By Bob Mosher
A quick story I recently heard from a colleague. “I was facilitating a design meeting to help create a course for New Managers. In the room sat my my traditional stakeholders: SME’s, or Subject Matter Experts. Coincidentally two new managers were also invited to sit in and listen. One and a half days into what felt like an amazing data gathering exercise, one of the new managers spoke up and asked if they could share an observation. They said, “Although all of this information is amazing and will ultimately make me become an effective manager, my BIGGEST concern is surviving my first 30 days without being fired or sued! You just filled 4 whiteboards with tasks each of you do every day. I hope to get there someday as well. The problem is if this is the class you’re creating for me I’d be overwhelmed by noon of the first day, and wouldn’t be able to use most of this anytime soon”. The room sat there dead quiet. The SME’s looked at each other and didn’t really know how to reply. As far as they were concerned, eveything they had been shared was important to a New Manager. What would they dare skip? We ended up starting all over with the new manager leading the discussion and the experienced managers adding color commentary. We ended up refined the 4 boards of content down to 1, and reduce what would have been 3~5 days of training down to 1~2.”
Does this story sound at all familiar to you? I bet it would to your learners. Let me be clear, NOT the SME’s, but the learners! For years, our design models and processes have pivoted on gather SME’s in a room to help us design our deliverables, and they still continue to be a valuable contributor. However, this story introduces a new stakeholder, and one that was instrumental in making this New Manager program successful – a BME or Business Matter Expert. A BME is the consumer of the program. They are the individuals that want to become a SME someday, but are miles from that in their development and ability. They are also the ones we’ve been over teaching to for years and, as this one so amply stated, been overwhelming at the same time. Introducing a BME into your design models will have a few powerful results.
The first will force you, and your SME’s, to take a closer look at the word “important”. To a SME all tasks are important, but to a BME certain tasks are critical. There’s a difference. Frankly, all that it takes to be a good leader is important, but only certain tasks are critical to survival. The rest can be learned later in the workflow where learning it optimal. How do you differentiate from a design perspective? Criticality is defined by the result of failure. Tasks where the impact of failure is hurtful, destructive, or unrecoverable need to be taught. Remember the words of the BME in the story: “my BIGGEST concern is surviving my first 30 days without being fired or sued!” Those task are critical to a New Manager! The rest should be supported and learned on the job.
Thus my second point. Using a BME it will force you to design a true blended learning program that includes both training and performance support deliverables. The elephant in the room for years has been that our SME help us design deliverables that over teach. We, and I include myself in that pronoun, have been overburdening our classes, e-learning, and most every training deliverable we’ve ever built, with too much content. That’s because a SME can handle everything. A BME can’t. They will force you to move the non-critical tasks to the workflow to be learned later. They know how much they can handle and will want support learning the rest when it’s time. Performance Supprot is the tie that binds. It’s the missing link in a true blended learning solution. When married with training, and introduced as a support tool in the classroom, performance support allows the classroom go from 3~5 days of too much content to 1~2 days of critical and must know information.
Finally, it will create a stronger relationship between L&D and your lines of business because you will pivot more on the true workflow than an assumed one. It has always amazed me how little we know about the workflow our learners return to. We know what it should be, or ultimately could be, based on the SME’s view of the work, but that’s not the true workflow a BME comes from. Many SME’s have been removed from the workflow a BME tries to survive in each day. Great sales reps become sale managers and are removed from the field. Great employees become great leaders and promote themselves out of the daily duties of a frontline manager. The list goes on and on. These rock stars become SME’s. Unfortunately, most have understandably lost the perpective of the new learners they once were. Adding a BME to your design mix will introduce you to the realities of the line of business in ways we haven’t understood, or been a part of, in years.
I’m NOT saying that SME’s are going away! They are still an important part of our design process, but with workflow learning coming of age, as well as the incredible embedded learning technologies that can support it, we need to reorient ourselves around the realities of the workflow as it exists today. The BME is the new stakeholder that has to be a part of the process.