Thursday 4 April 2013

How new graduates search for knowledge

Search-Engine-Marketing Here is a really interesting study about the difference between the strategies that new-hires use when seeking for information and knowledge, and the strategies their employers expect them to use. (Thanks Vince, for pointing me to this)

The study is summarised as follows
"Overall, our findings suggest a dramatic shift is occurring in the workplace related to how information is found and used.  
"We found the traditional research competencies—the use of non-digitized information sources—may be disappearing with each passing year as a new batch of college hires joins the workplace and employers make assumptions about their information competencies.  
"We found that few, if any, of the employers we interviewed said they hired college graduates solely because they could solve information problems in record time. Yes, employers recruited hires with the ability to conduct online searches. At the same time, however, other qualities also mattered.  
"In particular, employers expected hires to possess low-tech research competencies, such as the ability to make a phone call, to poke their heads into a co-worker's office to ask a question, to interpret results with a team member, or to scour a bound report. However, many fresh-from college hires sorely lacked these traditional research competencies.  
 "These low-tech information skills are essential to the workplace research since so much information in the workplace is contextual and highly individualized to the operations of the organization itself. But many of these young adults considered perusing the index of a print volume or picking up the phone to consult a colleague as outdated as using an adding machine to balance the payroll.  
"These findings, of course, warrant further investigation. But they are certainly plausible as more and more information becomes digitized, as each new crop of college graduates is more than likely to be “born digital,” and as employers continue to make hiring decision based on online information gathering proficiencies".
New Hires tend to use online searches  in preference to any other mechanism, often using cursory search. The report states that "Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine, entering a few keywords, and scanning the first couple of pages of results, employers said, even though they needed newcomers to apply patience and persistence when solving information problems in the workplace".

Given that searching and finding are crucial components of KM, then the implications of this study for Knowledge Management are as follows.

1) Graduates need induction into the company Knowledge Management framework and how to use it, including the location of the knowledge stores, and the communities of practice, to avoid the default of cursory use of search engines.
2) If graduates default to online search, then there needs to be a knowledge base for them to find; even if it is just an index of "people to contact"
3) New graduates need, as part of their induction, to be introduced to as many people as possible, in order to start building the social networks that can replace online search.
4) They need to be inducted into the relevant communities of practice, as in the office world, 80% of the knowledge is undocumented, and will never be found through online search.


Anonymous said...

Nice piece on the persisting importance of human skills for solving information problems in the workplace, even in the age of Google

A couple of quick thoughts:

1. I'm not sure graduates were ever well trained in using soft skills to solve workplace information problems. I recall this being a skill I had to quickly learn myself when I started my first job in the civil service many years ago as I was totally unprepared for this aspect of working life. This also needs a refresher even when you move employer as the basics might remain the same, but it takes time to build up a network and to find out who knows what. The tips you give here for employers are very helpful - I wish more organizations did these.
2. There are some soft skills that "the digital generation" might actually be better at than us old timers, and that is the use of online social networks to find information and get advice. Of course this doesn't substitute for face to face interaction but it is an important complement, 9ne which can be vitally important in a geographically distributed workforce and one in which there is need for both internal and external networking to access tacit knowledge.

Incidentally at my last employer a senior (and older) person who was working on change management seriously stated that there was no longer any need for knowledge management now that everything is on Google. Here's a blog post he inspired me to write which complements yours.

Lisandro Gaertner said...

Most of the time, employers kill the new hires instincts and will to search and share by "teaching" them the companies' best (really just usual or adequate) practices and disencouraging them to try anything new because it is not the (insert enterprise name)'s way of doing things.

This problem is related to the failure of elite education that only prepares the future "leaders" to enforce the old status quo and not to create the future. The meritocracies become oligarchies and them... you know what happens. :-)

The future of the great companies is on the hands of the misfits not of the well adjusted ones. To live is to change. The buddhists knew it all.

Dianna said...

Nick, For some time I've been following research on how engineers look for information but putting the two topics together gives a much fuller picture and is really relevant to my workplace. My manager recently said that staff who written a thesis place more value on quality research than staff who had simply completed a degree.

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