If you haven't heard, one of my big concerns for libraries is how library managers manage innovation. In many organizations, innovation can translate into almost anything that seems bright and shiny, a notion that doesn't address my definition that includes adding customer focused value. In other libraries, entrepreneurship is the catch word for innovation...and it can mean everyone moving in different directions, all doing very cool things, but without any joint stratetegic goal.
Knowing that is my point of view, imagine my excitement when I saw:
This article examines the strategic role of middle managers in the corporate entrepreneurial
process from an attention-based perspective. By integrating literatures from multiple disciplines,
the authors delineate the attention-based effects on how middle managers provide the
impetus for different types of entrepreneurial opportunities (i.e., exploratory vs. exploitative
initiatives). Specifically, middle managers, constrained by the attention structures of the firm,
likely prescreen entrepreneurial opportunities from lower organizational levels and attend
primarily to those that align with the strategic orientation of the firm. This tendency may be
moderated by the presence of other players, middle managers’ structural positions, and the
availability of slack resources. Moreover, in their efforts to sell initiatives to top management,
middle managers may leverage “policy windows”—patterned regularities and irregularities in
and around the organization—to exploit existing attention structures to their advantage or
perhaps to dismantle those structures.
Charlotte R. Ren and Chao Guo. Middle Managers' Strategic Role in the Corporate Entrepreneurial Process: Attention-Based Effects. Journal of Management, Novemeber 2011.
I was especially struck by the last sentence, which focuses on how middle managers are selling the ideas to top managers. What impact do historical policies and precedents play in moving ideas forward? The authors suggest that middle managers can leverage a situation "by turning existing attention structures to their advantage or even dismantling those attention structures. For example, when a predictable policy window opens in a defender organization, middle managers who want to sell exploratory initiatives can package their initiatives to conform to the strategic orientation of their organization, that is, as exploitative, to increase their odds of success."
OK, I know many people are almost allergic to management, management theory, and management advice....but let's face it...anyone who manages, must understand the political landmines and the opportunities within an organization in able to be impactful. This is not opportunism, it is a social and organizational reality. What is difficult is figuring out which structures matter and then determining how you will work with what you find. I spoke at the Charleston Conference in early November and mentioned that one way to help your idea succeed is to learn the language of your manager....and to really sell your idea, combine their native language with a sprinking of references to the strategic plan (assuming you have an active strategic plan), can really make a difference to how your manager receives your idea.
We all want to see good ideas become actionable. For librarians with a entrepreneurial bent, having a middle manager who can act as a champion (or as initiative sellers) for that idea, and who understands the organization well enough to move the idea forward to action...that is invaluable!!