We’ve probably all heard the expressions “a new broom sweeps clean” and “don’t reinvent the wheel,” but all too often, we do not heed this advice. It’s easy to understand the excitement of being the “new broom” taking on a new assignment or starting a new job with a new company, as well as that desire to bring in all of your knowledge and experience. We’ve probably all also witnessed someone spending time and energy recreating things that were already in place (reinventing a wheel) or in contradiction to that company’s philosophies, policies, and operating procedures.
Coming from my past career of being a compliance auditor, I understand that the first step of any new job, task, or assignment is to conduct a complete and thorough analysis of where you are, including a brief history lesson. Here are some things to consider.
Learn the organization and reporting structure
You should receive a series of lessons during your orientation phase with a new organization about the company philosophies and principles. If not, ask about these. Investigate the company’s website. Talk to your manager and co-workers. Understand your organization’s value system and how people make decisions. If you did your homework before taking the position, you have probably completed some of this in advance.
The next step is to understand who does what—what they “own”; what you “own”—and how you should work together. Believe it or not, rarely does the training and development department have responsibility for 100 percent of all training and development activities. Safety, human resources, compliance, legal, quality, procurement, sales, and engineering departments all own varying pieces of the training puzzle, and it is your job to make sure you are not duplicating services or conflicting with what they already provide.
Get a copy of the organizational chart from your company’s website, your manager, or your co-workers. Have an honest conversation with your manager to understand the scope of your responsibilities and what, if any, areas are off limits to you, as well as those that require collaboration. It all depends upon the organization as to how much or little people work together, so always learn the norm.
Be clear with here about your level of autonomy and what types of actions require approvals. Also learn about the approval process. Learn who does what and whom to call when collaborating on interdepartmental projects. This will save you lots of headaches later and prevent you from tripping over any political landmines.
Learn about the LMS and documentation systems
If your company has a learning management system, take time to explore what is in there. All too often in a large company with multiple divisions you may be tempted to create something new only to later discover that a similar product exists and has been in use in another division for years. Think about your earlier investigation of “who does what” and see the connection to their departments and the courses listed in the LMS.
Find out what types of courses are offered by the company and the types of deliveries—instructor-led classroom, instructor-led webinars, e-learning—as well as what is delivered internally and what is outsourced. Run a few reports to see which courses are actively in use, as well as items that may be obsolete.
If your responsibilities include managing the LMS, take the time to learn more about the system and its features. What are all of the different user roles and what functions and permissions does each role have available to them? Find out who is in the user groups and how the assignment of access and permissions is managed, especially if you will be the one keeping up with this.
If you are the overall administrator, understand what the company has paid or is paying for. Find out whether the data and system are hosted internally or externally. I will never forget my time as a new director of training. I discovered, much to my horror and a long list of complaints from internal customers, that my predecessor had purchased something that resembled an LMS but was really a database hosted on the vendor’s server. It did not contain any training content, only data. What shocked me is that each time we wanted to run a report or enter data, we had to pay the vendor. Even worse, the contract turned out to have a condition that made it automatically renew. Thankfully I located a clause in fine print that gave us a one-day window each year in which we could terminate the contract.
Locate hard and soft documents
Look around your office and department to see what types of paper documents are available. Paper documents speak to the history of the organization. Find out what’s there and where it all came from. More than likely you have inherited a bookcase and file cabinet. Go through the contents and learn what is still in use and what needs to be mothballed (and throw it out if no one objects).
No matter how worn and worthless this stuff may appear on first glance, be careful not to discard anything too hastily until you have had a chance to learn the history behind each object. The last thing you want to do is pitch a worn set of training binders only to discover later that this was one of your manager’s pet projects from his time in your new role. Always ask before you move or throw anything away, and be sure to destroy anything that has proprietary information. If someone has an emotional attachment to something in your space, gladly offer it to them. You will both be happy with this exchange.
Also find out where electronic documents are filed. Find out how these documents are organized on your server and if there are a number of shared drives. Learn what is maintained on each drive and by whom. Learn about the document control and records management procedures. The best way to do this is to talk to the person assigned as administrator.
If your company uses SharePoint, take some time to thoroughly learn where things are kept and exactly what is already available for your use. Find out from your manager what access and permissions you should have before requesting them from the administrator.
Identify and get to know your resources
Think back to the organizational chart and company structure you researched before. Make a list of all of the training products and services they provide. This will help you direct people as they come to you for assistance in locating their products.
As you get to learn more about the organization, take careful notes as to the individuals within each of these groups who will be your points of contact. Learn who you will work with when collaborating. Find out who the go-to people are when you need help making things happen. And most important of all, pay attention to the names mentioned as the subject matter experts and their areas of expertise.
Ask, ask, ask
The most important thing to remember is to always ask before you start anything new. Don’t make assumptions about anything! Always ask. The larger the organization, the quicker the pace, and the last thing you want is to be working on the same project someone else is working on unless you can leverage your energy by working together. If you spend the time up front to talk to people then you should have established a network with which you can quickly touch base.
Taking just a little time up front can make you far more productive in the long run. And remember: A new broom is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t wear down too quickly sweeping the floor that doesn’t need to be cleaned, or tries to reinvent wheels that are already in motion.
© 2012 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.