BSBFLM303 – Seek, Receive and Communicate Information and Ideas
Collect Information Associated With the Achievement of Work Responsibilities from Appropriate Sources
In this unit of competency, we are looking to examine all how you can attempt to build effective relationships with those around you. This can be accomplished in a wide range of ways, and in this section, we will be examining how you can gather information to assist in decision making in your organisation.
This skill is crucial to effective relationships because of the major contribution you will be making by gathering the appropriate information and assisting others in your workplace.
What Do I Need To Find?
Information is a crucial factor in any business decision. The provision of sufficient accurate information will allow managers to make important decisions that will affect the organisation as a whole. Information gathering and processing, in many ways, is an art form. You must know where to look, what to look for and how to present it to assist managers in making their decisions.
When providing any form of information for use in making management decisions, it is essential to determine the information requirements. This initial stage of the process allows you to ensure that the information that you compile will be useful to the end-user.
When attempting to determine information requirements, you should look at the specifications that you are provided by your managers. These may come in many forms, the three most common forms are:
- Specifications: Generally, these are the most formal type of information requirements. It will provide you with a brief that states exactly what information you are required to gather. Often specifications will also provide you with other information such as budgets, information sources, and your terms of reference. Specifications may also state to you how the information is to be presented after the project for interpretation by the managers involved.
- Job Instructions: Again, these are quite formal in their approach; however, they generally will not be as strict as a set of specifications. They may allow you to approach a problem using your own knowledge and skills rather than telling you how to accomplish the task.
- Consultation with end-users: This final type is in many ways the most useful. It allows you to discuss exactly what the end-user will require from the information. It will enable you to work towards finding the exact requirements and will allow the end-product to meet their needs as closely as is possible.
Other information requirements could include:
- Archived, filed and historical background data
- Electronic or manual transmission
- Individual and team performance data
- Marketing and customer-related data
- Organisation policies and procedures
- Planning and organisational documents including the outcomes of continuous
improvement and quality assurance
- Written or verbal communications.
Information for management decision making can come from two different sources. The information can be generated from internal or external sources. Put simply information sources internal to the organisation come from inside the boundaries of the organisation. They come from its staff and the information systems in use within the organisation. External information sources come from outside the immediate organisation. They may be from industry, government, suppliers, or other general sources. Each of these information sources has their own advantages and disadvantages. When looking at your information project, it is essential to determine exactly what sources of information you should use. In this section, we will examine the two primary forms of data, and then discuss how to select the most appropriate data and information sources for your needs.
|Internal sources||External sources|
|Any information source that comes from within your organisation – such as internal reports, observations and financials||Any information source that is outside your organisation – e.g. census data, books, magazines, etc.|
Internal information sources are any resources that you utilise from within your organisation. These could include information, feedback or instruction from supervisors, managers and peers, organisation policies and procedures or general workplace documents such as files, orders or invoices.
A company’s internal accounting records and control systems provide the most basic data on management inputs and the resulting outcomes. The principle advantages of this type of data are that the data is readily available, reasonably accessible continuously and that it is particularly relevant to the organisation’s situation.
Data on the inputs to the management system can range from budgets and schedules to costing reports and materials planning information. Extensive data on outcomes can be obtained from billing records, shipment information, and other aspects of the accounting information system. The internal information from an organisation can be used for many reasons.
Some questions that could be quickly answered using this type of data include:
- Are current human resources expenditures above or below the levels set in the annual budget and sales plan?
- Is our sales performance within key market segments improving or deteriorating?
- Would it be wise to open a new plant to meet our production needs?
This type of information can be found. However, there are some issues related to the use of accounting information and management information systems. The first problem is that these systems are designed to satisfy many different information needs.
As a result, the reporting formats are frequently too rigid and may be inappropriate for the given decision you are trying to make. You may find that, for instance, accounting data is too highly aggregated into summary results, and it is not available for specific applications within the organisation.
A second problem with using this type of data is that it may not be as accurate as it could be. For example, you may find salespeople over-exaggerate their activities. This may lead to some problems in the data when it comes to analysing the data for managers. However, for the most part, internal data sources are an excellent source of information for management decision making.
External sources are wide-ranging and include any information that does not come from official organisation sources. It may come from information providers such as the government, published data sources or from primary research conducted for the organisation by market research houses.
- Published Data Sources
These sources are by far the most popular source of external information. Not only is the data readily available, but often it is sufficient to answer a decision question. For example, a manager may be asked to determine whether the market for a given product exists. By consulting statistics available from various sources, they may be able to answer this question.
The major published sources are the various government publications, periodicals and trade journals, industry associations, and other companies. Of all these sources, one of the most effective decision-making tools comes from Census data – this is particularly true for marketing decisions.
- Primary Research
Primary research involves employing an organisation to conduct a research project on your behalf to gather the information you need. While this can pinpoint the exact piece of data you may need, it is a very costly expense. Often marketing decisions utilise this type of service.
However, there may also be a need for this type of research and data gathering for other reasons as well. The most important consideration is the cost and time. This type of data collection is expensive and time-consuming, however, given that it can provide you with tailor-made information, you may find it useful for specific tasks.
- External Customers
Gathering information about the external customer and listening to feedback represents means you can predict how they might respond to a given offering, and you can anticipate future needs that one may address. You are in a position to become a trusted advisor who is influential in the customer’s decision-making processes.
- Web-Based Resources
This is an open-source information space where documents and other web resources are available. Websites may be mostly informative, primarily for entertainment, or mainly for commercial purposes.
External reports can be used as a way for an organisation to disseminate information, and it can then be accessed and used by other organisations.
Market research and analysis of such data is an excellent example of secondary information being used for decision making.
We have looked at the two major types of information sources. Now we need to consider determining the most appropriate source of information for a given project. This decision comes back to the overall question that the information you are gathering asks. Is it related to a purely internal process, or does it involve external factors?
Purely internal processes can usually be addressed using information from internal sources. For example, answering the question of whether a given piece of machinery needs replacement can be achieved by looking at maintenance records, defect rates and the like.
If other processes, such as consumer demand, demographics of the marketplace and the economy are an important consideration, using external sources of information will be required so that the information can include the effects of all these many and varied factors.
How Good Is My Information?
When selecting the information that you will present to assist with decision making, there are a range of questions that you may ask yourself to ensure that the information you are supplying is relevant and can be relied on.
The questions you should consider are:
|Question||How to access|
|Who?||This question applies especially to the reputation of the agency collecting the data. Can you be assured that their work will be entirely honest? A related question you might ask yourself is whether the agency collecting the data has the resources necessary to do a proper job.|
|Why?||Data collected to further the interests of a particular group are suspect. It is easy to choose unconsciously those methods and questions that will create results that favour particular groups; therefore, you should look at why a piece of data was gathered.|
|How?||What research methods were adopted? If the information source you are using does not explicitly state how such data was gathered, be suspicious. It is important that you are entirely happy with the way that the information was collected before you should consider using it.|
|What?||Even if the information that you have gathered is good quality, it is important to determine whether it is likely to be difficult to use, or inadequate for your needs.|
With information being generated from secondary sources, you need to consider the data fit problem. Most of the data that you will be using for a given project will have been gathered for purposes other than those of the project at hand. This means that they will rarely serve the information needs of the project entirely. The degree of fit can range from utterly inadequate to very close.
There may also be problems related to the age of data you are using. Management decisions typically require very up-to-date information. Many sources of data have long periods between the collection and publication of data. For example, you may find that some government sources such as census data can be as many as three years old before they are published. The usefulness of such information diminishes rapidly over time.
You also need to determine whether the data you are using is accurate enough for the purposes of the information project at hand. A severe limitation of some types of data (in particular secondary data – which is data generated for another project) is the difficulty in gauging their accuracy. There are several sources of possible data errors, including data collection issues, sampling issues and analysis complications. All of these can directly influence the data’s accuracy.
The source of the data and information you are using will also be important in determining its accuracy. Information from sources such as textbooks, government publications or from industry bodies are likely to be trustworthy.
However, gathering data from the Internet or other non-acknowledged sources may mean the integrity and accuracy of the data should be questioned. Data sources, e.g. quoting from documents designed to make sales or advance the interests of a particular company or organisation, should also be carefully examined.
The data sources that you use should maximise the value that you are getting from them. Some data sources can be costly to collect, for example, subscriptions to news cutting services can run into hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, as can other sources such as employing a market or commercial research house.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that the money that you will spend utilising a service will be paid back by the information you receive. For example, if you are only likely to use the service once for a minor piece of data, spending thousands of dollars for it is likely to be frowned on. However, if it is a source you will refer to repeatedly, the reverse is likely to be true.
All information that you gather must be recorded in such a way that it assures that the information is accurate and stored ready for easy access and retrieval.
Information is only useful to managers if it is accurate. Having inaccurate information is often worse than having no information at all. Therefore you must record information in such a way that its accuracy can be assured. This includes the security measures that we will discuss later in this section. Data should be checked and double-checked if entered on to a computer, as the old saying goes “garbage in, garbage out”. If the information is not accurately recorded or entered, then the resulting analysis that you or others conduct is likely to be poor.
Ensure that you file away all information that you gather in a manner that will allow it to be easily found as required. This may be in a special file for information for a given project. Using a list of references is an excellent way of listing what is in each file.
Attach the list of references to the front of the file, and place information into the file in that order. This will enable you to locate and use the information quickly and easily.
Now that we have examined the types of information that you will gather for your end-user let’s look at how you should organise and present the information. To be useful to managers, you must ensure that the information that you are producing does several things.
The requirements of the information that you provide are:
The report that you produce needs to provide the information concisely. After all, if this was not required, we could just provide pages and pages of raw data and allow the manager to process it. However, this is not what is needed. What is required is a report that provides the information in a condensed format to allow the manager to make decisions based on it.
Concise presentation needs writing and information that is simple to understand and gets to the important points quickly. This results in the information being of more use to the end-user. Conciseness is an aid to understanding.
- Addressing Needs of the User
The report that you provide is useless unless it addresses the information that was asked for. Once you have gathered the information you will be presenting, carefully examine the information and ensure that it addresses the aspects that you were asked to research.
Ask yourself “If I didn’t understand what this information was, would I be able to answer the questions from it?” Add any supplementary explanations that you feel are required to allow the manager to be able to understand the logic involved.
As we mentioned earlier, the accuracy of information is vitally important. You should consider once again the source of the data and attempt to verify that the information that you are presenting is entirely accurate. If it is not, you should consider trying to locate other sources of data that you can use. If some items of information are not correct, it may cause flaws in the logic of the argument that you are putting forward. Therefore check and recheck any facts to look for errors of logic.
- Implications Explained
A significant part of a logical argument is putting forward the implications of the information that you are providing. Therefore, it is important that where required you provide brief commentary on the information being presented. This short commentary should address any implications that arise from the data. This may include an explanation of how the data was gathered, and where possible any limitations of the data.
These limitations may impact on decision making in a significant manner. You may also like to briefly interpret the results to facilitate a better understanding of the data in question. By doing this, the manager can grasp what the information is saying, and then make informed decisions based on this information.
- Presentation Meets with Needs of the End-User
Ensure that the way you produce your report meets the needs of the end-user. The end-user is essentially the only person who will be requiring the information. You must ensure that you have their needs in mind more so than others within the organisation.
- Information is Prioritised
You should ensure when creating your report, that you organise it to ensure that the most important information is presented as early as possible. A handy means of doing this is to provide an executive summary at the beginning which states (before the report is even read) the most salient points of the report. When writing conclusions always state these in order of importance, from most important to least important.
It is also of vital importance that the relevant material, facts, data, and information that you are provided are organised logically. Organise material into various sections, and sub-sections to make the information that you are providing easier to understand. The way you present the data will assist with a logical understanding of it. For example, you should start out with a broad overview of your findings before you begin to examine specific aspects of it. This makes the data better organised.
It is also important to order your information in such a way that one section follows on from the previous section. If you do not organise information in this way, you may find that the reader becomes confused about the points that you are trying to make. A logical progression should be followed in your final presentation. Do not jump around from subject to subject, instead add linking sentences that relate topics together. Attempt to build your report up into a statement of logical thought, that if read from start to finish will build the understanding of the end-user to a point where they feel that they are in a position to be able to make a decision.
When considering your research method, model, formulation, or approach to the research problem, you have likely taken certain conditions, states, or requirements for granted. These are known as the assumptions that you have made. Another question you may like to ask yourself when determining what assumptions you have made is: “Are there certain fundamental conditions or states the researcher takes to be true?”
Any assumptions that you have made regarding what your end-user will require, what knowledge they may already have, or on any other matter with regards to the approach you have taken to provide the information, should be listed in an assumption section. One useful location to state assumptions (and limitations for that matter) is in the introduction.
Like assumptions, limitations may impact on the way a manager can use the data. Some limitations may not be immediately apparent, and thus you may need to spell out the limitations in special sections.
When considering what limitations may exist, ask yourself: “Is there any factor, condition or circumstance that prevented me from achieving all of my objectives?” This may result from your own lack of knowledge, budget or even time constraints. Wherever possible list any limitations down in a section for consideration by managers.
Communicate Ideas and Information to Diverse Audiences in an Appropriate and Sensitive Manner
When you have collected and assessed your information, it is time to communicate with others. Team communication skills are critical for ensuring the success of the team effort, whether the team is charged with creating a new product, making a process improvement or planning team-building activities. Strong team communication skills can help build relationships, ensure the sharing of new ideas and best practices, and benefit team members through coaching and counselling.
Effective teams need to work well together, and that team cohesiveness depends on building strong relationships among team members. Communication is critical and is driven by the team leader who will work with the team to establish ground rules and work to bring the team together so that it can accomplish its goals.
When team communication skills are strong, it raises the chance that good ideas and best practices will be shared openly. Team members can be hesitant to provide input for fear of being criticised or having their ideas dismissed. Teams that can establish an open, positive and supportive environment among team members are in a better position to hear those good ideas and learn from the best practices of the group.
Effective team communication can lead to both personal and professional development. Team leaders will be influenced by the coaching and counselling skills of the team leader and, when the team leader is a positive role model, these insights can help employees improve their own communication skills.
Strong team communication skills can also help team members learn how to manage conflict in positive ways, an essential professional development skill. Too often, we can have a tendency to avoid conflict. By learning to respond to conflict in positive ways, both employees and organisations can benefit.
There may be times when the communication will include a more diverse audience. This would consist of persons with specific social, cultural and other needs that require a range of strategies and approaches, including adjusting communication. It can be very challenging on occasion when their beliefs and attitudes are very different from your own.
Individual differences and beliefs affect everything we do and say. We may not even be aware of these differences. Often, we base our expectations of others on our own experiences. If you have not had experience with people outside your own culture, you may find your expectations of how others should act are misguided.
You may have developed a set of attitudes about the behaviour and rights of people from other countries; in this case, your frame of reference could well influence the way you work with others. When you work in the service industry, you need to be aware of your values.
A cultural frame of reference is the way people from the same cultural group see their world; it is their world view.
An essential part of the functioning of a team is being aware of cultural practices and/or differences and using effective communication techniques to further understanding. To effectively contribute to best practice in an organisation, workers need to consider their values, beliefs and attitudes they may have.
These beliefs and attitudes are fundamental and personal. Values are formed and absorbed by people as they develop through childhood. Traditional ways of behaving and responding to situations can vary considerably from one society to another.
You should not see these customs as right or wrong; you should learn to understand the reasons behind them.
You should always:
- Be respectful of cultural practices, attitudes and beliefs
- Show consideration and think of the needs of others from their point of view
- Be polite and use an appropriate tone of voice, listening to others and gently questioning to gain further information
- Show genuine interest
- Respect a person’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
When addressing a person from another culture, you may need to consider:
- Different ways of speaking or titles that may be preferred
- Male and female roles clearly defined along cultural boundaries
- Different speech patterns/language
- Codes of behaviour
- Gender-specific tasks to complete
- Non-verbal communication and body language such as eye contact, use of touching etc.
- Use of physical space.
If in doubt, ask someone; otherwise, you may cause offence without being aware of the fact. There are most likely workplace guidelines for you to follow in your work in cross-cultural situations. You can refer to your supervisor if there are any problems arising for you from your clients’ or co-workers’ customs and spiritual beliefs which you feel you cannot deal with.
Seek Contributions from Internal and External Sources to Develop and Refine New Ideas and Approaches in Accordance with Organisational Processes
No one has all the good ideas. New ideas can come from a range of sources, both external to the organisation and internally. Encourage feedback and ideas from employees because receiving feedback from employees can help you improve your business.
There are options you can consider to encourage ideas from employees, including:
- A feedback link in internal newsletters or on the intranet
- Posing a monthly question to invite views, stimulate discussions and share key themes from the feedback
- Giving managers a standing agenda for team briefings inviting questions and feedback from employees
- Providing training or guidance to help managers seek and handle feedback
- Holding regular focus groups that seek feedback from a cross-section of employees across the organisation
- Creating specific days during which employees can come and talk to senior managers with any views or issues
- Conducting surveys with your employees, using a core set of questions each time so you can track responses and identify trends
- Establishing a suggestion scheme for employees to contribute ideas
- Creating a spot prize that gives managers the freedom to recognise a particularly innovative idea or business improvement
- Celebrating all productive ideas that employees have suggested – however small, to show that everyone can help shape the way your organisation is run.
Facilitate Consultation Processes to Allow Employees to Contribute to Issues Related to Their Work, and Promptly Communicate Outcomes of Consultation to the Work Team
Promptly Deal With and Resolve Issues Raised, or Refer Them to Relevant Personnel
Consultation is the seeking and giving of advice, information and/or opinion. Consultation involves feedback to the work team and relevant personnel about outcomes of the consultation process and provides an opportunity for employees to contribute ideas and information.
Consultation involves taking account of as well as listening to the views of employees and must therefore take place before decisions are made. Consultation requires a free exchange of ideas and views affecting the interests of employees and the organisation.
As such, almost any subject is appropriate for discussion. To avoid misunderstandings, management should agree on the issues that will be the subject of consultation. Whatever topics are chosen, they need to be relevant, clearly defined and geared to the needs of the organisation and its employees.
Whatever issues are agreed upon as being appropriate for discussion, they must be relevant to the group of employees that will be discussing them. If consultation is to be effective, it is essential to avoid discussing trivialities.
Relevant personnel may include:
- WHS committees and WHS representatives
- People with specialist responsibilities
- Supervisors, managers and other employees
- Union representatives/groups.
- Information is a crucial factor in any business decision. When providing any form of information for use in making management decisions, it is important to determine the information requirements.
- The key information requirements that you should look for when gathering your information are:
- Information purpose
- Resources available.
- Information for management decision making can come from two different sources:
- External information sources come from outside the immediate organisation
- Internal information sources come from within the organisation.