Becoming an information coach

Even in tough times, there are opportunities for information and knowledge professionals. Organisational decision-makers need help in navigating complex information landscapes.

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  • Question one - what are the key processes in your organisational area? Ask them to walk you through them. Find out what measures if any are attached to them (look for things like KPIs or anything that affects your interviewee's performance appraisal outcomes). Draw a picture with them and clarify the terms used
  • Question two - where do you get the information that feeds into these? A good tip is to annotate your picture and scribe notes onto that.
  • Question three - how good is the information that you get? Explore where it is good and where is it gappy. Probe deeply at this stage. You need to discuss such issues as timeliness, quality, reliability and consistency. This is where you start to see the trust that they have in the information they use and the areas where you will help them
  • Question four - (tread carefully here!) What format do you get the information in and what would you prefer? At this stage you are trying to discover whether they struggle with any format of information - but you need to be careful how you phrase your question. For example, I worked with actuaries many years ago and while they skated through the numbers, the rest of the team found it heavy weather. Done carefully, this is a SUPERB way to weave in other key decision makers and help teams build shared understanding.
  • Question five - what reporting do you do? You can help your decision makers even more as you interview those who either feed into this reporting - or are dependent on it.
  • Finish the meeting by thanking them and explaining that you are going to feed their outputs into a larger organisation-wide map and use it to make an action plan to help them

It has always surprised me how seldom these questions are asked.  Often the answers are assumed. Yet, the answers to these questions are all that you need to accelerate your organisation's ability to extract greater value from its information resources.  Equipped with them, you are well on the way to becoming the information coach that your organisation needs.

Building your information map

Make your organisation wide information map and a list of things that are good and things that are not so good. Split this down by business area/key decision maker area and based on your discussions, figure out ONE or at most TWO key things that your professional expertise can bring to help that decision maker.  This might mean providing revised formats, content, frequency, size or medium. 

It is not rocket science at this stage but here is the clincher.  Make it happen. Do the changes, amendments, creation of new sources or content. It is all about action. Pass the list you have prepared for each decision maker to that decision maker and one month later book a further half hour with each of them.  Open the meeting with this question, "how well l informed do you feel now rather than a month ago" and listen closely.   Repeat this meeting every month and always open with the same question.  You now ARE an information coach!

Stephen Cahill is a senior decision maker who has spent over 25 years improving effectiveness in a wide range of organisations.  He believes that the time has come for the fundamental repositioning of the role of information professionals in organisations.

Image courtesy of Gruntzooki via Flickr.

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