Avoiding single point-of-failure in smaller libraries
By Asha Vyas
Imagine the joy I felt arriving at work one bright Tuesday morning to find a note from the library’s fiscal officer reading: “I’m eloping – see you in three weeks.”
Alas, my joy was short-lived when I realized we had payroll to process, a board meeting to prep, and no one to cover the tasks.
Often, especially in small libraries, employees develop highly specialized skills. The library runs smoothly and effectively until there’s an unexpected plot twist. Avoiding single-points-of-failure should be a part of overall library planning from the board level to cleaning staff.
Here are a few suggestions to begin the process:
- Create a list of annual required Board Tasks, for instance, approving temporary appropriations, accepting tax rates, and scheduling director’s evaluation. Include a deadline date and, if your board uses committees, the committee responsible for the task. Completing this list in excel will allow sorting by month and committee. A Board Task list also provides a guide for the monthly board agendas.
- Create a Shared Drive for common employee forms and other library information. This might contain credit card activity forms, purchase order request forms, and employee vacation request forms. Include the process for completing the forms in the shared drive. This space could also include internal information pertinent to all employees and employee feedback or surveys. A shared drive sets the tone for the library as one cohesive, structured entity.
- Section 117.171 of the Ohio Revised Code already requires a Certificate of Transition but take this one step further by documenting all Points of Contacts and pertinent library identification numbers. This could be banks, investments, county auditors, health and retirement benefits, and other critical information. In some cases, these ID numbers are confidential and documented information should be held in a secure location until needed.
- Create a library Disaster Plan. This plan details who to call if critical systems fail, such as the heating and air-conditioning, elevator maintenance, cleaning services, and IT management. Add property insurance information and critical staff contact information to this list to keep everyone informed. Don’t forget to include the protocol of who is authorized to contact outside assistance.
- Create detailed written Critical Functions Process Documents. This will include, among other tasks, payroll processing, month-end close, and board reporting. Cross-train employees using the written document. This tests the document for accuracy and understandability.
Consistently, like bi-annual or quarterly, schedule the cross-trained employee to complete the task. Take care to spread the training to multiple employees to avoid single-points-of-failure and balancing of the workload. Frame the new task as an opportunity for a trusted and valued employee to improve their skills
Consider an annual review of the Critical Functions Process Documents as part of employee evaluations. Also, include a review of Points of Contacts/Certificate of Transition and Disaster Plan as part of the Board Tasks to ensure the maintenance of documentation.
Being prepared for the unexpected is only one benefit of implementation. Cross-training employees builds the skills of everyone in the library, so they better understand different jobs and gain perspective. Successful organizations empower employees with talent potential by providing thorough training opportunities, including cross-training.
Shift your library’s focus and energy from dealing with points-of-failure to well-trained staff and structured well-documented library processes to provide a strong foundation for stability and growth.
Asha Vyas is a Staff Accountant with Your Part-Time Controller, LLC. Your Part-Time Controller [YPTC] provides customized accounting and financial management services for over 1,200 nonprofits nationwide. Since 1993, YPTC has built transformative, personalized solutions based on clients’ financial needs, including cash flows, funding streams, financial concerns, and internal control challenges. YPTC is committed to educating organizations through webinars and resources that provide relevant takeaways and best practices. To learn more about YPTC and browse our content, visit www.yptc.com.