This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 11, 1998

February 11, 1998 - 10 Warning Signs of Institutional Arrogance

Institutional arrogance is the key characteristic of organizations that provide bad or indifferent service, are unresponsive to customer concerns or a changing environment. Typically, such organizations labor under autocratic leadership that withholds or stifles information both internally and externally.

Is your organization institutionally arrogant? Here are the 10 warning signs.

1. You never seek the advice of the people you serve.

An organization should take the pulse of its customers (formally) at least annually. Ideally, such data-gathering never stops.

2. You never seek the advice of the people who will administer your policies.

There are two errors common among public boards and staff. The first is the board that consistently ignores the advice of staff. The second is the staff that consistently ignores the advice of the board.

3. If you do seek advice, you never take it.

Advice can be bad. Nonetheless, organizations establish patterns of openness or of contempt. If you NEVER accept good advice, you stop getting it.

4. You cannot make your case in plain terms to staff or public.

If you can't explain it, maybe you shouldn't do it.

5. You dismiss complaints out of hand.

Often this is done in the rudest possible terms. In house, to your colleagues, you say (or you hear), "That comment was SO stupid." To the person offering the complaint, you roll your eyes and say, "You just don't understand how we do business." (Note that this may be true, but then an explanation might be in order.)

6. You cannot admit error.

You are what I call "oops averse." It is utterly disarming to look someone in the eye and say, "You're right. I goofed. I'm sorry. I'll work hard not to make such a mistake again." And mean it.

7. Your focus shifts from customer to staff (or institutional) convenience.

You're in trouble when, in the effort to satisfy staff, you discover that everybody gets a nice long lunch -- but nobody is in the office.

8. Your focus is more on the process than the product, the how rather than the why, or on memorizing policy than exercising good judgment.

Rather than asking, "is there a need for this?" you spend your time talking about how to do it better or different. There's a probably apocryphal tale of the personnel manual that consisted of nothing but the phrase: "Use your best judgment." What a concept.

9. Your ATTSH (Average Time To Say Hello) is greater than 1 minute.

You have less than a minute to make your case to the public. If it takes longer than 60 seconds to make eye contact with a customer stepping into your "store," you have succeeded only in sending the clear message that people don't matter to your business or service. (Note: 60 seconds is the far end of the time. Thirty seconds of silence is a long time. Try this experiment. Say to somebody, right now, "I have a question." Then pause for 30 seconds. It doesn't take long to feel the weight of the wait.)

10. Nobody in your organization smiles from simple good will.

Instead, everyone is cranky, sour, or sarcastic. About 20 years ago, I participated in a ground-breaking study in library service. It turned out that the greatest single way to persuade people that they got good service was so subtle as to be almost indetectable. When we handed people their books, or their change, we let our fingers linger against their's for a moment. This is not a call to fondle your customers. But it does point out what people are looking for: simple human contact.

Is your institution arrogant? What are you going to do to change it?

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