In lieu of a Presidential Library

When I set out on my Presidential journey last January it was in the expectation I would get to meet a cross section of the membership at the annual conference as well as regional events. As it turned out ‘my year’ was almost exclusively virtual. The upside: I got to meet a number of international members and speak at international events. The downside: I didn’t get to visit other parts of the UK to see first hand the important role libraries play in the community.

I’d spent much of the previous 3 years promoting the idea of an independent accreditation for the Knowledge & Information Management professional, so I had high hopes that KM Chartership / Fellowship along with the recently released ISO KM Standards might come to prominence during my term of office.

As the global community was attempting to get to grips with restrictions caused by and the aftermath of the pandemic I was intrigued: What will the new normal look like?; will work be a hybrid of virtual and in person?; will it revert to being location specific?; and will the communal spirit endure? I hypothesised that in 2021,

I am convinced that those who succeed will be agile, collaborative, tenacious, excellent facilitators and a trusted resource, good at curation.

How accurate was this hypothesis?

Presidential Musings

One of the initatives I introduced was “Presidential Musings. I invited a variety of prominent industry figures to examine some of the questions I’d raised. These were captured in CILIP’s flagship publication Information Professional and can be accessed below.

We started with the ISO KM Standard and it’s likely take up. We then looked at the rapid growth in digital publishing and it’s potential impact on Libraries. Following on, we examined the impact of onboarding new employees in a virtual world. We looked back to look forward in assessing the role of Libraries over 100 years. We tracked the journey of a senior University Librarian who changed roles and continents. We debated (and captured thoughts on) distributed working and its impact on urban centres. We rounded off with a look at the role Knowledge & Information Professionals played in helping to run a successful Olympics during the pandemic.

As I look back at each article I am extremely grateful to everyone who gave of their time and knowledge. I hope you find them as enjoyable to read as I did to research and write.

Bibliography

Acknowledgements (in alphabetical order)

Carol Aldridge, Rob Cottrill, Patricia Eng, James Macfarlane, Chris Payne, James Robertson, Luis Suarez, Kate Thompson and Neil Usher

How to end the day with a satisfied feeling

Isabel De Clerq and I have never formally met though, like many, we are virtually connected. So. it was with great pleasure / anticipation when this little green book, with a nice note from Isabel inside the front cover, landed on my doormat a few weeks back.

This is a book you will not want to put down. As one page merges into another, the dog eared pages multiply and whomever is in the vicinity hears “listen to this, we do that..”, accompanied by nodding. I knew I was going to enjoy “Hybrid Work: A manifesto” as the opening paragraph is set in Isabel’s kitchen and my good friend Luis Suarez‘s thoughts on #distributedworking are referenced early in the book.

I promised Isabel (who has a love of Portugal) I would read it overlooking the Rio Tejo.

New Year’s Day by The Rio Tejo

It’s a book that spawns ideas. Here are some of my reflections.

What complements my thinking?

  • Meetings: Isabel places great emphasis on meeting preparation and conduct. A few decades back I was Business & Strategy Advisor to a fledgling dotcom business Sopheon. Globally acquisitive, with offices in Amsterdam, Maastricht, Minneapolis, Denver and Guildford, we added to the portfolio of companies by acquiring a software business in Frankfurt. It became rapidly apparant that work was needed to get everyone on the same page especially when holding meetings. We drew up a code of conduct “Meetings Matter” around preparation, attendees – roles and purpose and proposed outcomes. It worked and I use it for all client meetings.
  • Connection between people and organisation: This stood out

The presence of that greater good; the knowledge that your contribution matters; a match between your values and those of the organisation; and the fact that you can develop yourself through your work, these four elements ensure a strong connection. A connection that goes further than an office building with a trendy lounge and a matching coffee corner.

Unanswered questions?

  • In Suggestion 4 – “The office as a vibrant hub” – Isabel casts doubt on its future role and that of the ubiquitous coffee corner unless underpinned by a deeper connection between people. While I totally agree with the importance of a collaborative and supportive culture (see my most recent blog Simple steps), as Gillian Tett wrote in an excellent article in The Guardian last year quoting from a study on performance of virtual vs in person co-located trading teams:
    • “in-person teams had more incidental information exchange and sense-making, and at times of stress this seemed doubly important.”
  • In “Suggestion 7” Isabel dares to dream. “I dream of an organisation where knowledge workers end the day with a satisfied feeling.” The term “knowledge workers” has never sat comfortably with me since I heard it back in 1994! To some extent we are all knowledge workers not merely those tasked with white as opposed to blue collar tasks. Tradespeople who use their hands also draw on knowledge. Likewise farmers, who might equally be termed agricultural engineers, often develop a sixth sense of weather and growing patterns based on knowledge. Where, if at all, does the term knowledge worker start and finish?

What are my takeaways?

  • Importance of neutral space and focus time: a few years back in advance of a masterclasses with Martin White on Managing Virtual Teams we ran a survey that asked contributors where they had their best ideas and conversations and where they worked best. The overwhelming response was “Not in the office”, universally they noted the importance of a space that was not home! In my 3rd CILIP Presidential Debate (Shift happens – the future office / library in a connected world) the premise was that “In the future, rather than being fixed in one place with a single purpose, people will move seamlessly between different contexts – home, work, college, community – at a time and place that suits them, enabled by always-on smart devices.” The conclusion, that people wherever they are working still need some neutral (decompression) space.
  • It’s ok to clarify: – “I heard you to say and understood you to mean” is a phrase I’ve often deployed with organisations with a polyglot of nationalities where English is a second language. It is especially important in hybrid work where the propensity for miscommunication is great. I advise every team I work with to develop a practice that encourages clarification.
  • Virtual peripheral vision: When I am giving an in person speech or masterclass I can guage the audience’s response and if need be to focus more on areas of uncertainty. I’ve not yet honed my virtual peripheral vision so build in more “I heard you to say” time to understand what landed.
  • From 90 to 60 minutes per session: Hybrid work is tiring and as Isabel suggests it is most effective when everyone adopts the same mode of communication rather than having virtual outliers. I try and build breaks every 60 minutes when working virtually rather than the traditional 90 minutes blocks I use when conducting in person sessions.
  • People who ‘wing it’ tend to get exposed in a Hybrid Work environment so preparation is one of the critical success factors!

And finally

Hybrid (Distributed) Work is undoubtedy the way to go – it’s revolutionised the way we interact with each other. Imagine how without it we would have coped with the effects of the pandemic. Our challenge now; how to retain the human characteristics that differentiate us from AI powered machines and create environments that allow everyone to prosper not merely those with access to technology?

Isabel’s lovely little book poses many questions as well as answers, it gets you searching for your own solutions. I commend it to you!

Virtual Teams: simple steps to help with self isolation

What do you do when one of your team has to self isolate just before Christmas and is unable to join the pre Christmas celebration? Put the celebrations on hold, go on with the show without them, or make them centre stage of your event?

The team at Bees Homes chose the latter and having dusted down a few of my “Managing Virtual Teams” notes, we asked our Team Executive, Gemma who was self isolating, to come up with an online quiz to accompany our hastily (re) arranged pre Christmas gathering.

It proved to be a success with much laughter. Why?

  1. Snacks (and wine) were shared as we had passed by her home on the way to the office and left food – Gemma had what we had.
  2. Gemma was the host so drove the pace of the event which lasted a couple of hours.
  3. Drawing on some great ideas on this Team Building site, she came up with a “Spin the wheel” quiz and added questions such as “What is your favourite Christmas Song?”
  4. The whole team were visible throughout – see Gemma’s view from my laptop.
  5. We have spent time in f2f team meetings developing a collaborative and supportive culture.
  6. Gemma is someone who responds well to adversity and takes responsibility.

It reinforced many of the tips I’ve given clients over the last couple of decades about managing virtual teams.

Happy New Year!

Taking the thought to court

The combined effects of lockdown, helping my town respond to the pandemic, managing a growing business, while having to be in too many (virtual) places at the same time has taken its toll.  About 6 weeks ago I was advised to take my foot of the pedal and join a group of 20 on a 5-week virtual “Living Well with Stress” programme run by the NHS.

I mention this not to evoke sympathy more to raise awareness of the increasing incidence of mental health issues. “My” Zoom group was one of 3 being run concurrently in Sussex. Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 70, were encouraged to be on camera and contribute via the chat.  Admitting you have an issue is a challenge; facing a screen full of people with moving stories is harder still.

We finished the programme a week ago. What did I take away from it?

The value of images and metaphors to help describe feelings: As I’d previously described my situation as being like a sponge that was full to overflowing and needing squeezing dry, I found the metaphor of a stress bucket compelling and apposite.

Everyone has their demons: many on the programme spoke of a lack of confidence in dealing with others exacerbated by the lack of personal contact these past 18 months.

“Taking the thought to court”: when we are down and thinking negative thoughts its vital to examine whether those thoughts are valid or distorted and exaggerated. 

Being able to recognise the symptoms and triggers: this is key to employing some of the coping strategies above.

The importance of ‘me’ time and physical exercise: walking helps as does Yoga.

By the time you read this I hope to have concluded my ‘time out’ with a visit to family and friends in Lisbon and Cascais where as you can see I managed to switch off for a few days and catch up on some great books.

I am eagerly looking forward to returning refreshed and resuming the “in conversation with…” sessions from October and resuming my presidential duties representing CILIP on the global stage.

Presidential “Debate” & Presidential Musings

The 3rd in the series is only a few weeks away (on 29th September).  It’s a stellar line up and the topic very timely.  To whet your appetite, this edition’s Presidential Musings column features the three speakers, Luis Suarez, Neil Usher and Rob Cottrill.  Here’s a snapshot of what to expect from Luis quoting from a recent study on distributed working:

     “…remote work is a win-win, because the employee can move to a location of choice and save money in cost of living, and the employer will see higher productivity and lower attrition and save on real estate costs People will gravitate to a location where they want to live, rather than where they have to live”.

And finally: in search of tolerance

These past 18 months have exposed significant divisions in our society and exacerbated the gap between the haves and have nots.  Those dealing with the public have witnessed new lows in behaviours. Many of you are in the front line and I marvel at your ability to dust yourselves down and come back fighting when abused.

As autumn approaches, schools return and people grapple with the challenge of returning (or not) to their place of work, my sincere hope is that all of us take a moment to reflect before condemning another and if you get good service, tell that person or their boss.  We all need a lift!

Thank you for reading this.

Dad are you really a spy?

Undertaking international assignments

Many years ago Nicola, my daughter, asked this question. I spent at least 3 months of the year going to places that would not feature on any list of recommended travel destinations. And when I came back much of what I would discuss was somehow from another world. She was mystified (and probably still is) which is one reason I started recording my adventures and writing books.

I’ve learned much about people, places and culture to the point where I have more friends outside of the UK than in it. Someone asked me how many countires I’d visited – while not yet in three figures the number is not far off.

During a 40+ career I’ve managed countless assignments while pursuing a portfolio of activities and dealt with many clients while I was a banker plying my trade in the Middle East.

So, I was delighted when, on assuming office as CILIP President, I received a request from one of their special interest groups, International Libraries & Information Group, to give a talk to them about working internationally.

They very kindly recorded the event for posterity and here it is: