Monday, April 28, 2008

From Exit Interview to Transition Acceleration Plan

In my last couple of weeks at AED I was trying to think about what I could do to make the job of my successor as easy as possible and in the process, wondering about organizational memory and what happens more generally when people leave an organization. The reverse, what happens when people enter a new organization and need to be brought up to speed is also of interest to me at the moment since I will be transitioning into a position in a new organization.

I see huge potential both for knowledge loss and new learning opportunities. The losses seem to be concentrated with the organization left behind and the new opportunities primarily with the departing employee. Clearly, it takes a while for a new employee to be fully on-board and able to contribute, so there is an investment on the part of the hiring organization. At the same time, the new employee is potentially a source of very valuable knowledge. The new employee's questions, reflections, and analysis of the new situation they are thrown into can provide clues related to the organization's operations that are invisible to those working within it and can provide clues related to how the organization is perceived by outsiders. In other words, could a fresh pair of eyes be useful to the new employer? If so, how can this be leveraged efficiently?

Exit Interview
A traditional exit interview is conducted by the human resources department and is focused on issues related to employee satisfaction and supervisors. Sometimes, it also provides an opportunity for the employee to reflect on the job and offer helpful advice. The objective of such interviews is clearly to help identify potential problems and reduce employeed turnover. However, it has very little to do with trying to retain the employee's knowledge. For these types of exit interviews, it doesn't really matter if they are conducted on the last day of employment.

For long-time employees going into retirement, there are other approaches which can ensure that as much as possible of the retiring employee's knowledge is retained within the organization. That doesn't address the knowledge loss resulting from the changing nature of the workforce and the fact that younger generations don't expect to be working for the same employer for more than a few years and therefore may have more self-centered learning and knowledge strategies of their own.

My questions during my last couple of weeks of employment centered around relatively short-term issues:
- How will my successor and former colleagues find my files?
- What files do I leave and what do I take with me?
- For those projects that need to go on without me, how can I make it easy for those taking over to do so without wasting time and energy reinventing the wheel?
- How do I transfer important communication trails (emails) so that they do not disappear with my email account? Who do I transfer them to?
In the end, I didn't have much guidance on any of these issues and I made up my own answers.

Transition Acceleration Plan
Now that this exiting process is completed, I can start focusing on what happens when entering a new organization. It's probably impossible not to start thinking about that earlier -- at least once you've officially accepted a job. Based on past experience, I can say that getting to understand how things work, how things are done within an organization, can be a lengthy process. My goal in the coming months is going to figure out how to accelerate the process. Ideally, I would want to minimize the transition period -- the period of time during which I am absorbing knowledge -- being a sponge -- and contributing very little value. Perhaps I'll call it my transition acceleration plan. And perhaps a pair of fresh eyes can contribute value early on precisely because I don't know how things are done and I should be asking questions.

Some of these reflections were inspired by my recent reading of"Lost & Found: A Smart-Practice Guide to Managing Organizational Memory," by Peter Stoyko and Yulin Fang for the Canada Public School Service (2007).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Moving on....

Yesterday was my last day working at AED. I worked with AED for a little less than four years.

* rewarding -- most of the time :)-- as in "Wow... I can see how that has an impact on development."

* a great learning experience -- as in "That worked well, let's make sure to do it again this way," or "That flopped... let's not do it again," and "How did I not see that before...".

* challenging -- as in "that really pushed me to learn or do something I didn't know I could do" and "What on earth are we doing? This doesn't make any sense to me....".

In the process of reflecting on these past few years and looking ahead, I want to be able to remember as much as possible of the work I did, the relationships, the people. Below is a little collage representing the last few years at AED. Some of it would have meaning only to me but that's the idea.... The next time I have to go to an interview and I have to explain what I did at AED, I'd rather look at this collage to bring up memories than look at a few lines on my CV.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


The Food and Agriculture Organization and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation invite applications from members to participate in a free four-day Online e-learning Course:



I have been a fan of online learning for a long time, to the point of developing my own online courses and having a lot of fun running them on my own. To be fair, the sessions were not truly online. If we're now in the web 2.0 era, I think my course was web -1. We used a CD-ROM for content and an email discussion list for communications. I suspect that there are still quite a few people in developing countries who would appreciate this low tech approach. At the same time, I doubt anyone would dare to offer something this backward in the web 2.0 era...:) that would be akin to offering an old fashioned snail mail distance learning course.

So, each time I come across a new online course intended for participants in developing countries and focusing on development issues, my eyes open slightly wider and I check it out. Are they offering it for free? Do they say how much time the participants will need to spend online per day? Do they mix participants from all regions? Do they include participants in the US, Europe, Australia, etc...? Do they have specific technical requirements, a specific browser, etc...? How long is the course? Four days? Did they select such a short period based on past experience with longer courses? Is that the online course attention span these days?

I hope to get the opportunity to facilitate an online course again, or at least facilitate some kind of online knowledge sharing community. It's been a wonderful experience in the past.... and with the technologies evolving so quickly, I'm sure it would be an interesting learning experience again.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

eGov 2.0

I attended an interesting World Bank videoconference event yesterday on "Next Generation Organizational Models for e-Government." First I keep marveling at the technology that enables the participation of so many different locations across the world -- I think 13 different locations were connected via videoconferencing for the event. I still remember a few years ago when there were always technical difficulties with some of the sites, especially when such a large number of sites were connected. Whether the technology has evolved or the people have mastered the technology, the last few events I have attended or watched via webcast have been close to flawless. It is now a well-oiled machine with participants completely comfortable with the medium, including simultaneous translation (for Russia) that was so seamless that it took me a while to realize that it wasn't the speaker I was hearing but the translator.

Congratulations to the team putting these events together! It is really a testament to their extensive experience doing it over and over and improving continuously.

Now to the theme of yesterday's event. I really heard two themes. The first one was about the organizational structure needed to support successful e-Government initiatives. It is better to have a centralized body or to decentralize responsibilities for e-Government? If there is a centralized body, how large should it be? What should be its responsibilities? How can countries maintain a certain level of e-Government expertise (capacity) in a decentralized environment? Can a matrix organization model help to address some of the challenges?

The discussion reminded me of a chapter in Richard Heek's "Implementing and Managing eGovernment: An International Text," where he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of centralized vs. decentralized approaches and the evolution towards hybrid models.

In essence, this first theme was a more traditional discussion around how to structure e-Government support organizations within a government structure, including some discussion of the role of the private sector.

The second theme I heard revolved around the potential impact of web 2.0 technology and the emergence of new organizational models potentially leading to eGov 2.0. I used the words "potential" and "potentially" in the sentence above because while the ideas are being discussed, there are very few governments that have taken the lead in applying web 2.0 technologies and business models.

A lot of the discussions around web 2.0 focus on the social networking aspects and how the technologies enhance participation and engagement of the people (especially youth at this point). The potential impact of web 2.0 in terms of participation and engagement with government entities was mentioned but I was more struck by the potential of web 2.0 in terms of the application of new business models, new approaches to revenue generation. A key obstacle to the implementation of e-Government initiatives in many emerging countries has been the lack of funding and the limited base of taxation. In such contexts, innovative revenue generation models are certainly going to be welcome.

Clearly, there is still going to be a huge problem for countries where PCs and the Internet are not widespread yet. Both access to computers and the bandwidth are going to be key. Perhaps we need to start talking about m-Gov 2.0 (next generation mobile government).

For more information about yesterday's event at the World Bank, see the eDevelopment site.