Bridging the Gap between Training and Proficiency

Now that your staff completed training in your organization’s newest program, everyone knows what to do and how to do it. This is a reasonable expectation, but the reality is that training does not mean that learning has occurred. Even less so, there is no guarantee of proficiency.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath present six ways to make ideas “sticker.” These include:

  •  Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

These guidelines for making ideas stick are applicable in a variety of situations – from selling to teaching! And while all of these methods can make learning stick, they can also go a long way to enabling proficiency.

 Research shows that retention of learning varies by modality. For instance:

  • 10 percent retention through reading
  • 20 percent retention through hearing
  • 30 percent retention through seeing
  • 50 percent retention through hearing and seeing
  • 70 percent retention through repeating the material (saying)
  • 90 percent retention through saying and doing

What the above demonstrates is that the more involved the learner is in the training, the higher the retention and the greater likelihood of higher proficiency.

Make training simple. This means that training should be logical and not complicated. Short bursts of training are more effective than are lengthy modules.

Introduce the unexpected into training. If the training is about records management, stage a short play that introduces real life work scenarios about handling information. Sing a song about libraries or show a video about e-mail. Get creative and introduce the unexpected!

Make training concrete. That is, ensure that training demonstrates specific behaviours and steps, allowing learners to practice the behaviours and steps both during and after training.

Both the trainer and training needs to be credible. Learners need to trust the source if they are to take the material seriously. The trainer’s body language affects the learners’ perception of credibility by 55 percent, voice accounts for another 38 percent, but what the trainer says only accounts for seven percent. Pay attention to your body language!

Make training emotional. The best way to do this is let learners know “what’s in it for them” (i.e., WIIFM – what’s in it for me). Perhaps learning the material may mean an increase in pay or a promotion at work. Nothing is more powerful than an emotional connection between the learner and the training to ensure that learning sticks.

Tell stories. Stories provide examples. People can relate to stories and are more apt to remember the story rather than the training material itself.

Using all of the above techniques can help training stick, but pairing learners with coaches or mentors helps reinforce learning, so that learners become proficient as they practice their learning.

And don’t forget to audit learning. At intervals of one month, three months, and six months post-training, follow-up with learners to discuss if they require further information. It is through follow-up that training reinforcement occurs and any issues that may arise are quickly resolved.  

Improving Work Performance

How’s your productivity? Does the mere mention of the word stir unease? And what about all those uber-organized work colleagues? How is it that they really seem to be on top of their work and, yet, here you are constantly struggling to keep up?

You may be surprised to learn that there’s no secret to improving work performance. It’s all about being organized. And the best part of all is that it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Improving work performance is about being productive. It’s about doing the right things in the right way to yield maximum output. It’s about planning and prioritizing to make that happen. And it’s also about protecting your time.

To help you be more productive and use your time effeciently, here are ten suggestions.

  1. Arrange your physical work environment. Organize your workspace so that everything you use has a “home.” After use, always return items to their home. This takes discipline and a lot of work at first, but becomes habit with practice.
  2. Arrange your electronic files. When electronic files are arranged in a hierarchy that enables cross-organizational sharing, there is less duplication of files, no silos of information, and retrieval time is improved dramatically. Use a functional subject-based classification system for optimum efficiency and productivity.
  3. Use appropriate tools. No amount of arranging or organizing is going to help you work at your best if your tools are out-of-date. Still using Windows 95? Or DOS? Invest in current technology, a nicer website, and appropriate resources to help you be more productive. Not making the investment will bog you down, create frustration, and lead to regularly “burning the midnight oil.”
  4. Check-in with your list. As you make commitments, write them down, and check-in with your list every day. Lists help us manage our time and free our minds of mental energy that we would otherwise spend on tracking our “to-do’s.” If you write down what you need to do instead of keeping it in your head, you’ll also experience less stress and better sleep.
  5. Do it now. At work or at home, if a task takes five minutes or less, then do it now. If it’s going to take longer, then write it on your list and schedule time to do the task. Organized people don’t procrastinate on tasks that they can easily complete within a few minutes.
  6. Uni-task. While multitasking may seem like you’re accomplishing more, you are in fact accomplishing less across more area. To be truly efficient, effective, and productive, focus on one task, giving it your full attention. Turn off email pop-ups and calendar reminders. Protect your time to gain productive results.
  7. Problem-solve; don’t blame. If you happen to get sidetracked or encounter a challenge that impacts your work, use a problem-solving approach. Author Hillary Rettig gives the following example about someone engaging in inner defeatist dialogue: “What’s wrong with you? This is easy! Anyone can do it! Why are you so lazy? And with all the money you just spent on classes! What a loser!” Instead, focus on a solution: “Oh, I’m underproductive. That’s interesting. Let’s see what’s going on and how I can fix it.”
  8. Work with your energy cycle. Instead of time management, work to suit your daily energy levels. If you have high energy in the morning, then schedule the most difficult or more creative work in the morning. Don’t try to accomplish critical tasks when your energy is at a lull.
  9. Know thyself. Organized people know their strengths and weaknesses and reflect a high sense of self-worth. Ask for help to complete work on time. Just because it’s in your job description does not mean you need to do it all yourself. Think of your time as a resource that has value. Perfectionists and high achievers may not be comfortable letting anyone else share the reins, but interpersonal support goes a long way in managing stress.
  10. De-stress. Most people operate in a state of chronic stress, but those who are able to focus and stay organized are able to manage stress. The most effective way to manage stress is to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. This can be a brisk walk, meditation, yoga, whatever works for you – just don’t sit at your computer all day.

Practicing the above suggestions takes motivation to get started. Once started, habit will keep you moving to become more organized and productive. You will also become a happier person, overall.

Rating Records Management Program Maturity

A records and information management (“RIM”) program that is effective and efficient allows you to do the following:

  • Create only the records needed to satisfy legal, fiscal, administrative, and operational requirements.
  • Retain essential records and destroy obsolete records.
  • Store records safely and securely in a cost-effective manner.
  • Retrieve information quickly through efficient access and retrieval systems.
  • Use the right information technology for the right reasons.
  • Promote and support the use of archival records as a community resource.
  • Recognize through policy and procedures that records management is everyone’s job.

If your organization is struggling in any of these areas, tools like the Records Management Maturity Model (“RM3”) can be helpful.

The RM3 is adapted from the National Archives of Canada’s Information Management Model and includes six areas for evaluation—organizational context, organizational capabilities, management of records and information management, compliance and quality, records life cycle, and user perspective.

A five-point scale in RM3, ranging from one (undeveloped RIM program or in the beginning stages) to five (industry best practices program), allows organizations to see how they compare to industry best practices.

The criteria for each element are summarized below:

  1. Organizational context. This includes an organization’s capacity to support, sustain, and strengthen its records management capabilities. It also includes a review of the organization’s culture, change management capability, and impact of the external environment on its RIM practices.
  2. Organizational capabilities. Included here is an organization’s capacity to develop its people, processes and technology resources for a sound RIM program. It also includes an evaluation of the organization’s availability of internal specialists to manage the program. In addition to RIM tools and their enabling technologies, other areas reviewed include project management capabilities and relationship management in support of RIM.
  3. Management of records and information. An organization’s capacity to effectively manage activities in support of records management as it relates to the effective delivery of programs and services is the theme of this element. Included is an evaluation of leadership and executive awareness, quality of strategic plans, principles, policies and standards, roles and responsibilities, program integration, mechanisms for risk management, and the performance management framework for RIM.
  4. Compliance and quality. High maturity in this area means that the organization has controls in place to ensure that its records holdings are not compromised. This includes the extent to which the organization’s processes ensure records are authentic, reliable, usable, and have integrity (i.e., records quality), information security, privacy, business continuity, and compliance.
  5. Records life cycle. Ensuring that the organization has capacity to support each phase of the records life cycle is part of this element. This includes incorporating records life cycle requirements in policies, programs, services and systems, and assessing records collections, their sharing and re-use. The organization of records for optimized retrieval as well as maintenance and preservation of records for long-term usability, and records disposition plans are also included here.
  6. User perspective. People are an important aspect of any program. The organization must have the capacity to meet the information needs of all users. This element includes an evaluation of user awareness, user training and support, and user satisfaction.

While the above elements and criteria are highly effective for evaluating RIM programs, they can also be used for other areas. But before embarking on any program evaluation, discern whether the program is required in the first place.

What Keeps Leaders Awake?

In a recent risk management survey by Aon Global Risk Consulting, organizations cited 50 concerns that are “keeping them awake at night.” The top three are: the economy, regulations, and competition.

While risk is something for which many organizations prepare; in today’s interconnected world, it is hard to only focus on individual organizational risk. This is because risks affecting one organization are not always isolated to that organization. Corporations (and countries) can no longer function as islands or enjoy immunity from risks affecting others. Look at the economy, for instance.

In 2009, the problems in the small country of Greece were not confined to its borders. It disrupted markets worldwide; its problems spilling to Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, and others.

And even before the Greece crisis, the United States was dealing with its own economic woes in 2008—its mortgage issues were felt by many organizations around the country and around the globe.

On top of economic struggles and perhaps because of them, governments have taken on more power in terms of regulating both government and business. This includes not only the financial sector, but all industries. New and changing regulations are a risk for corporations—the need is to adapt processes quickly to ensure regulators are happy.

The third risk, competition, is forcing big players to innovate and differentiate to survive the competitive onslaught. While survival is the stopgap; thriving is the goal.

Do you remember the “Super Size Me” documentaries? They forced McDonald’s to offer healthier meal choices on its menu. It was a matter of brand reputation (which ranks number 4 on the list of 50 risks). As McDonald’s was dragged through the documentaries, other fast food chains took note and followed quickly to update their menus. None of them wanted to be linked with obesity and poor health.

While most risks can be managed efficiently by organizations that proactively practice continuous improvement, those that scramble to react to crises are doomed to fall further behind. Think about business interruption, for example.

Major and natural disasters may impact whole communities, but smaller disasters can also wreak havoc. And we rarely hear about the smaller disasters. What happens if your library’s basement gets flooded? Do you have a contingency plan to salvage your information? Have you practiced the plan? What about if your computer system crashes? How will this impact your business?

Business interruption, if it occurs, does not need to occur for prolonged periods of time if the organization is ready to deal with anything. Lean organizations that practice efficiency in all processes are more agile to address small or large disasters. Bloated organizations can never be as ready to handle the problems nor are they able to quickly recover from disasters.

To be highly efficient and effective, here are four considerations:

  1. Implement and maintain a continuous improvement strategy so that your organization is ready to handle any risk at any time.
  2. Ensure that organizational policies and procedures are current. Test them to make sure they make sense and that they will enable productivity, especially in the face of risk.
  3. Train and re-train all staff, so that they understand policies, procedures, and their individual roles and responsibilities in the organization.
  4. Develop an organization-wide culture that includes efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. This starts with leaders championing the culture shift and then practicing the change. Lead by example.

Organizations that plan for the future by incorporating a continuous cycle of efficient and effective practices will thrive even when faced with adversity. Those that do not have a healthy risk management strategy may not survive.

Purge Parties are a Team Sport

For organizations focused on improving their productivity, there’s nothing like a purge party to get staff motivated. Not only do purge parties help staff manage their work space, but purge parties are especially useful for clearing outdated and useless office records.

By “purging” all unnecessary items, including records, from individual and shared workspaces, more space is acquired and essential items are kept and categorized for efficient retrieval.

The advantages to purge parties include the following:

  • Increased staff productivity by decreasing the search and retrieval time for items (i.e., fewer items to search means faster search times).
  • Elimination of duplicated records.
  • Minimized legal exposure—court cases demonstrate that records retained longer than needed typically hurt the organization.
  • Reduced storage costs both onsite and offsite.
  • More floor space is acquired in the office.

To conduct a purge party, convene an all-day staff meeting (or one-half-day, depending on the size of your office) and notify staff that there will be a purge party. Advise staff to wear comfortable clothing for the meeting. Let them know that donuts and coffee will be provided (it is a party, after all!).

At the meeting, go over the rules of the purge party and answer questions. This should take no more than 30 minutes. After this, with supplies on hand (e.g., boxes, masking tape, markers, packing tape, recycling boxes, etc.), each staff returns to their desk and starts purging.

Start purging where most documents land—on your desk! To help you start purging, consider the following:

  • If you are left-handed, locate items you need to reach regularly on your right (e.g., your telephone) and vice versa. Why? If you’re right-handed, you pick up the phone with your left hand, leaving your right hand free to take notes.
  • Which items do you use every day? Keep them on your desk.
  • Which items do you use at least once a week? Keep them in your desk drawer(s).
  • Which items do you use no more than once a month? Keep them in your filing cabinet (if records) or your book case (if books) or in a storage cabinet (other items).
  • Which items do you never/rarely use? Keep them in an archive or storage area as designated by your office or discard if the item has no value. Most “never/rarely use” items are discard items.

Once you’ve organized your desk, here are some “de-cluttering” guidelines to ensure you get maximum value from the purge.

  • Work clockwise around the room.
  • Start clean-up of visible surfaces first.
  • Divide your work into four quadrants (“piles”)—work on one quadrant at a time—first finish one pile before moving to the next one.

The best person to purge an office is the owner of the office. They are the most knowledgeable about what records, books, and other items are necessary for efficient workflow.

After a purge party of the physical office space, companies realize about 40% more space—space freed up when records, books, and other knickknacks are sorted or discarded.

Most people don’t realize how freeing a purge party can be for individuals and organizations. It is well worth the day to engage your employees in this team sport to not only increase morale, but efficiency and productivity going forward.

The Cost of Ignoring Communication

A noted author recommends that people selectively ignore communications by scanning communication for two vital pieces of information:

  • Action required by you
  • Deadline for completing the action

If neither of these items is included in the communication, he says to hit the Delete key. And this applies no matter who sent the communication. The author cites a 69% chance that you’ll get this exact communication a second time and there is a 48% chance you’ll get it a third time. He may be correct about the repeated communication, but I suggest the reason the communication is repeated is that it was ignored in the first place.

If you don’t respond to senders, they will repeat their communication until you do. This wastes everyone’s time. Instead of ignoring communication, reply to all communication the first time. It is the courteous thing to do.

In a previous post, I discussed the B-F-A-T Rule for email. With Bring forward-File-Act-Toss, every email that you open in your Inbox is immediately moved out of your Inbox. The goal is to have zero “opened” items in your Inbox at the end of each day. And once you start applying the rule, you’ll be amazed at how your productivity and efficiency will increase. Not to mention that removing clutter from your email inbox will also result in reduced stress.

For every email item in your Inbox, as soon as you open it, SCAN it (or READ it) and immediately do one of the following:

Bring it forward. If the email requires more than a few minutes of your time, tag the email with a Follow-up flag, set a date reminder for yourself in the flag. Now respond to the sender and let them know when they may be getting a response from you. Then MOVE the email to the appropriate Personal Folder (or Delete it – the flag will find it for you when its schedule is due).

File it. If the email is required for reference (i.e., it has value for you and/or your organization), MOVE it from your Inbox to the appropriate Personal Folder. However, if the email has long-term value and others may need it, save it on your organization’s local area network (LAN) or use the electronic document and records management system (EDRMS), as applicable.

Act on it. If the email requires a reply and the reply will take less than a couple of minutes, REPLY to it right away and then either DELETE it (because it has no value to you) or MOVE your “Sent” email (or the original sender’s email) to the appropriate Personal Folder. Remember: even if you don’t move the email to the appropriate Personal Folder, your reply is in your SENT folder. The deleted original email will also be in the DELETE folder.

Toss it. If the email does not require a reply (e.g., mass mailings such as bulletins, newsletters, or other general communique) and has no long-term value, DELETE it.

Following the above guidelines will ensure that you always have an Inbox that is clutter-free and you will be able to locate the information that you need more quickly. In short, you will achieve productivity with your email communications. And the rule is so simple, that you’ll wonder why you never applied it before.

In addition, you’ll save time for yourself and for your senders. It’s a win-win all around.


A-Z Filing is Not a Best Practice

I was surprised and amused recently to learn that a well-known productivity guru is a proponent of alphabetical filing systems for individuals – i.e., an “A-Z” arrangement for reference materials. In addition, he advocates having on hand “lots of fresh folders” and a rule of thumb to reorder folders when the number on hand drops below one hundred.

My advice is that if you really have so much filing, it’s time to stop and evaluate what you’re keeping and why. Having fresh file folders on hand to file anything that looks interesting is just ridiculous, not to mention a waste of time and resources. And if you are doing this, when was the last time you looked at that article you saved on gardening?  And do you even remember where you filed it? G for gardening? P for pruning? F for fertilizer?

Paper filing is still necessary in many offices, but the push is toward electronic filing, and rightly so, since there is less waste. Regardless if you’re using paper or electronic or both, either method should follow the same principles. That is, filing should be based on a classification system that has less than 25 root folders with sub-folders relating to the function and subject of the root.

Let’s take, for example, administrative files. Regardless of your business, your office has administrative files. These files fall under the broad categories (roots) of:

  • Administration
  • Equipment 
  • Facilities
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Information Technology.

Simply stated, these six root directories cover ALL of your administrative filing.

Under each of these categories, you will have a few or several main (primary) categories or subjects of records. And under this, you may have many cases of each subject. Look at employee files, for instance. Whether paper or electronic, employee files are cases of the subject “employee files” that belongs under the main category “human resources.” If you’re filing employee files electronically, your electronic directory might look like this:

  • Human resources
    •                 Employee files
        •                                 Clark, John
        •                                 Smith, Susan

Under “Clark, John,” for instance, file all documentation relating to John Clark, regardless if they’re Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, scanned images, or some other file format. This way, everything to do with John Clark is contained in his “employee file” under the broad category of human resources. Having all documents together like this makes it easy to apply retention schedules.

If you do not contain your files in a hierarchical system, there’s a strong probability that your document(s) might end up in an incorrect folder. And if it’s in an incorrect folder (because the overall structure is incorrect), what happens? You end up creating a new folder, one that “you know” you will remember and you file there, but no one else might think to look there. What you’ve just done is duplicated filing and the original folder can no longer be relied upon to contain all documentation. Not only that, you’ve now used more space than necessary to create the new folder (whether electronic or paper).

The bottom line is that filing and managing records is not something that should be taken lightly, since if it’s done incorrectly, repercussions can go beyond just a bad filing system and wasted time and resources. At the very least, integrity of files is lost leaving the system to be unreliable, unusable, unwieldy, out of control, and at the end of the day, a useless waste of space, money, and time.

Next time you plan to file something, whether paper or electronic; ask yourself if the system is actually working for you and the organization. If it’s not, it may be time to call an expert.


Involuntary Systems are the Key to Success

Have you ever thought about how many times your heart beats in a second, minute, day, or hour? Very few of us ever think about how our body functions, yet there it is–doing an amazing job of balancing all of our internal systems to keep us alive.

A parallel can be made between our involuntary body systems and “involuntary” systems of organization that help us achieve success. Imagine having to tell your heart each time blood needs to pump or to tell your lungs when it’s time to breathe. This would be a very inefficient way of managing our body, not to mention it would be an all-consuming exercise leaving us with no time to do anything else. Likewise with office or personal organization systems, if they are not “second nature” or “involuntary” for us, we continue to struggle with disorganization, stress, procrastination, overwhelm, and other symptoms that hinder our productivity.

An organized person knows (almost intuitively) their priorities including where to find information and how to manage their time. Each time they need to work on a priority item, they know immediately how to go about it. They do not create a new system(s) for prioritizing or getting organized. They have created efficient workflow systems, so they need very little time to maintain or think about them. Much like the involuntary heart beats.

Think about a records management system that includes filing cabinets stuffed with file folders and documents. The file folders are labeled, but there is no consistency in labeling or filing. Do you think this system is easy to use? No, it is not. And because it is not easy to use, each time you need to file something, you need to think about how and where you will file your documents. This takes up your time and energy and creates stress. An intuitively organized filing system, on the other hand, enables you to file “automatically” and keep work flowing seamlessly.

Other examples include the manner in which invoices are expedited for payment or the way in which patients are triaged at medical clinics. Once the workflow process is set up and procedures learned for each process, you no longer need to waste time thinking about how to do something. In effect, your process and procedures have enabled you to devise your own automatic system for the way you work. The work becomes second nature. The more automatic the flow, the more organized the system.

A nice side effect of automatic processes and systems is that they enable us to be more creative. This is because we do not have to think about the process or system–we just do our work; like our heart beating in the background, our process and systems are also in silent mode. This enables our minds the freedom to explore new opportunities, giving us the ability to be even more productive.

Next time you work on a task, ask yourself if you need to rely on procedures each time or has the task become automatic. If you need to spend time thinking about how to approach the same task each time, then ask how you can make your thinking about the work more automatic. You owe it to yourself to make your tasks as automatic as possible, so that thinking about the systems and processes doesn’t detract from your ability to use them.


Reclaiming Knowledge Work’s Lost Productivity

In the mid-20th Century, Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” and said that productivity of the knowledge worker would be “the biggest of the 21st Century management challenges.” He was right. In fact, knowledge workers and manual workers are no longer exclusive–technology has blurred the lines of work such that even workers loading product onto conveyer belts are no longer exempt from being classified as knowledge workers.

Without technology and the onslaught of the need to process information, productivity was easier to measure (both inputs and outputs), since the work was easier to see. In the typical factory setting, workers come to work, see the work in front of them, and get it done. At the end of the day, one can see how much product is produced. But how does one measure the value of a report or a meeting that has no tangible product? Not only is knowledge work productivity more difficult to measure, but productivity has also decreased because of knowledge work.

One of the reasons for lowered productivity in knowledge work is the greater need for critical thinking skills; skills that were not in demand in the early 20th Century. These skills include the ability to make decisions about what needs to be done with the paperwork on our desks, the ability to understand and monitor the outcomes and required actions to complete our tasks successfully, and the ability to follow a schedule that allows us the freedom to prioritize our work as suits both our personal working style and our employer’s requirements. Depending on whether we execute these skills efficiently determines whether we are productive.

In addtion to the need for critical thinking skills and efficient execution of individual work plans, organizations can no longer selectively disseminate information to their workers if they expect to improve organizational productivity. They need to share everything so that all employees can glean what is useful for their work. For example, Dow Chemical shares its day sales and inventory numbers with everybody in the company. Dow recognizes that if people understand how their actions contribute or detract from business results, they will do a better job (source: Chris Webber, The Economist Group).

Improving an organization’s productivity is no longer a selective process and it certainly cannot be done in silos. It must involve the entire organization. Here are five things you can do right now to improve your organization’s productivity:

  1. Share all company information. The organizations’ executives can no longer hide information behind the “need to know.” Everyone in the organization needs to know what’s going on in the organization. If people are kept in the dark, then your company is limiting its productivity.
  2. Eliminate deep hierarchical structures. They serve no one well in the organization, least of all those at the top.
  3. Involve all employees in decision making. It may be exactly the insights of the mail room clerk that can help your company move its strategic plan forward.
  4. Use technology to improve information sharing and collaboration. Upgrade your records and information systems so that everyone is able to access information readily. Implement workflow systems to enable everyone to be more productive.
  5. Use annual performance reviews not only to set individual goals, but also to find out from each employee how well they think the company is doing. This should be a time of joint goal setting and improvement for the coming year.

At the end of the day, productivity doesn’t happen by itself. The thinking that goes into knowledge work can provide powerful outcomes for an organization. But this can only occur if the organization recognizes and supports the potential in its workers. It can be a productive win-win.