Search & Sort: Tips for Putting Information Into Action

Screenshot 2015-07-29 06.59.02According to the philosopher and man of science of a century and a half ago, Herbert Spencer, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Ralph Waldo Emerson picks up on this thought, adding, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” As we gather information to educate ourselves on a topic we ultimately aim to take action using this new-to-us knowledge.

Gathering information without the aim of putting it into action may be interesting, but certainly won’t lead to change.

But with the avalanche of information falling on us through a typical Google search, we quickly become buried in material. With pages and pages of results for our simple query there is no shortage of information – results abound! So we suffer from information overload, right?

Well, according to Clay Shirky, who writes and speaks on the effects of internet technology on society and economics, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” In fact, all of the futurists remind us that the amount of information available to us will continue to increase. More and more stuff will be added to the internet, so we have to improve our ability to find relevant information and be able to access that information quickly when we are ready to use it.

So before we can put information into action we have to gather it and store it or organize it. I think each of us has developed some good habits when it comes to accessing, storing and retrieving information. But I imagine we each have some gaps as well. And what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you, but maybe you’ve discovered something that hasn’t come my way yet.

The fact is – there are multiple answers to this conundrum of how to manage information so that we can put it into action later. So here are Todd’s Tips for Putting Information Into Action, categorized into phases of gathering, organizing, and retrieving.

Todd’s Tips for Putting Information into Action

Information Gathering

  • Go beyond Google!
    • Find credible sources and case studies through online journal databases using your public library card. Most libraries provide free access to EBSCO and other article databases from the convenience of your laptop.
    • Look at the references in that Wikipedia entry to see where they got the information. You may question the reliability of the Wiki entry, but often the summary is based on valid sources.
    • Use google.com to home in on deeper articles. It takes a little practice to get the most useful results, but you can often find really good full-text articles and e-books.
    • Another Google Chrome add-on, called Mya, is in beta testing right now. It allows users to search specific sites for topical information, then save results for later use.
  • Compare & contrast multiple sources. Don’t trust the first source you find – get different viewpoints and draw your own conclusions.
  • Books, articles and blogs are still great sources of information! Commit to reading non-digital sources regularly.
  • If you’re not sure where to start researching a topic, ask someone! If you don’t have anyone in your professional network to tap in to, LinkedIn groups are a good way to find practitioners and experts in just about any specialty. You can start a discussion and ask for responses, or search for people to connect with and send an InMail to.
    • If you use the Kindle app and highlight quotes, you can access all of your highlights using the My Notebook icon. If you use the desktop Kindle app you can copy & paste those quotes into a separate document and save it in your folder system.
    • Leverage social media. Many authors or professional groups have Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, as well as blogs. Follow them for continuing discussion and research on topics of interest to you.

Storing & Retrieving Information

  • Consider going 100% digital.* Scan articles and training materials, type up notes from presentations as well as quotes from books. (A bonus of typing up notes & quotes is that your memory is aided by the process!)
  • The key is your folder and sub-folder system. Make it your own – only you need to know how to find things in your system, so do what makes sense to you.
  • Use Dropbox, Google Docs, or some other cloud-based system to store your information so that you can retrieve it from any device and any location.
  • Use bookmarks to sort searches and online finds. Most browsers allow you to save articles as PDFs, so you can easily add that online gem to your folder system.
  • Use tags for individual files to help making search more accurate a
  • When you “like” or retweet an article or other resource through social media, go the next step and save the item in PDF to the appropriate folder.
  • Evaluate your system from time-to-time and make tweaks – pay attention to the growing pile of paper resources and schedule time to scan.
  • Purge! That great article on new technology from 1993 may be an interesting historical record, but it’s cluttering up your files. Get rid of it!

*if you have file cabinets full of paper documents, take out one at a time and scan & file each item. It may take a while, but you’ll have all of those docs in one place, organized for easy access. Make sure your scanner can do optical character recognition (OCR), which makes the text searchable.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to gather and store information, but it should provide some food for thought as you consider how to collect and sort material. Keep in mind Shirky’s warning that it’s not information overload but failure to filter. If you’re getting too much clutter, evaluate what you actually use and remove what you don’t. That could mean unsubscribing to a newsfeed or blog, un-liking a Facebook page, or moving that pile of magazines to remove the guilt of not getting to them!

Putting information into action, then, means being able to access the material you’ve squirreled away quickly and efficiently.

When I am asked to deliver a presentation on change management I can go to my Research folder, open the Change management sub-folder, then see additional sub-folders labeled PowerPoints, Assessments, Theories & Models, and Handouts. I’m not spending hours searching for my stuff because it’s all at my fingertips.

NOTE: I can’t fully claim all the credit for the tips below; they come from a session I facilitated recently for the Omaha Organization Development Network. So thanks, colleagues, for your contributions!

  

Making the Pieces Fit: Right Person-Right Job-Right Organization

A couple of years ago, when I was managing a group of trainers for a large financial services firm, I needed to backfill a position when a trainer was promoted within the company. We lacked internal bench strength, so following the culture of promotion from within wasn’t a viable option. I would have to hire externally. Personally, I welcomed this opportunity because I felt we needed some “new blood” in our organization.

As I sorted through dozens of resumes and began narrowing down the candidates, there was one individual who stood out to me as unique. What he lacked in industry experience I was confident he could overcome with his ambitious, unconventional perspective. I wanted to shake up the rest of the trainers, and I was committed to hiring a diverse team to broaden the perspectives of the group and encourage them to learn from one another.

So I ignored the concerns of a couple of people I had invited to participate in the interview process and went with my gut. What I learned is that sometimes your gut needs to listen to the guts of others!

Jerry was probably the worst hire I have ever made! Almost from the beginning, when he was a participant in the training class, he began stirring things up, but not in the exciting, positive way I had envisioned. Over the next two years I coached and disciplined him until it was obvious we needed to sever the relationship altogether.

What I now know is that company fit is a two-way street. An article published in 2005 by researchers at the University of Iowa (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson, Personnel Psychology, 2005) addresses Person-Environment fit. Fit can be considered from various angles, such as person-supervisor fit, person-organization fit, person-workgroup fit, and so on.

Recruiters and hiring managers may have some instinctive knowledge, and maybe even some formal training, in screening individuals for organizational fit. There is a desire to find out if someone will be a good fit for the culture as well as provide the necessary skills and experience to do the job. Often, though, organizations do what I did with Jerry – they fail to look at things from multiple perspectives, so they miss things that could become a problem down the road.

The most useful person-environment factors to consider are vocation fit, job fit, organization fit, and workgroup fit.

Vocation Fit

Remember the career interest inventory you took your senior year in high school? Your results showed a laundry list of possibly occupations based on what you selected as most and least desirable in the assessment. I think some of mine included funeral director, teacher, librarian and zookeeper. Often there is little personal counseling that goes along with these assessments so you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you might want to be when you grow up!

We assume that individuals have figured this out before they start applying for jobs, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked why someone wants a particular job and they respond with “I really like to help people.” That’s great! But why help people through this job? Why does it satisfy you? Why is this career of choice? I ask my college students what they plan to do after graduation and most of them say “get a job.” Minimal effort seems to be put into discovering strengths, passions, interests, and vocational fit.

Job Fit

Assuming the individual has made a thoughtful vocational choice, the next step is to consider job fit. My wife used to laugh at me early in our marriage when I would look through the want ads and circle jobs (yeah – remember the days when you had to get the Sunday paper to find out who was hiring?!) that I didn’t have the credentials for but was convinced I would be a perfect choice for! Or I would apply for jobs at companies that I would not enjoy working in.

As job seekers we get into the desperation trap of “I just need a job – any job – and I’ll keep looking if its not the best one.” With bills piling up we quickly jettison the idea that we need a job where we can thrive – we’re just trying to survive. We become overly optimistic and let the dollars guide us.

The opposite happens with organizations and hiring managers. I’ve made desperate hiring decisions just to fill a position quickly, then regretted it later. In the call center world we called it “butts in seats.” In retail we had a similar approach – the “fog a mirror” test. The assumption is that its better to have someone…anyone…than no-one. Some industries just come to expect a certain amount of turnover.

But have you noticed the difference between the fast-food associate that is a good fit and the one who isn’t? They are in the right vocation – customer service – and in the right job. They smile, interact, and do their work with pride. In some ways its harder to measure this as people climb the ladder. They have the experience, skills, and credentials. But do they fit with your job?

Organization Fit

There are a few ways to look at organization fit. First, is there values alignment? Job seekers have to find out if what they believe about life and work meshes with what the company believes about life and work. Do they produce products and services that we think are harmful in some way? I once worked for a company that provided customer service for companies that sold adult videos, psychic readings, and online gambling sites. I didn’t know that until after I started working for the company, and it gave me some heartburn to be associated with such a company.

My first human resources job was for a century-old food manufacturing company that was hiring their first HR Manager in the company’s history. It took them at least two years to pull the trigger on posting the job. The average tenure of the executive team was about 20 years, so most of them started with the company right out of college and never left. As a young, ambitious, and out-of-the-box HR Manager, I was in for an awakening! I had a blast going in and setting up a new department, having the autonomy to create priorities and projects. But after about three years I had done all I could do because my desire for progressive programs did not fit the culture. They needed someone who would maintain what I had set in place.

As organizations become more active supporters of a variety of causes, from gay rights to immigration reform to global warming, job seekers have to do their homework to decide whether they fit with such an organization. It requires asking specific questions about values, priorities, and practices. Read articles about the company to see what may be below the surface of the company web site.

Workgroup Fit

At the workgroup level both the job seeker and the employer need to evaluate whether there is a good fit with a particular team. I’ve worked in large organizations that are a conglomeration of multiple sub-cultures. If the workgroup is in a location apart from corporate headquarters, how is the culture different? Is there dysfunction, infighting, or an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to working with other departments?

When I worked for a regional department store chain I was in one of the premier stores in a large mall in a large city. I would visit our stores in smaller cities and the culture within the store was completely different. There is a different talent pool, with smaller towns typically having less turnover. I’ve often found that the less turnover there is, the more likely the workgroup is receptive to change and new ideas. This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to check out.

Over a ten-year career in retail I worked in or managed virtually every department. As a 20-something male, I was assigned to manage a cosmetics department of 30 women for a couple of years. What an experience that was. Talk about a challenging workgroup fit!  Why my boss thought this was a good position for me, I don’t know. And why I accepted it shows that I didn’t give much thought to workgroup fit!

Evaluating Fit is Everyone’s Job

Job seekers and employers both have a responsibility to evaluate fit. At the highest organizational levels processes need to be in place to ensure values and priorities are clearly communicated at every level and location of the organization. Human resource policies and practices need to promote evaluation of fit, with hiring managers receiving training on how to screen at the four levels of fitness.

With high unemployment and fierce competition for jobs it will be difficult for job seekers to honestly evaluate fit, especially at the organization and workgroup levels. Individuals will accept positions out of desperation, blindly hoping that they can push through the discomfort they may have with the workplace. It won’t take long for things to surface and productivity will likely suffer. Co-workers will be affected and HR will be called in to help fix the situation.

We will continue to see tension within our workplaces from a failure to consider fit from employer and employee angles. Misalignment of skills, values, personalities and priorities cause friction and misunderstanding. As an HR Manager I frequently had discussions with hiring managers over whether it was better to keep a position open longer, taking a risk with productivity, or to keep searching for the right person. It’s difficult in the moment, because there are lines of customers waiting to be helped, or projects put on hold, or machines running at less-than-capacity. But in the end, the productivity and positive ripple effects for the workgroup and organization when the right person is in the job typically outweigh the less-than-stellar outcomes of a poor fit.

Suggested Resources

Who: The A Method for Hiring

Order Who: The A Method for Hiring from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

Order Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time from the Minding the Gap Bookstore

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Order What Color is Your Parachute? 2012 from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type

Order Do What You Are from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

 

 

Employees key to bouncing back after the recession

Few companies have come through the past 2-3 years unscathed by the recession. Leaders should consider the impact the recession has had on those who have survived in your organization. How are your employees doing at riding the wave of the economic crisis?

  • Are they disheartened, barely hanging on?
  • Are they committed to your organization and doing everything they can to maximize revenue?
  • Are they coming to you with innovative solutions to bring new customers?
  • Are they maintaining your reputation or just waiting for an opportunity to jump ship?
  • Have you been so focused on surviving the recession to pay much attention to the needs of your employees?

Most companies cut training and development when times get hard.  At the same time incentives and motivational processes take a hit, leading to a discouraging scenario for employees.  If layoffs or deferred hiring also are used to cut expenses during a downturn, the surviving employees are asked to do more with less. The accumulative effect is a disengaged workforce that puts in minimal effort, feeling that the organization doesn’t do anything to earn their commitment.

Not all of this is fair, of course, since employers have to do something to ride out the storm. It’s important for business leaders to understand the value of learning during challenging economic times. The old adage, “You have to spend money to make money” comes into play here.  According to a 2009 study by The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and i4cp (Organizational Learning in Tough Economic Times), 38% of companies plan to place more emphasis on learning during the economic crisis. The remaining 60% are either maintaining pre-recession levels or cutting back, some drastically.

The reality is that there’s never been a better time to focus on talent development within your organization.  It is your employees that will pull your company through and help your regain traction as the economy begins to recover.  Managers and business owners must become astute at managing performance, growing talent, and leveraging strengths to maximize human capital.

Because people are the cornerstone to any business – the foundation upon which the organization either stands strong or falters, the wisest thing for companies to do is become experts in managing human performance.  A strong human capital strategy includes an assessment of desired verses actual performance, analysis of strengths & competencies and selection practices to ensure the right people are in the right job, and a commitment to developing people that doesn’t waver despite market and economic fluctuations.

The good news is that human performance management doesn’t have to be expensive! And the return on investment pays off quickly. The key is having a plan and sticking with it. Once processes are in place they can be maintained through feast or famine.  Keep in mind the toll that the economic crisis has on your employees and consider budget-conscious solutions that will keep them engaged. Your employees want to succeed, but need to know they can trust management to support them.

As businesses make difficult decisions about how to pull through the current economic downturn, they must think beyond the knee-jerk reaction to slash costs to the bone. In ASTD’s Economic Survival Guide, the message is “Survival of the learning function in a down economy is all about leveraging existing best practices, eliminating redundancies, and creating programs or situations where employees can learn from each other.” You may want to invest in the services of an organization development consultant to initiate your human performance analysis, which will ensure you’re focusing on the most valuable efforts that lead to sustainable performance and position your company for success as the economy bounces back.