Building the future depends on having a solid foundation in the present. Sometimes the most effective way to reach the future is to shore up cracks in that foundation. This poster will use the case study of the Associate Dean’s (AD’s) actions at the James Madison University (JMU) Libraries to present an example of how to approach dramatic change in a large organization by focusing on maintaining strategic priorities in the now.
In the spring of 2018 the JMU Libraries started an eighteen-month period of great change, including the dean’s resignation and an associate dean’s retirement. A newer Associate Dean and two Interim Associate Deans, working with an interim administrator with no library experience, lead and managed the organization during this period. This included helping the organization process the previous dean’s departure, maintaining our high service quality and strong relationships on campus, and preparing for the selection and arrival of the new dean.
The interim administrator had a clear mandate to “press pause” on new programs and services. This was to avoid creating conflicts with any vision or changes that a new dean would want to put into place. However, no organization can truly pause its development for a significant amount of time. Over this 18-month period the Libraries changed its organizational name, released a completely rebuilt website, hired 20 new staff and faculty including a new dean (~14% of the total staff), developed needed foundational policy and procedure documents, and prepared for substantive progress in areas such as digital scholarship and scholarly communication.
The ADs addressed the tension between maintaining and innovating services by focusing on modeling transparent and collaborative leadership. This started with the development and sharing of six strategic priorities on which the ADs would focus during the interim period. These six priorities provided a framework for the administration’s work, as well as for communicating out what was on pause vs. what was moving forward during the period. For example, work in one priority, “Continue to develop a shared understanding of roles and expectations particularly in the area of decision-making,” included improving equity in making resource allocation decisions for space, positions, and finances. Second, the ADs dramatically increased the quantity and variety of communication that they shared with the organization. This was to counter concerns about the organizational culture, which was tending towards untrusting and anti-inclusive, and to better recognize individual and team accomplishments. Third, they leveraged a collaborative leadership model to accomplish this sometimes difficult and political work in the most transparent, equitable,and sustainable way possible.
This poster will present a brief visual of the JMU Libraries case, followed by example activities and programs tied to each of the six priority areas. It will conclude with thoughts about collaborative and transparent leadership as a means of surviving and thriving both in the now and in the future.