Sunday, March 9, 2008

Google refines search options -shouldn't we?

According to the Official Google Blog searchers who start out at the top level of certain large sites will now see an additional search box, allowing them to target more specific information faster. This means that a search on the term "", for example, will not only list the official website, but will provide an additional Google box to allow you to quickly target specific pages within the site. Ditto for other large sites like NASA.

While this is great for online searches into large websites like Amazon, I couldn't help but wonder what message it might also carry for training providers.

So often, the materials we provide to employees as training materials are extensive and comprehensive --- but nearly impossible to search. Employees looking for a particular procedure, or specific guideline must browse through pages and perhaps even volumes of material. And sometimes the material is stored in different departments with the company, making a quick fact check even more cumbersome. The result of making it hard to find the information could be:

  • Guessing. It's just too hard to find the facts, so the employee guesses to save precious work time

  • Misunderstanding. The employee finds something related but not exact, and assumes it applies to the situation at hand, and consequently uses the wrong procedure.

  • Immobility. The employee so fears making a mistake on an unfamiliar process or procedure that s/he does nothing.

  • Focus on the rule books instead of the work. Detailed searches are made of every guide and rule book to make certain the exact policy is followed. Work slows to a crawl.

In designing procedure manuals, we need to consider the user. Like Google, we want to make it easy for poeple to find the information they need, quickly and accurately.

Some important questions we might want to consider in designing a manual:

  1. Is it well indexed? Could a new employee come in and find the answer to a simple question within five minutes?

  2. Is the information grouped in a logical way? A manual arranged by date of creation would offer little to an employee looking for a certain fact or process.

  3. Is it available online or on company computers with a good search function? The days of huge print manuals are long past. People expect and need searchable access. Back it up in print if you must, but be sure the information is digitally accessible as well.

  4. Finally, is it all necessary? Take a long hard look at the rules and regulations. Start with a fresh eye and avoid the justification of "We've always done it this way." Consider each regulation and procedure in light of today's business world, technology and lifestyle. Decide whether each rule is needed, or if a few more general guidelines would suffice to get the job done well.

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