Libraries, the universe and everything

The Reluctant Intrapreneur
July 15, 2014, 11:48
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , ,

Are you a reluctant intrapreneur? Mary Ellen Bates began her session by asking us this question, before going on to explain her view that information centres should be run along the same lines as small businesses. (The term intrapreneur, rather than entrepreneur, refers to the fact that within a workplace such behaviour would generally be internally- rather than externally-focussed.)

Her presentation was structured around four key pieces of advice, what she termed the intrapreneur’s toolkit, which are as follows:
1. A clear understanding of value
2. A self-correcting client focus
3. Negotiation jujitsu
4. Guerilla marketing

Her slides are available via and/or What follows is a summary of the notes I took during the session, which I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed. Mary Ellen has a really engaging, energetic presentation style, and whilst much of what she has to say can be filed under common sense, she brings a clarity and efficiency to bear on it all.

1. A clear understanding of value

Who are your key markets (both now and in the future)? Consider also to whom you need to demonstrate value within the C-suite, value-creators, revenue-generators and decision-makers at your organisation.

Having decided who your targets are, you need to understand how you can meet their needs. Good questions to ask yourself include:
– what do they think they want?
– what don’t they know to ask for?
– what can’t they get anywhere else?
– what could have the biggest impact?
– what do they value the most?

2. A self-correcting client focus

The only way to discover the real answer to any of these is to ask the people concerned, so you need to get out and conduct some reality-check interviews (for more on this see These should be light and frequent, not lengthy, and done regularly (ideally monthly). Actively seek complaints, and address them.
Good questions to ask include:
– how do you prepare for a strategic decision?
– what’s keeping you from achieving your goals?
– how do you stay on top of issues you care about?
– did you get what you wanted?
– what would make it more useful?
– I’m really committed to helping you to achieve/do/deliver ??? – how can I contribute?

Remember that the interviewee should do all the talking, you need to remain quiet and be an info-sponge, taking it all in (I love this image!).

Groundwork is necessary for getting yourself in a position to make an approach to any of these people with some relevant examples to hand. In very general terms:

Senior Executives want to:
– reduce risk
– make better decisions

Knowledge workers/analysts want:
– better info
– better answers
– actionable things

Sales staff, interns, high-volume workers want:
– quicker answers
– better answers

You also need to identify your competitors (whether other info sources, in-house experts, Google, whatever), and it can be worth spending time with people as they search for information so you can understand exactly what they do, and then show them how to do it better. Your aim is to be frictionless, relevant, easy to interact with, and easy to find. Perhaps they can find all the info they need themselves, in which case you can focus on adding value.

It is also very important to think strategically – are you VISIBLY contributing to the strategic goals of the organisation? Identify the key value themes and words and make sure they are reflected in the info centre’s mission statement (or whatever).

3. Negotiation jujitsu

Focus on results that you both want
Aim for what’s ideal not what you’ll settle for
Start at a higher point that you realistically expect to achieve
Focus on NOW, not history – what is the current situation, rather than what got you there
Bear in mind what’s best for both sides
Focus on problem, not blame game
Know when you have leverage
Consider what else you can offer
Is there someone else to speak to
What can I change about what I’m doing?
No isn’t always no – sometimes it means you just haven’t given them a reason to say yes yet
Never invest more than you can leave on the table – be able to walk away
Take ownership of the situation, try different approaches until you find one that works

4. Guerilla marketing

“Google is good enough” – we may not agree but we have to accept that this is a prevalent perception. Also, apparently most searchers believe that they are above average at finding results.

How to respond?
– ask people if they’ve considered whether they’re choosing the best tool
– are they finding answers or just information?
– the info centre can provide real answers, better answers, authoritative answers
– do they know when to bring in a pro? E.g. “if you’ve searched for more than 15 minutes & you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, call the library”.

Pilot projects with groups who don’t use the library, then there’s no risk of failure! Talk to them in their world, focus on results – e.g. show them how to do better searches on topics which are important to them (topics which will have been identified by your original fact-finding missions) THEN show what else you have to offer, how you can make things faster/easier/better. Compare results from Google with other search engines, get 2 people to do the same search and see the different results (especially relevant given increasing personalisation of Google hits). Monitor what happens next, did you see a change – if not, what else can you do?

5. Also…

Turn lowest-value requests into self-serve
Collaborate as much as possible
Strive to be clearly involved in accomplishing strategic goals
Own your expertise
Communicate value (using relevant organisational value words)
Provide tangible results – tie your research to outcomes
Does your website talk about you value or your activities? What you do or why you do it?
Profile info pros online

Remember: activity = overhead, results = value
It’s your job to demonstrate your value, not your client’s job to figure it out.


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[…] the chance to get her insights about all kinds of SLA and conference-related things. 13:30 The Reluctant Intrapreneur – becoming the Info Center CEO Mary Ellen Bates 15:30 How not to run a meeting: facilitation skills 101 for librarians Dave […]


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