Sharing knowledge

Barbara* has accepted a new role in a new service, where she hopes to have more opportunities to use her skills as an analyst. But after her first few days on the job, she’s already disillusioned, because the procedures and spreadsheets she’s taken over from her predecessor are much more complicated than she expected. To make matters worse, there’s no record of the work that’s already been done and her predecessor has left CERN. 

Barbara begins by closely analysing the spreadsheet formulae and macros to try to figure out the logic behind them, which takes her a long time. Her colleague Simon*, who’s been working in the service for more than ten years, knows all its ins and outs and helped set up many of its systems, but he’s always snowed under and is often glued to his work on the screen. Nevertheless, Barbara decides to ask him for some advice. Because it all seems obvious to him, he doesn’t understand his new colleague’s problems and loses patience with her apparent slowness. He doesn’t realise the extent of the gap between his knowledge and hers. Barbara is deeply troubled by this state of affairs and her despondency gradually turns into anxiety.

After our meeting, Barbara understands that she needs to approach the situation differently: “Simon, I know you’re really busy and I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’d like to get to grips with my job as quickly as possible. I’ve learned a lot on my own, but I’m still really dependent on you in some areas. The sooner I know how to do things, the sooner I can take a few tasks off your hands, and then you’ll be able to focus on the most complicated jobs.”After their discussion, Barbara and Simon arranged weekly work sessions together, which enabled Barbara to regain her confidence.

Given the substantial degree of personnel rotation at CERN, the transfer of knowledge to new arrivals is important and an integral part of the job of more experienced colleagues. Consider time spent training a new member of your team as an investment, rather than as “wasted” time. And don’t forget: you also needed some training when you first arrived in your service!

*Names have been changed

Pierre Gildemyn

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