Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 50 – Problem solving

Welcome to the October edition of Information Overload for Registrants and other interested readers. Having just returned from our first “Let’s Talk Over Breakfast Series on Implementing EDRMS Training”, it prompted me that this would be an ideal topic to cover in this month’s topic. Not Implementing EDRMS Training per se, Carol Dasey and Simon Wahl did that far better than I could hope to. But rather, where do you go to get help to solve a particular problem. We will also take a look at the importance of mentoring with regards to this subject.
In this issue we will look at:

• Problems, problems, problems
• Mentors: Can they help
• Job opportunities
• Forthcoming events
• A Thought to ponder

Problems, Problems, Problems
It has been said that it is not the problems that we face are in fact the problem, rather it is how we handle the problem that matters.

We may think that we are alone with the many issues and problems that we are currently facing. But I would have to say that is not the case at all. Someone, somewhere has dealt with similar issues in the past. The question is who, when and what did they do? And perhaps as importantly – can their solutions help you?

Every problem that you will face will have a multitude of potential solutions. Where most of us get bogged down is we can usually only see a couple of them, so we slog our way through it, or give up before we start. But is there a better way?

Now depending on the problem will of course depend on where you should go to help find the solution. Here are a few of the solutions that occurred to me, of course, you may have a whole slew of suggestions yourself, and if you would like to share them with your fellow readers, I will pass them on.

Tapping the Corporate Memory
Every organisation that you will ever work for will have a person or group of people who understand the organisation you work for inside out. They know who, and they know who knows what. Some may say that’s because they’re nosy, however, knowledge management is about tapping those resources, and utilising the corporate memory to create new solutions to old problems. Whilst we have yet to get to the stage whereby technology will be able to take over from the human element, it may come eventually. If we can get people to file things in the proper places and not keep everything locked away in personal drives under General and Correspondence. It has been said many times, that knowledge is power, so the question is – how powerful would you and your organisation be if you shared your knowledge?

But what happens if your problem cannot be answered in general terms by the corporate memory. There are many of us who work in solo positions within large organisations. Who do we turn to in those kinds of situations when we simply don’t know the answer to a particular question?

The answer to this question can be tackled in many different ways. As we said earlier, there are a multitude of ways to solve a problem, all we have to do is be open minded enough to accept that we don’t know ALL the answers.

Networking events and training courses are a great way to get in touch with the wider community of which you are a part. As we mentioned in the last edition of Overload for Registrants, be the person who asked the great questions, but then listened to the answers that were given. Of course, everyone will have their own opinion as to what is the best solution to your particular problem, and one solution may not be the best. However, a combination approach may well work.

The Electronic Network is also a good way to ask questions of the community. Of course you do have to be a member of the List servs to get the best out of this valuable resource. Bear in mind that we now have access to worldwide assistance thanks to the World Wide Web and the Electronic Messaging. Again, not every solution will be entirely relevant to your needs – but you may get something of interest and value. You may also be interested to note that some of the lists have an archive of all messages that have ever been posted. So before you ask the question, search the lists.

Subject specific Information Centres – every industry and every topic we could care to think about or name will have a subject specific information centre that may be able to help you. Books, trade and professional journals are an integral part of this resource, and (more often than not) tend to be limited to the subject covered by the organisation. This “limiting” actually means of course, that the subject you are interested in, will have a much wider coverage of material, rather than one or two books found in the generalist libraries. The question is then, what not to read, rather than what do you read.

Whilst we are on the subject of reading, in “general” terms don’t just read within your own subject area, read across a wide range of topics and industries because your solutions may not come from within these particular areas.

Of course the first stop shop for most people when they are looking for answers to any question is the Internet, or rather GOOGLE. Known as the search engine of choice for most people, you may find more than you bargained for when plugging in your question/keywords. If you are finding that you are getting far too many hits for the question that you posed, it is worth taking a few minutes and reading the help pages, you will be amazed at how much better your answers will be – if you can refine your search properly.

Mentors: Can they help?

For regular readers of this particular edition though, our problems may be primarily concerned with finding work, or finding out how to apply for a job. Getting into the library sector without experience can be a little difficult, so how do you get experience if no-one is willing to give you a chance to utilise your breadth of knowledge? Whilst IEA (and other employment agencies) may be able to help you, you may consider that your current skills set, and knowledge isn’t sufficient to get to where you feel you need to go, especially if you are new to the profession. In this case a mentor, or group of mentors may be able to help you. But what is mentoring really? Is it just about finding information about the next best job on offer or can it be more than that?

There are several types of Organisational Mentoring including:

Apprenticeships these can be classed as anyone starting out on a particular career path. They offer “students” the opportunity to learn the theoretical knowledge whilst applying this to their working life. And you usually get paid at the same time.
New-hire mentoring – including on the job specific training, having someone “buddy” the new person so they can learn the ropes.
High-potential mentoring – especially useful when you are looking to groom new leaders.

Organisational type mentoring is all very well if you happen to have found work already. But what happens if you are struggling to break into a job/position within your profession? Thankfully most parts of the information profession within Australia offer advice and mentoring opportunities. Information on who, what and where – can be found in the organisational websites, promotional material and the many list servs that provide a forum for discussion on our profession(s).

But what do mentors and mentee’s talk about?

Objectives for individual relationships will vary depending on the needs of the mentee. And it must be said, that you may outgrow your industry mentor as your own professional development and status within the community grows. In which case you may require the services of a professional business coach or life coach as well as an additional industry mentor, especially if you move into managing people, budgets and senior roles within an organisation.

Some of the areas covered include:
• Discussion on career options, including information on the different types of workplaces within the industry and suitability of qualifications, and potential areas of further reading and study for undertaking a certain role.
• To listen and provide feedback – especially useful if the mentee is geographically isolated, or (more often than not – working in an organisation that does not  have anyone else working in your particular field).
• To facilitate contacts/networks through meetings and visits.
• Provide information on relevant conferences, workshops and presentations. It is extremely important for new graduates to mix with a wide variety of people as new job opportunities may not come through traditional means (advertisements, job boards), but through chance meetings. At an industry event last week, it was said that most positions in the academic sector are filled in this way.

But do not expect your mentor to find you a job, that’s really up to you. So if you promise to follow up with a contact after a networking event, it is important that you do so.  Be remembered as the person who did what they said they would do. And always remember that you are there in a professional capacity. So whilst you may be tempted to turn up in jeans and a t-shirt, remember that your next employer may also be there.

Do not expect your mentor to write your job application either, although they may give you pointers on how to best structure an answer to a particular question. Or suggest ways of adding relevant information to your CV. Please note, this is not “padding” but ways to use outside of the profession interests and achievements to enhance your application.

Whilst these suggestions relate more to new graduates or returnees rather than someone looking to move onwards within the profession, you may be able to obtain the services of a mentor if you feel that you are “stuck”.

But who are the mentors?

According to the dictionary that sits on my desk – a mentor is a “wise or trusted advisor or guide” They can offer you careers advice and general guidance, but you will still have to go away and find out your own answers and write your own submissions for example. For most people I would suggest that mentoring is something that you do when you are just starting out on your career path. However, I feel that it should not stop as soon as you have your foot on the corporate ladder. You may change mentors, after all your needs will change over time. You may also consider sharing your own information as mentoring can and should be a two way street, for example, new graduates have knowledge of current thinking and research, whereas the person in the workforce has a real world perspective, and may not have had the time to undertake in depth research.

But where will you find these people? Well networking events are an excellent starting point as well as Industry web sites and list servs. However, the educational establishments may also have a mentoring group that you may be able to join. Alternatively you may want to set up your own group, support network. As you may already know, everyone brings a wealth of experience to their chosen career, so always take the opportunity to speak to as many people as you possibly can. After all they may have already discovered ways to solve your problem. 
Forthcoming Events

Marketing Records Management to your Organisation – Half Day Course – 1st November 2006
Effective Presentation Skills – Full Day Course – 8th November 2006
Simple Steps to Managing Your Email – Half Day Course –15th November 2006
Advanced Internet Searching – Half Day Course – 15th November 2006
Implementing an EDRMS – Planning a Practical Approach for System Training – Details TBA – 23rd November 2006

More information on all these courses can be found on the training pages of our web site – should you be interested in joining us. Please note: as a registrant of IEA’s employment services you do receive a discount if you decide to join us.

A Thought to Ponder
If we did all the things we are capable of doing we would truly astound ourselves
Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
American inventor