Thursday, 25 August 2011

Event - ARA New Professionals Section - Summer Seminar

On Friday 19th August I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with the New Professionals Section of the ARA, listening to some interesting talks and running a careers workshop session.

First to speak was Dr Andrew Flinn, head of the archives and records management programme at UCL and also ex-chair of FARMER, who gave us a very enlightening talk about the factors affecting the content of archives and records management courses in the UK, and some ideas about their potential future direction.

Pressures include the massive increase in the range of areas and duties covered by archivists and records managers over the past 10 years, which means that a far wider range of skills are needed across the industry. However the time allocated to the courses hasn’t increased, and it has become increasingly difficult to fit everything in, and cover each to the required depth.

One solution to this issue that is emerging is to introduction of more specialist Masters courses (eg the one at University of Glasgow is more focused on digital continuity, while Northumbria University just does records management and not archives. Another likely scenario foreseen by Dr Flinn is that the current generalist courses offered by 5 of the 7 FARMER universities will move more towards a ‘core course + options’ model, with a higher number of more specialist options being offered.

These changes are leading to debates within the profession as to what should remain ‘core’ - in the past this would have undoubtedly included medieval paleography, for example, but now jobs for archivists have expanded beyond County Records Offices a lower proportion of roles call for this skills. Is there therefore a case for making this one of the specialist options?

After a lively coffee break with lots of networking and chatter going on round the room, we reconvened for the next hour and half with a careers workshop. I gave a talk covering what types of jobs the skills gained in archives & records management courses could be used for, where to find them, and how to decide which were the right one(s) for you, before focusing on how to write an effective CV and be successful at interview.

We then rearranged the room into break-out groups (photo above) and people worked on firstly the layout, and secondly the content, of their CVs in groups of three or four. Those who preferred worked on some anonymised CVs, with common suggestions for improvements including:

  • spend less space on the address/contact details
  • use more bullet points
  • move more relevant sections nearer the top
Once we had put the room back together into (more or less) neat rows of chairs, the final two speakers gave two very different but equally interesting talks. These slots were reserved for two new professionals to present, and one chose to talk about the specific archive in which they work, while the other gave an overview of all the different roles and responsibilities that now fall to the lot of an archivist, wherever they work.

Fabiana Barticioti of the V&A, who will be starting her Archives’ Masters course this September, gave us a multimedia rich presentation of her work with the dance materials archive held by the V&A. It was fascinating to see the dance choreography notation and then watch a video of a ballet dancer performing those particular moves.

Sarah Norman of the UK Debt Management Office, who qualified from UCL last year, looked at the Roles of an Archivist, which included:

  • Lawyer (FoI and EIR requests)
  • Project Manager (lots of funny terminology to get to grips with!)
  • Procurement Officer
  • Records Manager
  • Stationer (from photocopying to supplying paper...)
  • Detective (who, of course, knows where the files labelled ‘missing’ in the catalogue are to be found!)
  • Line Manager (yes, even after 1 year’s experience)

Sarah said the role was a lot more varied, and more challenging, than she had imagined before hand, and with constraints on resources this shows no sign of diminishing.

As the members of the New Professionals Section got together to discuss what the members of this new SIG wanted from the group, I bowed out to go and catch my train. To round off a very pleasant afternoon the sun was shining, so I could walk along the Strand and over the bridge to Waterloo; in the daylight this time!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Event - Gurteen Knowledge Cafe

A short stroll down Charing Cross road to the PwC offices in Embankment Place after work on Wednesday 17th August led me to my first Gurteen Knowledge Cafe.

I was pleasantly surprised to see around 50 people gathering for what turned out to be a very enjoyable and thought provoking evening. David Gurteen had difficulty dragging us away from our coffee and networking to get things started, but once we sat around our ‘cafe style’ tables we soon settled down.

David introduced us to Theodore Zeldin and his book “Conversation; how talk can change your life” and took a quote from the beginning of the book as the inspiration for the evening.David reworked the quotation into three questions. Rather than the normal format of having 3 rounds all discussing the same question, with participants moving between tables for each round, on this occasion we discussed a different question in each round:
  • How does conversation change the way we see the world?
  • Can conversation change the world for the better?
  • What do we need to do to have such conversations?
During the first round my table first discussed what made a conversation, and concluded that it had to include dialog between at least two people (or could be a “trialogue”... or more!) and that participants needed to be open and willing to change their opinion. The success or otherwise of this would depend on various factors, including culture, risk, trust, and past backgrounds and vulnerabilities.

In the second round we developed the theme of trust a bit further, with some round the table feeling that trust could only be developed over time as relationships deepened, while others felt they could instinctively trust someone within minutes of meeting them. We also considered ‘what is better?’ Better for some people might be worse for others (ie, what is ‘desirable’ or ‘good’ can depend on cultural background, political views, ethics, etc - there are few universals).

We also thought about the participants in the conversation being as important as the content of the conversation itself - whether to influence politicians or business managers, or to bring people from opposing communities together in neutral space for a conversation about an everyday topic, to allow both parties to see their common humanity.

My final group talked about what elements were needed to have effective conversations that would lead to change. We were on the whole against the very formal ‘conversations’ that tended to take place in businesses or government - where board room tables, set agendas, and group politics all constrain people.

The last 15-20 minutes of the evening were spent in one large group circle, continuing the conversation, about conversations, in the round. For conversations to be able to change things, whether in a small way locally or in big, important ways, the importance of participants approaching the conversation predisposed to change their mind was emphasised again. The best conversations were felt to be spontaneous shared dialogues to discover a new truth.

All rather heady stuff for 9.00pm in the evening after a full day at work! A quick sprint across Waterloo bridge to the station, and lovely views of the illuminated South Bank, rounded off the night nicely.

If anyone is interested in learning how to run a Knowedge Cafe themselves, David Gurteen is running a Cafe Workshop on September 13th in London.  See here for more details.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Event – IRMS Site Visit to Dyson R&D Centre

Tuesday 11th August saw me driving through a beautiful English summer morning from Hampshire up into Wiltshire to the Dyson headquarters.  After getting safely through the rather daunting security gate, I met up with the other delegates and walked through a striking sculpture installation by Peter Burke to reach reception.
Billed as a site visit, I was delighted to find that Sam Steer (Information Manager) and her team had put in a great deal of thought and effort for the day.  Rather than a tour around the site, which was restricted for commercial confidentiality reasons, we were treated to a masterclass of in-place records and information management.
Sam joined Dyson four years ago, and was originally offered a £4m budget to buy and implement an EDRMS.  This led to sharp intakes of breath and jealous looks from many round the table!  However not bedazzled by this largesse, Sam proceeded to carry out a cost benefit analysis of the initial plan, which looked like this:

The characteristics of Dyson as an organisation, founded upon rapid growth, innovation, perseverance, perfectionism and anti-bureaucracy, had led to a particular set of IRM challenges:
·    Rapid growth had meant moving from a simple file share and conversations to share information, to 3,000 staff and a business reorganisation project
·    Innovation meant that competitors felt threatened and resorted to regular litigation as a strategy to try and maintain market share
·    Perseverance and perfectionism worked in IRM’s favour!
·    Anti-bureaucracy meant there was a need for strong business cases and demonstrations of value in what IRM was asking of staff
Because of the number, complexity and frequency of litigation, and subsequent need for legal hold notices and a legal discovery processes, it was felt that adding an EDRM system layer would lead to duplication of information and increasing the cost of discovery.  Another drawback was that the retention of information was largely to meet business needs for information re-use, and moving information into an EDRMS would mean loss of functionality, making it harder to re-find and re-use that information later.
The decision was therefore taken to follow Plan B: in-place records management.  This has meant tackling each of the line-of-business systems illustrated above in turn.  Sam is closely involved with IT in the specification, testing and roll-out of new systems, whether these are to be purchased and customised external solutions (like the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system) or systems to be developed internally (like the File Share search system, (Index)). 
The roll out and management of all these systems would clearly be too much for one person – so Sam has recruited 60 information custodians around the business who have information management objectives to meet as well as their ‘day job’.
On the roadmap for future development are a new front-office application, for example for CRM, a new web content management system for the website, email management, and an investigation of the use of social media. 
Our day included presentations from the developer of the new PLM system, which is due to go live later this year, and of the File Share search, categorisation and review system, which is already being implemented.  We had a splendid lunch, including fresh berries and either lemon or chocolate cake for desert, and then had a hands-on training session on Index where we learnt to categorise folders and review them.
As the first in a series of site visits organised by the IRMS this was an outstanding success, and everyone got a lot out of the day.

Monday, 8 August 2011

5 Top Tips for Screening CVs

In today’s job market it’s likely that you’ll be swamped with dozens or even hundreds of CVs for a single job vacancy – how can you screen down to the best applicants without taking days and days of effort?

1) Define your most unique, critical requirements in the job
Before you sit down with your pile of CVs, take some time to work out what your key requirements are.  Do you need certain unique characteristics that are essential for success in the job? For example, in an Assistant Librarian role, is the personality to be able to liaise effectively with demanding users more important than knowledge of the particular online sources you use (which can be trained)?

Before going through your resumes, set up specific, unique requirements that not all candidates will possess – this will speed up your ability to narrow down your shortlist, as applicants with those attributes will stand out from the crowd.

2) Skim read your CVs and separate them into 3 categories: A, B and C
The A pile is your “definitely-suitable” candidates — they meet the unique requirements and all the “essential” criteria for the job, and on paper they theoretically should be able to do the job (contingent of course upon your meeting them, verifying their CV and their personality being a good fit for your team). This A pile should be about 10-15% of the total CVs.

The B pile is your “maybe” candidates — they fulfill some requirements or look interesting but do not stand out. Maybe these resumes meet 75-80% of your requirements and you would need to follow up to check if other criteria are met. This pile will be your backup plan if all of the “A” candidates don’t pan out (yes, sometimes all the A candidates fall at the interview hurdle). This B pile should be about 20-40% of the total CVs.

The C pile is your “no thanks!” candidates — they are resumes with spelling, grammar or factual mistakes, as well as resumes of candidates who do not meet any/many of the essential criteria or personality traits, nor the unique critical requirements you’ve highlighted for the job.

If you are strict with spelling, grammar and standards of professionalism when skimming the resumes, you can usually cut out at least 30-50% of the candidates immediately by using a critical eye to the documents. This C pile should be more than half of your total resume list.

3) Focus on the A list, screen further with a brief phone interview
The A list will contain candidates that are a good match to your needs; however you may not fit their needs. A brief phone call with several filtering questions can reduce your list down to the most promising candidates for a more detailed interview. Questions that I often use for phone screening include:

- What salary range you are looking for?
- Would you be willing to work in / move to XYZ location?
- Where do you see yourself career-wise in 5 years?
- What is the reason you are leaving (or have left) your current position?
- Why are you interested in this job?
- Based on our job advertisement, how would your approach the first 90 days in this job?

The above questions will give you an idea of a candidate’s own expectations. The answers will identify any large disconnects in expectations (salary, mobility, relocating, approach/style). These gaps will give you another filter to reduce your candidate pool to a more manageable short list for interviews.

4) Filter your shortlist by screening candidates’ social media presence
I can often shorten my hiring list by another 30-50% simply by doing a quick internet search on their names in Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. There is an amazing amount of information out in cyberspace – I have seen examples including drunken photos, sexual conversations, disparaging remarks about a current employer, boasting about sleeping with the boss/bosses’ daughter, and evidence of poor personality fit.

5) Don’t settle for candidates who don’t meet the critical elements of the job
Even in today’s job market, you may struggle to find the right candidates with good “fit” to your organization and good technical skills. Don’t settle for less than your minimums out of desperation. Wait and keep searching for the right CV and the right candidate! In my twenty years of business experience, I have never regretted waiting for the right candidate but I have regretted, more than once, introducing candidates in haste or desperation.

The outcome of all this work and thought before hand?  A well-qualified short list of candidates to interview and a great candidate who will fit your needs and excel in the job.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Art and Science of Managing Performance

Managing the performance of your team is always one of the most taxing aspects of being a manager.

Although an organisation may have a swish-looking system in place, with processes to follow and forms to fill in, many people still find the actual face to face situation difficult to handle.

This isn't surprising as it places the manager in the position of judge and jury over the people they have to work with every day for the rest of the year.  It is only natural to feel uncomfortable, especially if there are areas of performance where improvements are needed.

The most dreaded part of performance management, of course, is the annual appraisal.  There are a number of different methods of carrying out an appraisal (for example, see this post by HR Daily for a discussion of rating scales and 360 vs 720 degree reviews).

The best way to mitigate the gut-clenching awfulness of the annual appraisal meeting is to avoid making it the only, once-a-year, element of your performance management.  If you carry out quarterly reviews with each person who reports to you, have regular 1-1 meetings, and above all give informal feedback (positive or negative) on a daily basis as situations arise, then the annual meeting will meld into the regular round of feedback. 

Apart from pulling the teeth from the dreaded annual appraisal, a more regular system of feedback, praise, and constructive criticism throughout the year is more likely to be motivating for your team and to lead to improved performance.  On the other hand, an annual appraisal form that sits in a draw until it needs to be reviewed ready for the next annual meeting isn't a very effective method!

Being a manager means developing a think skin; saying brightly 'let's check over your performance objectives and see where we're up to', in the face of grimaces and rolled-eyes, can be difficult.  It's tempting to just avoid the situation; everyone is busy, it's easy to find other things to do!  Time flies by like this and suddenly it's annual appraisal time again and that form has been in the drawer all year, again.

As the manager it is your role to grit your teeth, put times in the diary for 1-1's and quarterly reviews, and either praise your team members for achieving their goals or work with them to help reach those that have slipped.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What are professional associations for?

Quite a large number of library & information people have been working through the CDP23 Things for Professional Development programme in recent weeks. 

Thing 7 is about face to face networks and professional organisations.  As various participants reach this stage and blog their thoughts on this topic, a debate has sprung up.

On the one hand, there are those advocating for membership of, and active involvement in, various professional bodies (CILIP and SLA prominent amongst them) (for example see Lauren Smith's blog)  On the other hand, there have been some putting forward reasons why they either arn't members, or don't really see great benefit in being members (for example see meimaimaggio's blog here.

This debate made me wonder what professional organisations are for. Are they there to give each 'paying customer' (ie their members) something tangible for their money?  Or are they there 'for the greater good', to establish professional standards and ethics, accredit qualifications so they are more valued by employers, etc?  Or a bit of both?

Some commentators certainly seem to feel that, if they don't receive some clear, tangible benefit in return for their membership fee, there isn't any value to them in being members (a good example of this, from last year, is Ed Chamberlain's post on the CILIP Communities site).

Reviewing the 'about us' pages of the websites of a range of library & information groups and organisations, I found these examples of statements explaining 'what we are for':
  • SLA "promotes and strengthens its members through learning, advocacy, and networking initiatives"
  • CILIP's mission is to  "Promote and support the people who work to deliver this vision" & to "Be the leading voice for information, library and knowledge practitioners working to advocate strongly, provide unity through shared values and develop skills and excellence."
  • BIALL exists to "represent the interests of legal information professionals, documentalists and other suppliers of legal literature and reference materials" & to "support the professional development of its members"
  • IRMS has the aims of "Championing the status of information and records management through representation, external liaison and promotion" & to "Supporting professional development through sharing knowledge and expertise" and "Promoting all aspects of good information and records management"
All of these boil down to advocacy, learning and networking. 

Phil Bradley, towards the end of last year, wrote this post, where he asked what the profession would be like if there was just one body representing everyone in the profession, and also what would happen without CILIP (or, presumably, any of the other professional bodies).  In the latter scenario, he argued that the 'profession' as such wouldn't exist - since it is only via a professional body that professional ethics, standards and qualifications can be set and maintained.

Ed's argument was that having professional qualifications (eg Chartership) don't matter, in his personal experience, since his job, salary, etc, are not dependant on it and his employers (in the academic sector) don't specify them as criteria when recruiting. 

I think that Ed's point is valid, but only so long as Phil is also right.  In other words, it may not have a huge impact on the profession as a whole if some employers don't insist on Chartership, so long as Chartership per se still exists and standards are being upheld in general.  However, if the overarching idea of 'a profession', with its qualifications, standards, etc, etc disappears, then all the various people tasked with managing information are left adrift with nothing to aim for or compare themselves to.

I think the problem with specific professional bodies comes where the only reason apparent for being a member and paying fees, is to adhere to this principle.  Paying over hard earned cash to support an ideal isn't an easy thing to persuade people to do, especially in a recession.

So, assuming that the professional body is setting the right standards, accrediting the right kind of qualifications (ie, fit for purpose and for today's needs), etc, the issue becomes how well is it providing for the other, individual, needs - for CDP, networking, advocacy, etc - compared to the other information groups that exist? 

One interesting comparison, which surprised me when I got the calculator out, is that between LIKE and CILIP.  LIKE is a small community of information people who meet informally once a month to hear a volunteer speaker, network and have dinner.  That's it - no publications, no advocacy, no other bells and whistles.  CILIP is a large organisation with 1000's of members which accredits qualifications, publishes magazines, runs training, supports dozens of SIG's, etc.  The cost of each?  If someone went to all 12 monthly LIKE meetings at a cost of £15/ea, it would total £180/yr.  That is amazingly close to the £184 annual CILIP membership.  Does that make LIKE very expensive or CILIP very cheap?  Everyone I've spoken to who goes to LIKE events thinks it is very good value.  Many people, on the other hand, seem to feel CILIP is too expensive. 

Perhaps the key difference is that no one is obliged to pay upfront for all 12 LIKE meetings - there is no annual subscription.  Many members may only attend one or two events over the course of the year.  This kind of 'pay as you go' model seems to work well for a small, volunteer run, organisation.  I'm sure that it would be impractical for a large, staffed, body like CILIP.  I'm also sure that, if each activity or member benefit were priced separately, and someone took advantage of them all, the cost would well exceed £180!  However, maybe a hybrid model might work: a smaller annual membership fee, to pay for the 'communal benefits' like qualifications, standards, etc, plus 'pay as you go' pricing for other benefits, such as CDP, networking events, access to Update, etc.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Job Hunting Process

There are many steps to the job hunting process.

A successful job hunt may be defined as one which culminates in you getting offered a job which is genuinely a good fit for you.  A 'good fit' may refer to the organisation culture, to the opportunities for advancement the role offers, or to the new skills you will learn one the job.

How do you make sure that you have a successful job hunt, rather than risk ending up in a job you hate, or working for an organisation or manager that makes you feel despondant or frustrated?

Working through the steps on the job hunting pyramid illustrated will give you a head start.

Many people find the first step, self assessment, the most daunting, however.  Exploring the employment environment can also be taxing, especially if you have previously worked solely within one organisation or one sector of the profession.  Where do you start?

Working with a career coach can help you analyse your skills, evaluate your values, think through your interests and strengths.  Working with someone who is also experienced in the information industry means you can tap into valuable advice and insights on the types of roles available in the various sectors of the profession.

Moving up the pyramid, a coach can also help you draft a really effective CV, or give you tailored interview tips that fit the type of roles you are applying for.