Charles A. Schwartz
The primary problem of academic libraries—the lag of organizational development behind technological change—raises the prospect that the restructuring process will entail recurring bouts of instability. This book has treated that prospect rather matter-of-factly, as something that is hardly avoidable but largely manageable provided that restructuring is based on incremental, ongoing programs that build toward more significant advances in organizational development. Yet, libraries would face organizational decay if they either put a premium on the avoidance of instability at the expense of any major change; or, conversely, attempted to restructure too aggressively, with ill-prepared radical changes.
This final chapter draws some explicit correlations between organizational development and decay. My interest in this area is not to dramatize organizational decay but, on the contrary, to describe its rather ordinary and varied origins on a practical level. Indeed, instability or decay does not result only from technological lag but can crop up in four general ways. Thus, a restructuring process can be deflected or impaired for reasons that are remarkably independent of what prompts the restructuring.
Figure 1 depicts what a balanced and stable organization looks like in terms of four competing orientations. 1 On the right side of the figure are two orientations of external concern:
- boundary spanning for structural adaptation to new technological (or environmental) challenges;
- strategic planning for organizational productivity and effectiveness.
On the left side are two opposing, yet complementary, orientations of internal focus:
- policy setting for internal coordination of structural adaptations;
- human development for morale and commitment to strategic plans.
Successful restructuring requires that these orientations be brought into balance periodically by making them roughly equivalent in importance and compatible with one another. What makes restructuring such an interesting, sometimes emotional, undertaking is that the orientations are contradictory moral positions about the qualities of a “good” manager, as well as a “good” organization. Figure 1 should be considered on those dual—organizational and personal—levels.
On the personal level, the external–internal orientations (boundary spanning versus policy setting, and strategic planning versus human development) represent not only competing values but also natural inclinations and abilities. Some managers are leaders who think about shaking up the status quo; other managers are administrators who are much more adept at setting down policies and procedures. Few managers both lead and administer equally well. Likewise, some managers are good at devising strategic plans but somewhat lax when it comes to addressing human development concerns, whereas others are better team builders than strategic thinkers. Again, managers who do both well are rare.
For the organization as a whole, prolonged efforts in the direction of any orientation eventually become counterproductive, generating complementary failures on other fronts. An external emphasis on restructuring by boundary spanning must periodically give way to the opposite orientation of policy setting in order for structural changes to be internally consolidated and eventually institutionalized. Restructuring by boundary spanning must also allow for the other two orientations to come into play: an adjustment of strategic plans, and a renewal of human development.
Eventually, a prolonged effort in any direction breeds organizational instability or decay. Thus, there are four general organizational patterns that library administrators should avoid:
- frozen bureaucracy—policy setting without external initiatives becoming a blind perpetuation of habits and traditions;
- rampant confusion—boundary spanning without internal coordination upsetting policies, procedures, and communication channels;
- endless debate—human development without strategic planning for organizational productivity and effectiveness becoming self-centered to an extreme;
- forced march—strategic planning without humanistic values and preparatory measures producing an unrealistic agenda.
In a nutshell, successful restructuring requires periodic shifts in the organization’s attention to the balancing of external and internal orientations and values.
- Figure 1 is adapted, in a highly simplified way, from Robert E. Quinn, Beyond Rational Management: Mastering the Paradoxes and Competing Demands of High Performance (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988), 70. This framework of competing values is used in some workshops by ARL’s Office of Management Services.