How not to become swamped with information

Analysing an organisation is a difficult balancing act between learning all you need to know to do your job, and becoming so swamped with information you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Focus on the job in hand

Throughout the process, keep in mind your job description first and foremost. Secondly, keep in mind the expectation of your boss and (if applicable) his or her boss. While you are carrying out your familiarisation, you will come across a large number of issues and problems that you know you could do something about, but which are not strictly within your responsibility.

It may help to use a tool such as Dr Steven Covey’s circles of influence and concern to assist you in maintaining focus. Place the key responsibilities of your own job in the centre (circle of influence) and those things which are not directly in your power to affect in the circle of concern. You can aim to increase your influence over time from your role to affect those things in your circle of concern, but, in your first 100 days, it may simply be enough to understand and acknowledge them.

Aim for a well-sketched picture

It is not necessary to go into the same depth of knowledge about every aspect of the company. It is necessary to get a grasp of the whole business entity. A well-sketched picture should contain:

  • who is who
  • where they are
  • what the main interdepartmental dependencies are
  • what is acknowledged to be working and what is not
  • what the organisation’s major aspirations are
  • what the main challenges are.

You need to get clarity on what your role is in keeping things running smoothly while achieving the aspirations and meeting the challenges.

Beyond this, you need an understanding of:

  • Recent organisational history
  • The ability to describe the organisation’s position and strengths in its key markets
  • Sufficient grasp of culture: things like organisational values (which may not be the ones published on the intranet), levels of control or latitude, how people work together within and across departments, the importance of position and hierarchy, the propensity to change, strength of work ethic

What you need to learn in depth will depend on the task ahead of you, but, in general you need to know:

  • The workings and performance of your own department, why it is as it is, and how this can be improved
  • Important processes that you will have to carry out
  • Who and what will be important to you in delivering your objectives

Anything above this is potentially extraneous and a distraction. You are looking to reach a kind of tipping point, where you have (and know with some certainty that you have) enough information to inform good decisions.