Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Learning How to Learn: Kristi Lahti-Johnson, Hennepin County

This is the second post in our summer series, "Post-Humphrey". We highlight the theory alumni learned while in school, and what they've learned in practice since, among other tidbits of advice.

Today I am the Data Governance Officer for Hennepin County. It is a position that didn’t exist 24 years ago when I entered the Humphrey School. In fact, it didn’t even exist 3 years ago.

In this evolving career landscape what I most appreciate about the Humphrey School is that it did not teach me a specific job. It taught me valuable skills that I have been able to apply to every single position I have held in Hennepin County.

There are 3 skills that I think every student should gain from their time at the Humphrey School:

1) How to think critically. The classes at the Humphrey School challenge students to analyze problems, ask questions and make informed decisions. This is a skill that I use every day. Hennepin County operates under many different regulatory requirements that often overlap and sometimes conflict. There are times in which a proposed approach is at odds with one or more regulatory requirements. While any initial response may be “no”, by asking questions—“what is the problem?” “what are you trying to accomplish?”—and analyzing the rules, it is often possible to identify a different approach to achieving the desired outcomes while still remaining compliant with regulatory requirements.

2) How to communicate clearly and concisely. My favorite assignment at the Humphrey School was to compare and contrast the decision making process between the decision not to launch a nuclear attack during the Bay of Pigs and the launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle, in five pages or less (thank you very much Professor John Bryson!). Five pages seemed like a novel by the time I started in Paul Light’s class which required us to summarize huge quantities of information into a 1-page memo. My effectiveness in my job is a direct result of my communication skills. Know your audience. Know what is important to them and what is most critical for them to know. Know the best way to get your message across and be an agile communicator, able to reach people in multiple ways. And, know that offering your time to answer any questions or concerns goes a long way in building trust and effective and lasting relationships.

3) How to learn. There are two interns working with my team this summer looking at Key Performance Indicators. They decided to use a Likert Scale to collect information. It was an exciting opportunity for them to apply a tool they learned in one of their classes at the Humphrey School to their work. That got me thinking: what were some of the tools that I learned at the Humphrey School? I couldn’t remember a single one. That is okay. What I learned is how to learn. That has helped me to evolve and grow over time; take in new tools, theories, and approaches. During my 22 years at Hennepin County, I have helped to support the county’s and my department’s missions and goals by working on initiatives such as the balanced scorecard, dashboards, competencies, strengths, strategic planning, disaster response and recovery planning, project management and many more. In almost every case, I came into the initiative with little knowledge about the tool or the subject matter, but was able to apply similar experiences or skills and quickly get up to speed.

Ten years ago, a department director approached me and asked me what I knew about the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. My response was, “little to nothing, but I’m willing to learn.” That approach has taken me a long way.

By: Kristi Lahti-Johnson
Kristi is the Data Governance Officer for Hennepin County. In this role she has been appointed as the county Responsible Authority and Data Compliance Officer. Her team provides support and direction to county departments on the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity and security of their data. Kristi has been with the county for 22 years. She started as a planner in the County Attorney’s Office and then moved to the Human Services and Public Health Department where she provided support to the Assistant County Administrator for Human Services and served as the data practices official. She loves to support students at the Humphrey School, including connecting them with local resources in their field and hiring Humphrey interns whenever she has available funds.

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