What I learned on my last day

Yesterday was my last day at my old job!

The #1 thing I learned was that I could have led a much less cluttered existence months and months ago if I’d taken 2 hours to throw out old papers.  Seriously, it would’ve been a great investment.

The new job starts on Wednesday.  I’ll be with the same organization.  The difference is that I’ll be working directly with adult learners and volunteers, and that I won’t be at the main office.

In the time between, I’ll be out of town for the second half of my summer vacation.  I will not be blogging during this break.  Enjoy the long weekend!

Investing Time in the Process

Sometimes we still think like the small program we were just a few years ago.

Our program has seen exponential growth in the past few years.  We have accomplished amazing things.  Our trajectory is to double again in two years, which is both daunting and exciting.  One way to smooth this is to focus on processes: you need them, you need to be able to share / replicate them easily, and they need to be as streamlined as possible.  In other words, you should take the time to write them down.

I think we could have been much more efficient even just in these past couple of months by simply writing down everything we taught a temp how to do, or even having our temps keep up the lists.  It would have taken slightly longer to do the first time, but would have left us with an easy-to-replicate process.  Simple time-investment.  Instead, with every new temp and new employee, we’ve had to reinvent the wheel, racking our brains to figure out what to teach them when and how.  It’s a waste of time.  It happens because we go into it in a one-time mentality when it’s really a piece of a pattern that will repeat.

I’m really not a person who’s all about standardizing and formalizing, but when you have a big program, it’s the only effective way to do it.

How do you go about transitioning your thinking from small-scale to large-scale?  What are best practices for understanding what should be a process and creating and using said process?

Meta-Goals

After my dissatisfaction with a training that had actually achieved its intended goals, I wanted to quick make the point that goals are not inherently worth meeting.

Photo by David M
Photo by David M

My elementary school gym teacher’s favorite platitude was Lombardi’s “Perfect practice makes perfect.”  Practicing bad technique will not leave you with good technique.  I think that there’s a parallel lesson here for goals.  Meeting off-target goals will not put you on-target.  Just as you need to carefully consider what you’re practicing and how, you need to examine whether your goals are actually what you want.

I realized that I have some goals for all of my goals.  I want to feel satisfied.  I want to be in a better place than where I started.  I want to feel proud of the actions I took to achieve the goal; knowing that I did something unethical or deliberately hurtful to achieve my goal would cheapen the whole experience.  It’s also extremely important for me to be able to take a moment to experience the satisfaction and pride I’ve earned, and to look around at the new place I’m in before moving to the next goal.

Knowing this helps me set ambitious goals and stay grounded at the same time.

How do you make sure your goals are actually what you want?
What are your goals for your goals?  How did you set your meta-goals?
Have you ever experienced a major shift in your goals?  How did that go for you?

Beyond Story-Telling: What’s Next?

Photo by David Webber
Photo by David Webber

I was just talking to my mom on the phone, and she told me about a big book donation project her library did for an alum stationed in Afghanistan.

I think it’s a powerful story – the request, the way the community came together to make it happen, the challenges that never seemed to become full-out problems, and the way she facilitated the whole thing.

She said the college was excited about the potential for publicity, and that she was doing a big write-up of the story so that PR could send it to the regional newspaper.  She also said she might present this project at an upcoming library conference.

What was really exciting to me was the feeling that this was a big success for the community; my mom agrees that there’s a sense of “Great!  We rock!  What’s next?”  I’m interested in how they could use social media to keep up the momentum.

I see a huge opportunity for the college to reach out to its community of neighbors and alumni.  I see a way for the library to assert its continued relevance in a changing world.  I see a successful project whose nuts and bolts should be shared, and a story about a large county-run community college going above and beyond what many would expect.  This doesn’t have to be a one-time occurrence.  It could be a direction.

I have so many ideas for where they could go with this, but I think my ideas are a lot less relevant than those of people affiliated with the college.  I wonder what would happen if the college worked wikily (Beth elaborates) with its faculty, staff, students, and alumni to look for a place where needs, interests, and resources met.

No, seriously.  They’re planning to send out an email to the whole college with thank-yous and some donations stats.  Why not enclose a link to an extremely simple wiki called “What’s Our Next Project?”

(Really, Mom, why not?)

General questions:

  • If they had time to share their story in only one additional way, what would you suggest
  • How did you tell your story?
  • How do you keep the momentum going, turning one great instance into many?
  • How do you bridge a large preexisting community from newspapers and emails to Web 2.0?

The Ideal Orientation

I just co-ran a medium-sized national service Orientation today.  Objectively, I think it went well.  It did what it needed to do and ended, all in one pleasant day.

Our goals were to convey a whole lot of information, get some paperwork done, set the tone for the year, and foster community.  And we definitely accomplished those things.  Subjectively, however, I’m not totally satisfied with it.  I just think we could have done them all more effectively with more time, and that an orientation to this kind of job should be more than a day long.

I feel like national service isn’t just a job; it’s a really special, intentional way to spend a year.  It frustrates me to not give people more time to ask questions, engage in meaningful dialog with each other, and get to know the program in a more leisurely way.  My ideal Orientation would not be just an introduction to their year; it would be the beginning of it.

Michele Martin summed it up for me when she wrote just yesterday:

Training shouldn’t be an event, but a process.

Yes.  Process.  Exactly.  It’s the difference between planting seeds and nurturing them.

In Emily’s ideal world, a training would be a greenhouse.

Librarian Tip for Nonprofits: 90-Second YouTube

I was reading the May 2008 issue of American Libraries and the Internet Librarian column by Joseph Janes jumped out at me with the potential to be immediately useful to me at work (which is not in a library).

I help run a program at a literacy nonprofit, and a lot of people contact me and my colleagues all the time with a large volume of questions.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m one of those people who actually gets a kick out of answering questions.  It’s just that as I mentioned in my last post, when we’re bombarded with questions, especially redundant ones, it’s extremely difficult to do the rest of of our jobs done.

This article, “Spring Awakening,” describes how the Cornell University Library ended up making 90-second YouTube clips for their incoming first-years about basic research concepts.

As Janes points out, this isn’t earth-shattering, but as he also points out, it doesn’t need to be earth-shattering in order to be dead useful; it just needs to 1) address the need and 2) actually happen.

It brings to mind a huge site I used a few times in college called Atomic Learning.  Schools can subscribe to it to give their students access to tons of tiny (“atomic”) learning modules.  My college subscribed to it, but I don’t have access to it now that I’m out of school, and I think the focus was watching, not creating your own.  The brilliance of using YouTube instead is that it’s free, allows participation on both sides, is easy to embed, and simple to access.

How powerful would it be to have even a couple of 90-second videos addressing super-common questions!  I’m so excited to bring this to the team and see what we can make of it.  I’m thinking that even if we can’t do video, a cute (and very brief) Slideshare really should be doable.  Or hey, even a Voki if we’re feeling cartoony.

Have you done something like this?  How has it gone?  Can you use this kind of resource in your organization?  What can help bring this from the “idea” stage to the “actually happening” stage?

Addressing Communication Escalation

At work we’ve noticed some… communication escalation.  By this I mean:

  • One person will call 3-5 of the staff running our program and leave them all the same voicemail, which does not mention that she was calling several of us.
  • One person will both email me a question and leave me a voicemail about it within five minutes.
  • Someone who leaves a voicemail at 8AM (I don’t get in until 9) expresses frustration that she couldn’t get through to anybody when she calls again at noon and I “finally” answer.

It’s a typical case of people not seeing the big picture.  They’re thinking about their isolated concern, not about what they’re doing to the office and our ability to address everyone’s concerns.  Let me tell you, it’s frustrating to listen to a two-minute voicemail, look up some answers, call the person back, talk for ten minutes, then bring other questions to another colleague, only to find that that colleague had just talked to the person in question an hour ago about the same thing.  Yes, that has happened.  It’s a pity I couldn’t have used that time to call back 5 other people who also needed answers.

I honestly don’t blame people for getting worked up and feeling that they need to bombard us in order to receive an answer.  I do want to offer them some guidelines for not slowing down everything for everyone else though.

I’m not the only one in the office who’s noticed that this problem has been increasingly insistent, and we’re discussing some policies that might help us reign it in within our department.  Measure’s we’re considering:

  1. Sending out an automatic reply to every email stating our reply policy (i.e. staff set aside x amount of time to reply to emails per day.  Non-urgent emails will be answered, but not immediately.)
  2. Leaving a new voicemail greeting everyday outlining our meeting schedule for the day and when callers can expect a reply.
  3. Indicating on our voicemails and emails that staff check both regularly, so a message in one of those systems will be sufficient.

Has anyone else noticed this happening?  What do you think causes it?  How have you addressed it, or how do you wish you could address it?  Can social media help?