How do I Know I'm Winning?

By Hannah Rasmussen posted 01-30-2014 10:56


Just over seven months ago I made a leap from consulting in the for-profit sector to working as a research fellow in an academic library. At the time it didn’t seem to be that big a leap: I wasn’t happy with the idea of staying full-time in consulting, I had an MLIS, I had worked in a library before, and my PhD seemed pretty useful in a library setting. It wasn’t until the CLIR fellowship that I started to realize how much a PhD in Business Administration and my work as a consultant had impacted my worldview. I drove the other CLIR fellows mad when I asked questions like: “Where are you going to get the money for that?,” “Financially is that really reasonable?” or, probably the most shocking, “Why don’t we monetize that?” There were more positive moments too when I realized my background in operations management and change management could help the other fellows navigate their new workplaces and might help with the transformations libraries are going through right now. I was thrilled to be a part of something so positive and exciting. The past seven months I’ve been working hard, learning new skills and being exposed to new ideas and challenges. But a part of me keeps wondering when I’m going to be fired.

I was still trying to shake that feeling when I went for coffee with a consultant six months into my fellowship. As I told him all about my job the look of confusion on his face grew. After I told him about the interviews and participant observation I was doing, and the survey I had designed and administered and was now analyzing, he blurted out: “But how do you know you’re winning?”

Winning. That was the shoe I’d been waiting to drop. “Winning” when I was in consulting often meant getting a big client or contract, having lots of billable hours, producing a report that companies can use to make more money, or finding ways to reuse earlier work. For the most part it’s financial and it’s a straightforward measurement. I could keep track in consulting and at the end of every day, week, month, and year I’d know if I was winning or losing. And, importantly, my boss would know too. What I didn’t know when I started the fellowship, and am now trying to figure out, is how you “win” in an academic library. What are the metrics we can use to know if our personal work is positively impacting the library and the community in a way we want it to? 

I’ve looked for these metrics and there’s some work being done on developing and improving library-level metrics. But what about personal metrics? I couldn’t find much so one of my goals for the next month is to decide what my personal success metrics will be. If I were consulting and helping a company develop their metrics I’d start with these four questions:

1. What is your overall goal?

This could be specific to the work you’re doing right now or a bigger career goal or societal goal. It can be quite lofty and vague—I’ve consulted for companies that have overall goals of “being successful,” and non-profits with the goal of “being out of business in 5 years.” A personal overall goal needs to be defined too so you know what you’re aiming for.

2. What major accomplishments are necessary to reach that goal?

This is where the hard work starts and you have to spend some time deciding what your overall goal actually means. What does “success” mean for a company? Does it mean higher profits, more customers, or happier customers? What does my personal goal actually look like?

3. What are the daily/weekly/monthly tasks that will lead to each of those accomplishments?

For me this is always my favorite part of developing metrics. Overall goals and even major accomplishments scare me—they seem so big that they feel impossible. But if you break them down into specific tasks that can be performed every day or week or month then they don’t seem so scary and research has shown there’s a much better chance that you’ll get at least close to your overall goal.

4. How will you keep yourself accountable?

This is the hardest part of this approach. Some companies track their metrics and base rewards, and sometimes punishments, on these metrics. Part of the difficulty is knowing what works for you personally.

I’m going to spend some time over the next month coming up with the answers to these questions for myself. I’d be really interested to hear if anyone has their own personal metrics, or if the idea of winning versus losing is something other people think about at work in the library. 

Hannah Rasmussen is a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Knowledge and Library Services at Harvard Business School.