a lot of companies fall into. I believe most companies fail because they’re not focused — they either get focused on other things in the market that aren’t important, so they’re thrashing around without a clear objective, or they’re focused internally on things like politics and bureaucracy. It’s not that these companies aren’t smart companies or lack good businesses. It’s just that there’s a lot of noise.

What I found interesting was how he achieved this. They built a system internally to track goals and objectives, which isn’t particularly innovative. Lots of libraries have strategic plans and have faculty/staff do annual goal setting based on that plan (though Qualtrics does this goal-setting quarterly, which seems about right given the pace of technological change these days). What I found interesting was second system they built:

We have another system that sends everyone an e-mail on Monday that says: “What are you going to get done this week? And what did you get done last week that you said you were going to do?” Then that rolls up into one e-mail that the entire organization gets. So if someone’s got a question, they can look at that for an explanation. We share other information, too — every time we have a meeting, we release meeting notes to the organization. When we have a board meeting, we write a letter about it afterward and send it to the organization.

First, this sounded really big brother to me, but now I actually like the spirit of it. No matter what the size, it’s easy to not know what your colleagues are working on. Especially when you’re working on something big and all-consuming, it’s easy to get into a head-down state where your head is 99% on your work and 1% (at best) on communication. Knowing what people are working on will help people to collaborate, to cross-pollinate across these ideas. People who have information on something a colleague is working on can help them out. It also forces people to question whether the things they are doing correspond to those quarterly (or annual) goals. In libraries where librarians are faculty, but probably in most libraries, a lot of what librarians do is of their own choice. A liaison knows they have to serve x departments, but how they serve x departments is largely up to them. And that’s a good thing. But knowing what other liaisons at the library are doing can inspire their colleagues to try new things with their departments and help their colleagues learn from their mistakes. Of course, all of this requires a truly transparent and risk-tolerant culture where people feel comfortable daring boldly and failing. I also think the idea of having people report how well they did on their weekly goals is great, so long as it’s not used punitively. Like I said, it would only work in the right kind of culture (a high performing culture).

We do something similar at my work. A few of us in the library (mostly pre-tenure folks) are part of a research interest group that meets every two weeks. Each time, we set goals related to our research projects and at the next meeting have to tell each other how we did with them. Knowing you have to tell your colleagues that you didn’t do the things you’d said you would (even when the stakes are that low) is a nice motivator to get things done. It’s also just really interesting to know what my colleagues are working on and to talk about my projects (which I am feeling very head-down on other than that hour every 2 weeks).

How do you keep up with what your colleagues are doing? How does your library track goals and their progress? What methods does your library use to be transparent about what’s going on so everyone is marching towards the same vision?