Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Importance of Context, First and Second Readings

In his blog, Knowledge Jolt with Jack, Jack Vinson wrote "I was reading something today that just clicked for me. Context provides a frame of reference to what you are reading or hearing. The better I understand the particular frame of reference (context), the better I can understand what this information or knowledge means." (Knowledge Jolt with Jack, May 12, 2008)

I had a similar thought this week, only slightly reversed. I didn't read something and realized how much it suddenly made sense. I read something and realized that I wasn't getting as much out of it as I would have hoped to.

Being in a new job, with a new organization and now working with individuals in technical fields that are totally new to me, I am coming across written materials that are difficult for me to absorb. I don't think I need to acquire a degree in these technical fields in order to understand the materials but I suspect that I need extended intensive exposure to these materials and the people who write them in order to start truly understanding. Right now I understand them on a very superficial level. I'm missing at least 50% of the meaning they are intended to convey.

Related thoughts
1. Whatever I am reading now and not fully understanding, I should read again in six month or a year to "get" more of it because by then I will have a greater understanding of the context.

2. When writing a technical document, keep in mind that audiences with different levels of contextual knowledge will be reading it. For example, someone who hasn't been breathing and living development literature would probably not get a full understanding of a discussion around "sustainability" because so much contextual knowledge would be assumed rather than clearly articulated.

3. At times, even within our own field of expertise, it is useful to reread a text after a few years. Experience acquired in between the two readings of the same text will influence how we understand the text and how we are able to make connections based on these recent experiences.

4. My daughter's teacher thinks that making the kids reread a short text 15 to 20 times (once a day for a couple of weeks) increases their comprehension -- and fluency. That may be but it sure irritates me and it gets really boring for my daughter!!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rapid Onboarding

What I've been referring to as my rapid transitioning plan is apparently referred to as "rapid onboarding" by some employers and human resources departments. Wikipedia offers the beginning of a definition of onboarding:

"Onboarding is the process of integrating a new or a newly-promoted leader or associate into an organization or role. Onboarding begins when the leader accepts the position; it includes orientation, and extends through about month six, and sometimes up to one year, depending on the organization. Best practices for a world-class onboarding process include building knowledge, key relationships and providing feedback for the new or promoted leaders."

Three tips that apply equally well to the new employee and the employer:
- Avoid information dump (be strategic about what to focus on)
- Focus on introductions and networking
- Carefully select initial projects

A couple of related resources:

Don't Wait: Start Your New Job Now
Abstract: "Given the frequency of role changes today, managers must have their own fast-start strategy at the ready before transitioning into a new job. The most successful of these strategies combines reconnaissance on both business and cultural issues through face-to-face meetings with colleagues and customers and through plenty of independent research. Learn how sizing up your new role ahead of time can help you do more than hit the ground running."

Getting New Hires up to Speed Quickly
Abstract: "How do managers and companies quickly transform new hires into productive employees, a process called "rapid on-boarding"? The authors contend that companies that are more successful at rapid on-boarding tend to use a relational approach, helping newcomers to rapidly establish a broad network of relationships with coworkers that they can tap to obtain the information they need to become productive. Most organizations realize the importance of integrating new employees, but many fail in this regard, often because of five pervasive myths about the process: (1) the best newcomers can fend for themselves, (2) a massive information dump allows newcomers to obtain what they need, (3) cursory introductions are all that's needed, (4) first assignments should be small, compact and quickly achievable, and (5) mentors are best for getting newcomers integrated. Because of those misconceptions, managers will frequently rely on certain taken-for-granted practices that can actually hinder new employees from becoming productive."

There is probably a way to put a bigger knowledge management spin on this onboarding approach. In essence, what the new employee needs to do is a rapid knowledge audit and knowledge gap analysis to be able to focus on key knowledge areas essential to start contributing to the company/organization's mission. The employer is in a great position to help connect the new employee with the organization's knowledge bases (people, physical knowledge databases, etc...), but the employee is in the best position to identify his/her own weaknesses and knowledge gaps in terms of knowledge needed to do the work.

While most of the literature I came across was looking at the issue from the perspective of the employer and what the employer should do to accelerate onboarding, there should be more about how individual employees might want to take charge of their own onboarding -- especially if the company doesn't have a strong employee orientation or onboarding program. What I did find on this topic tends to focus on the highest levels of management and "how to take charge" rather than the average employee who might be more interested in "how do I become a productive member of the team."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Transition Acceleration Plan - Initial Adjustments

I'm now a full week into my new job. I'm still in the process of defining my role and describing what I will be doing but here's a first attempt: I work with the Chief Knowledge Officer and other OCKO (Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer) team members at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to "maintain and expand knowledge management practices within Goddard." There is a set of six knowledge management practices that the OCKO focuses on so that the mandate of the office is relatively well defined.

My initial transition acceleration plan is a 100-day plan which involved a combination of learning and doing.

- Who is who? Who does what?
- How do I go about doing X, Y, and Z?
- What does Goddard do? (history, current, future)
- What does the OCKO do? (history, current, future)

I don't have a detailed workplan yet. I didn't expect to have one drawn out by the end of the first week. However, I already have a much better sense of what needs to be done and what the existing team has been doing.

My first inter-related steps include the following:
1) Practicing my "story": What am I doing here? How do I contribute? How do I fit in?; and
2) Getting invited to accompany team members to any meetings I can in order to be introduced to as many people as possible and immediately start building my own network based on the team's existing relationships.

I have a specific idea for a more substantive 100-day project. It hasn't been flushed out yet but from my perspective it would be very useful to undertake a rapid knowledge management audit. I don't want to be doing an extensive audit of knowledge but rather develop an inventory of ongoing knowledge management related activities. For example, there is a main library and then project-specific libraries. There are multiple training and related capacity building events developed across the Center. How can the activities of the Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer complement and leverage ongoing knowledge management related activities sponsored by various parts of the organization?

Week 1 lesson learned: It's fine for me to get a clearer understanding of what my role is going to be but it's as important for other members of the team to share the same understanding.