Friday, February 27, 2009

Another thing I learned in a committee meeting

The second heated topic of discussion in this committee meeting was how to make the new employee feel more welcome and part of the organization.

Again, I talked a lot more than I wanted to about this. And here, I need a little help.

I'm really lucky. I have 2 managers above me who are well versed in the workings of the organization. Who does what well (whether or not it is a formal part of their job description), personalities, history. They are also willing to share this information.

Most of the other folks in my department aren't so lucky.

The inevitable conversations around more meetings, committees, mentorship, cohorts, etc. occurred. I know that for me personally, a cohort of employees who started during X month could potentially be useful - with a volunteer mentor.

When I mentioned the cohort / mentor idea, the inevitable "what is your vision of this thing?" Question came up. I admitted I didn't have one - just an unformed idea. All I knew was that when I run into people that I went to Orientation with - there is a welcome glimmer of recognition between the parties and greater openness to conversation.

Afterwards, I wondered whether it needed to be, or should be, that formalized.

Maybe we should just recognize that we will learn more about our colleages, as an organic part of our work. Not expect that a new employee will know everything and everyone within a month and feel comfortable. Especially with a department this big and spread out (we are on 2 campuses about 20+ miles apart).

I've had lots of new jobs. No matter where I end up - inclusion is still a process.

Am I off base? Is there a way to mitigate some of the natural discomfort of a new job and getting to know a new group of people? Should there be a formal process in place to make people feel included? Any models you have seen that worked well?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Things I learned in a committee meeting

I was volunteered for a committee (I think this happened while I was on vacation). The committee's task is to figure out ways to optimize the employee experience based on results from a GAP survey from last fall.

One of the items on the agenda: Figure out a way to improve new employee on-boarding.

Since I was the newest employee on the committee (everyone else had been with the university 5 years or longer), I wound up talking more than I had intended.

What interested me most about the conversation was how apparent everyone's biases are.

One area of discussion - figuring out ways to get new employees (and everyone else) the information they need to answer small questions. Especially small questions that would only be of interest to the IT department. Questions such as:

- How do I get access to our Enterprise system?
- Which group builds the online tutorials?
- Who is responsible for interface programming and what is their intake process if you need help?

We have a university-wide portal (a little tricky to find information in, but it's there).

We have a departmental web site (which is also tricky to use and appears somewhat outdated). I'm not sure whether the original intent of the site was for outside use or as only a departmental resource. I get the feeling it was originally meant for outside access.

The HR person facilitating the meeting admitted she could be used as a resource for HR-type questions. Her job is to serve as the liason between the department and the general HR department anyway.

I hate to call it a brainstorming session since the group seemed to be looking for more fully fleshed out solutions. A facilitated straight brainstorming session would have been very useful - I think we need ideas first. Nevertheless, some of the comments were quite telling.

There was more than one person who's first reaction was "let's print an employee handbook." I have a couple of employee handbooks somewhere on my bookshelf. I haven't opened them since orientation 15 months ago. I look online. The information there is more current anyway.

Throughout the meeting, I kept thinking a Wiki would be useful. These are IT folks. I know at least a couple of people around the table were familiar with them.

I hesitated to mention the Wiki as an idea. Not sure what caused me to pause there. Probably the concerns about implementation - and these folks were looking for fully formed solutions, ideally with full implementation plans to give to the managers.

Hopefully, we can get away from the knee-jerk "let's print a handbook" to solve our information woes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Resistance from Inside

Sid and I had a lengthy chat / therapy session yesterday. Mostly about the LMS.

My team is stalling. They just don't get how this could help. Just sign-ups alone! Right now, we get an e-mail, that we then type into an Excel spreadsheet, which we then have to transfer to a template for the sign in sheet, which we then type into a spreadsheet, which we then have to transfer to another spreadsheet to run any requested reports. They don't see what the problem is here!

Maybe it's because they don't have to actually do it.

One person wants to make sure everything is "perfectly organized" and won't budge until it is. And yet she can't find anything on her computer!!!!

No folders?

What folders?

Does she use the search function?

Her idea of search is asking me to resend whatever it is she is looking for.

Okay.....

And they are concerned that people won't find their classes.

Um....people can't remember which department teaches which classes now.

I KNOW! Why can't everyone see how this can help us ALL?
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I've been thinking about the informal feedback I've been getting from other training groups.

On the one hand, they DO see that the ability to see a snapshot of a staffer's entire training history would be incredibly useful.

And, with prodding, they also see why forcing a new employee (or even an existing employee) to search for training across multiple websites is inefficient (at best).

The hiccup lies with issues of control.

What if it shows that I am teaching the same course as another group? Who then teaches the course? Especially when my course is so obviously superior to the other department's?

What if it shows that my courses aren't as popular as the others?

We already have all of our reports / processes exactly how we want them. Now you are asking me to give up control of that?!? Change the processes that work now?!?!

Then there is always the "I don't want to make someone log into something if they don't have to. What if it means they won't take my course?" issue.

(That "my value = # of people in seats" assumption runs very deep and is a whole 'nother discussion.)
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One thing the informal feedback tells me is that I haven't done a particularly good job of demonstrating that the LMS (which was here before I came here BTW):

a) ...solves at least one major problem for the University at large - the ability to see a staff member's training history AND prove that he or she has taken at least all of the required Compliance courses. I personally thinks it solves a couple other major problems too (like the "where do I find X training" problem), but not all of our stakeholders see the same problems I do.

b) ....is not just "Wendy's baby" but is "everyone's baby" and can be used for the good of all stakeholders. Not just my immediate group.

Part of that failure is circumstance. We just haven't had the resources to really concentrate on the change management required to get the LMS fully implemented as a functional tool. I've had informal conversations with individual stakeholders.

We're just now getting organized enough to get all of the stakeholders in a room together to talk. Those conversations will be very informative for all parties and are long overdue.

Part of that failure is probably a result of my underlying feeling that yes....this thing really is my baby. I don't want anyone else to screw it up.

Before we get moving on this project, Wendy needs to have another conversation with her inner control freak.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fear Mitigation and Learning

In the comments to my WoW observations, Dave Ferguson noted:
I've come to think that while some getting-up-to-speed resources are a good idea in general, many people (meaning "me") prefer to get starting on what seems like really doing something, rather than on in theory learning about how to get started.

He's right, many people WOULD prefer diving into the topic head first.

And then there's me - a person who prefers to read and analyze everything she can get her hands on before trying something brand new.

Why do I do this?

So that I feel better prepared going in. As a result, I am more open to learning while practicing rather than letting my fears wig me out.

I find that I create my learning resources (Quick References, Manuals, Tutorials, etc) not because I expect people to actually use these things (it would be nice), but so that people feel more comfortable.

If I don't get it now - at least there are other resources.....

The difference between the student reaction when I have materials for them to take away (and put in the trash) vs. no materials (even when I promise to e-mail them copies later) is striking.

That piece of paper is a security blanket.

For whatever reason, it opens students up for learning because it mitigates the fear.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Do people really want you to talk to people?

Catching up on my feed reader and Twitter feed after a weekend of hockey and WoW. Number 9 on Karyn's Ten Things Learning Designers Forget jumped out at me:
People may prefer to talk to people. If possible, there should be a way for them to do so. A list of acknowledged experts in each field. A discussion forum. User profiles. That sort of thing.

Struck me that this may be the trickiest thing to implement.

First: Does the "expert" actually WANT to talk to the newbie? They may not want to be bombarded by calls / e-mails by people asking "stupid questions". Experts have their jobs to do too. Is there a way to make availability rewarding for the expert? Maybe this concern is a result of my own past experience rather than the reality for most folks.....

Second: Is there an organizational structure that encourages talk between managers rather than between front-line workers? OK - for me to talk to Joe in accounting, I need to talk to my manager, who then talks to his manager to see if Joe has time to talk to me. Depending on how dysfunctional structured the organization is, you may be expected to go up and down multiple layers of the org tree before getting Joe's answer (while being translated like a game of telephone). Direct contact will be punished. (Though as I have amply documented here, I have often been of the "Do first, apologize later" school of getting things done).

Third: The knee-jerk organizational reaction to most things having to do with discussion boards, wikis, etc - who's going to make sure that the information is "right"?

In my own attempts to create a better support system for our enterprise application, I'm finding that the idea of a resource area (with links, tutorials, documentation etc) is being much better received than the idea of a super-user community. A resource where people can talk across departments and share solutions.

I haven't quite figured out why there is so much quiet resistance to the notion of a user network. Fear of more meetings? A need to have someone "responsible" for the group? Fear of sharing knowledge, therefore making yourself less valuable? Lack of management control / protection?

I know this will be a cultural change. A more significant one than I had initially expected. How does one go about creating / encouraging / supporting an organization-wide user community?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Important Stuff I'm Learning on WoW

Yes - I DID just spend the entire President's Day holiday playing World of Warcraft.

I've managed to get Grisela, the Undead Mage, up to level 15 (as of this writing). After fits, starts, and much death. (Mages aren't the most robust creatures.)

Things I've learned that may potentially apply to work:

- I get a lot more done if I have a plan going into the session. I'll spend the first couple of minutes deciding which quests I feel like tackling. Look at the maps and monsters involved then go at it. It may take me a bit longer than I would like (because I'm a mage and spend time travelling between the graveyard and the corpse), but this system works better for me than just going out into the world and doing stuff at random. I'm leveling faster this way.

- Some groups are organic. Actually, the couple of 2 person groups I've found myself in have been the result of proximity rather than a result of any plan. We are both trying to kill the same monsters at the same time. Easier to go at it together. When we are done, we disband the group. Haven't figured out how to initiate one yet. This is one of the niggly details I am working on.

- If the first strategy doesn't work, try something else. Very important with mages since they are fragile. You can't just go up to a monster and wail away at them. Being more flexible with my gameplay has resulted in more success.

- The strategy changes based on the circumstance. A corollary to the previous item. It's too easy to apply the same strategy to a different circumstance and wonder why it doesn't work. For instance, a strategy used for loner-creatures will be quite different from a strategy used for monsters that love to gang up on you. Humanoids are notorious for this, BTW.

There will be more grouping in my future as I figure out the chat and group features of this program. Still amazed at the level and number of details in this game. I feel like I'm just now (2 weeks of serious gameplay in) getting comfortable with the interface and modifications.

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BTW - to the anonymous donor Paains, Grisela thanks you for the in-game gold and large bags.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lessons on Networks

Yes - I am playing lots of World of Warcraft these days.

It's research. Really. Honest. Not affecting my blogging at all. Snerk.

Before diving in - I had previously pinged my network (the blog, facebook, my in-person friends) for advice.

"EvilSue" was kind enough to offer her services for EverQuest II. Being half-a-world away from each other poses some interesting logistical challenges. At some point, I will take her up on the offer to see how best to mitigate those challenges. And to give me an opportunity to play with Skype again.....

At the same time, I talked to one of my in-person friends who is one of the biggest gamers in my circle. Through Facebook, he pointed me to another one of his friends - a beta tester in World of Warcraft. Brian has been incredibly forthcoming with advice and assistance as I pick through all of the odd little details World of Warcraft offers.

Thanks Brian.

Once I started playing, and mentioned this fact to other in-person friends, World of Warcrafters (OK - don't know what we are called yet) among them began coming out of the woodwork. Especially among the bowling league.

So now, conversations traditionally centering around bowling techniques and the game have started centering around excellent techniques for Mages and the benefits of Alliance over Horde.

Of course, none of us are playing on the same servers. We're not coordinated enough yet.

I've started to recognize this same process happening with more "serious" questions (project management, best methods of ID in eLearning, how to solve particular problems).

So what is the point of this disjointed story?

That the first step in any inquiry is to ask the question in all of the forums / communities you participate in. You may wind up circling around back to your friends - but you get a wealth of perspective, a nudge to move forward, and an awful lot of help.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yet Another Brain Dump

Lots of brain space and spare time being taken up with Twitter, World of Warcraft, Hockey and work.

Much of this may wind up being the topic of more substantive posts later - if I get around to it....

Twitter - Feels like I am not doing something right. Maybe I need to pick up one of these Twitter aps so I don't wind up reading conversations between the folks I follow backwards / disjointed. Then again - maybe I shouldn't. Feels like a form of spying....

Twitter to Facebook - amazing how my Twitter comments, which make sense in the context of Twitter and the community there, wind up with Facebook friends commenting asking for clarification.

Blogger to Twitter to Facebook - still digging this. Now I can spam all of my communities with my mindless ramblings in one go. Two years ago, I wouldn't have found this so exciting.

World of Warcraft - those of you who said that this would be addictive...should have heeded the warning. Not just the game itself, but also the quality and quantity of outside resources available....

BTW - my "studies" in WoW have provided an excellent example of how to ping a network.

Captivate 4 - so excited to see an upgrade that actually solves a problem (right-click) and (thus far) doesn't cause new ones. Still not sold on the text-to-speech feature. I hope to have a short demo posted in the next week or so.

Maybe that will distract me from figuring out ways to get my (currently) Level 12 Undead Mage up to Level 20 by the end of next week. Her name is Grisela. Say hi if you run into her on the Winterhoof server. Hopefully, by then, I will have figured out how to chat back.....

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Saving Me from Myself

So I had all of these grandiose ideas for improving the new user training. Figured the upgrade was a good opportunity to create a better support system for the end user.

Created a simple 1 page questionaire for feedback.

Presented it to the IT folks.

Wendy - this is out of scope for the project. Let's focus on communicating the upgrade changes.


My initial reaction:

You don't understand!!!! This is the perfect opportunity to provide end-user support!!! I know it needs to be at the department level, but the institutional knowledge is missing!

This was all mental. And, thankfully, I was on teleconference so no one could see my body language.

Then I shut up and listened.

End-user training for this very complicated product rightfully belongs to the departments. They can provide the context that I just flat out can't since I am not a day-to-day user.

Actually, training this application is only 5% of my job - so it hasn't gotten the attention it probably deserves.

The end-user departments, as part of the project, will be working on documenting their current processes and required workflow modifications as part of the upgrade.

The User Acceptance Testing (which our team facilitates) will help close the knowledge gaps existing among the departments.

The IT team is open to creating a clearinghouse of the information that results from the upgrade. Which is really all we need. One place to point to where people can get information / help / job aids.

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The PM just called me and asked whether I wanted to talk to the Enterprise Steering committee about training this morning.

I said no.

I'll sit in the meeting to observe and write down issues that come up. I am not going to open up a new can of worms if I don't need to.

Thanks guys for saving me from myself.