I read an interesting article in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review. The article, written by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges introduced the idea of the “acceleration trap”, which is essentially departments, companies or organizations that take on more than they can handle. They:
“…increase the number and speed of their activities, raise performance goals, shorten innovation cycles, and introduce new management technologies and organizational systems.”
Having come across this description within the first paragraph of the article, my interest was peeked. I started to have an eerie feeling that they were describing a cataloguing department at any public library! While we can’t apply all of the characteristics of an acceleration trap to our cataloguing departments, there are some key issues that we face that resemble this business model “trap”.
According to Bruch and Menges, organizations (or in our case, departments) that are over-accelerated exhibit at least one of these three signs:
1. Employees are overloaded with too many activities, which results in a lack of time and/or resources to complete these activities.
2. Given the wide range of activities, employees cannot focus their expertise or time in one single area or on one single task, resulting in haphazard and unfocussed work. (I call this being a jack of all trades, but master of none.)
3. Employees are faced with ongoing, high performance projects that provide no “downtime” between projects. In essence, employees work in an environment that operates close to capacity limits, feeling constantly overloaded.
Hmmmm. Facing the retirements of experienced staff, the hiring of inexperienced staff (if the position isn’t eliminated altogether!), as well as budget shortages, old software/computers, and increasingly diverse collection and the ongoing threat of outsourcing…it appears that we have been experiencing an ongoing form of the acceleration trap in libraries for some time.
With the backlogs, increasing demands on our cataloguing staff and pressure from management, many of us have been asking our cataloguers what they need to increase productivity – including innovative ideas to cut corners and save time. In fact, some managers in cataloguing departments often stress getting the items out and circulating over actually cataloguing properly (or even uniformly). However, that’s a whole other blog post!!
In this article, there are several ideas for breaking free of the “acceleration trap” or, at least, ideas to help alleviate the stress and burnout that can result in a department due to these demands. You’ll find that many of the suggestions are ones that we have been implementing in our departments, due to necessity.
•Halting less important work
•Clearly outlining strategy
•Creating a system for identifying projects and how they will be completed
•Identifying the causes of the continuous demand for high-pace and energy intensive projects and indicating how and when these projects will end.
Here are two ideas/quotes from the article that we can all benefit from:
“If you demand that employees give you the same level of accelerated effort every day, month after month, their energy will fail and the company’s performance will suffer.”
“Regularly ask yourself, your managers, and the whole company: ‘Which of our current activities would we start now if they weren’t already under way?’ Then eliminate all the others.”
Bruch, Heike and Jochen I. Menges. “The Acceleration Trap”. Harvard Business Review. April 2010. (p. 80 – 86)