3 tips for getting better content from your SMEs (subject-matter experts)

One of the constant challenges instructional designers face in building quality training programs is getting the right information out of their subject matter experts (SMEs). Interviewing SMEs is a skill best honed over time, for nothing can prepare you for the roadblocks you'll face when gathering the content you need to begin pulling your course together. These three tips should help you cut to the chase, and simplify your content gathering efforts.

First, prepare intensely for SME interviews. What would you do if you were job consisted of interviewing Hollywood's biggest A-list actors, and you were only going to get them seated with you for a few hours during which time your conversation would be videotaped? This is the challenge James Lipton from the show "Inside the Actor's Studio" faces on a regular basis during production of the series. Being a fan of the show I can tell you that his line of questioning is always direct, relevant to the actor's career, and even able to catch some of his biggest guests by surprise at their level of detail. Think of your SME interviews in the same light. Mr. Lipton was himself asked at one point how he prepares for these high-stakes interviews, and his answer was very telling:

“Nothing is handed to me. I get raw material from my researcher… and then I watch all the movies, read everything that the person has written about himself or herself, and I go through all the articles that have been written about them, and from that I distill the blue index cards, which are approximately 300-500 [cards] for each person”. 

Prior to you scheduling SME interviews, you two should gather as much information about desired performance, target audience, experience and background of the SME, etc. never walk into or treat a SME interview casually or show up unprepared. 

Secondly, and along the lines of our first step is to talk to the target audience for your training. In many instructional design projects, the SME will serve as an intermediary between yourself and the target audience. Your client will in many cases assume that the SME can provide you with all of the content you will need. As a check and balance to the content your SME provides you, we collaborate Gleaned invaluable insights from members of the target audience for the courses we are developing. Typically, target audience members are closer to the front lines of the desired performance than the SME and can provide invaluable feedback to your training design efforts.

Lastly we've got a tip for you that at first might appear controversial or make your SME cringe. Don't accept content from SMEs in PowerPoint format. PowerPoint's linear workflow was originally designed for speakers to outline their talks, but in doing so has a tendency to degrade content in favor of formatting. There is nothing worse for you as an instructional designer than to sit there staring at a PowerPoint deck loaded with bulleted lists. PowerPoint and other "slideware" is used by SMEs to condense content that you need to build a good training course into the lowest common denominator that can fit in a bulleted list. Our challenge to you, should you choose to accept it- don't settle for slideware when you know the bulk of the content you need is in the SMEs had or in other document forms. 

The minute we request content from a SME and are emailed a PowerPoint deck we quickly and without opening the slideware request additional content in either .pdf or Microsoft Word format. 

These three strategies are just ones that we use and have found useful when gathering content from SMEs. I'm sure there are more tips and tricks out there, and would love to hear about techniques you use to pry the necessary content from your SMEs. What are some of your favorite techniques for getting at the content you need?

Alex Santos

Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Training is key to leveraging social media for building brand value!

If you take it at face value that leadership is influence, then you best be influencing your employees use of social media before you are influenced by it in ways you may or may not like. As an HR professional, were trained to manage and mitigate the risks of our employees’ actions to our organizations. For many this has led to the knee-jerk reaction of banning social media in the workplace altogether, as if we were some rogue dictatorship of a country like Syria or Cuba. Yet as the Turkish prime minister has recently discovered, blocking your people’s access to social media is about as futile as attempting to prevent a flood by covering the cracks in your dam with your hands.

More forward thinking organizations are coming to this realization sooner than their less progressive counterparts, and are taking the social media bull by the horns. MasterCard is an example, is one such organization. And at the heart of their strategy, what I would consider a major factor in their successful adoption of social media as an organization is training. This piece by Jeanne Meister highlights some of the steps the company has taken in recent years to actively influence their employees use of social media, and turn them into brand ambassadors.

Many of the steps the company is taking such as building a training and communications plan, posting in person social media training sessions at offices around the globe, distributing short educational videos via social media channels, and using reverse mentors (where younger millennial generation employees mentor older senior executives) to get them up to speed on the latest social media platforms and trends are all training and organizational development strategies we can all implement and utilize to lead similar efforts ourselves.

I would go as far as to tell you that not only can you turn your employees into brand ambassadors using some of these techniques, but go beyond and convert your best customers into brand ambassadors leveraging some of these strategies and tactics. Engage your employees, your investors and owners, and your customer base. Encourage your customers to post pictures and videos of themselves using and enjoying your products. Have your communications and marketing teams reach out to these customers, and get the stories behind their pictures and videos; these customers are telling the story of your brand- get their permission to highlight their excitement and enjoyment when using your products and services on your site. Bring attention to their efforts, and turn them from fans of your products and services to ambassadors!

There are just two roads you can travel to success in today’s digital and socially connected business climate. You can either lead with social media, or be led by it. 

Alex Santos

Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Two key ingredients of best in class training

I don't know enough about Facebook and Twitter to claim they've got the best training programs in Silicon Valley, but there are some kernels of truth you find in the most successful corporate training initiatives. This piece by Max Nisen nails quite a few of these.

The first is an on-boarding experience long enough for the new hire to truly get acclimated and contribute to the organization's culture. At Facebook, this occurs during a seven week Bootcamp in which new hires work on fixing actual problems with the site's code. These fixes new hires work on are up live on Facebook's site within a week of the new employees hire. How is that for getting employees up to speed?

Another component of best and class training initiatives is they are driven and led by the CEO. And by led I don't mean just merely sponsored. At Twitter, the leadership program is run and taught by the CEO, Dick Costolo. Having this level of commitment by the president of the company sends a message to the entire organization that this is important to the firm's success. 

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I've been fortunate in my career to experience both ends of the spectrum. I've had CEOs look at me in disbelief for asking them to take a small yet active role in the on-boarding of their new hires, and I've had other CEOs jump at the opportunity to work with me and provide direction on training initiatives. Nothing you bake into your training program will get your learners attention more than walking into a training room and having the CEO of your company there ready to teach and mentor.

As Jack Welch once said, "An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage." Get your chief executive on board with your initiatives, and involve your learners in solving your organization's most vexing challenges. Do this all as quickly as you can, and watch your training initiatives go from nice-to-haves to crucial parts of your company's DNA.

Alex Santos

Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.



Are your learners front and center in everything you design?

This is the question you should be asking yourself as an instructional designer. A very similar question is being asked by Alicia Boler-Davis, Chief Of Global Quality and Customer Experience and her team over at GE and is one of the keys to the automaker's astounding turnaround. Why is this question so powerful you may be asking yourself. Let me explain.

Putting the learner front and center, you have the opportunity to not only train them but to build advocates for your learning and development programs. You can only do this though if you learners are walking out of your classroom (or leaving the bright glare of their laptop monitors) able to perform in new ways they will brag to their colleagues about. 

Many organizations limit the evaluation of the training programs to smiley sheets and surveys that are beyond stale, not to mention many learning and development departments are so strapped for time these smiley sheets sit gathering dust inside of a dark desk drawer. When was the last time you modified the instructional strategy in one of your courses as a result of employee feedback or comments left on one of these level I evaluations? 

Worse yet, if you're not using the feedback that you are getting from your training courses to improve them not only have your courses grown stale, but your lack of listening to what your end client has been telling you has probably negatively impacted the desire of your students to leave you candid feedback in the future. 

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If "culture eats strategy for breakfast" as Mr. Drucker pointed out, I encourage you to rethink how you are designing your training courses and look not just at your business goals but at your learners' goals. Millennials who are increasingly comprising the bulk of today's workforce want to see you not just caring about the business, but want to feel you authentically caring about their needs and aspirations as well. 

Alex Santos

Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

New years are filled with opportunity, just like new hires...

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Every new year brings with it the opportunity to briefly look back and take stock of the past one. What better place to start this review than by reviewing the effectiveness of your new employee onboarding program? After all, a solid onboarding program is key to one of the most import new beginnings not just for your new team member but for your organization as well. 

At many organizations, employee on boarding involves indoctrinating the new hire into the corporate culture. New employees typically learn about the company's history, mission, vision, its founders, organizational structure, and generally how the organization operates. This has become a pretty standard modus operandi, with trainers routinely scheduling these sessions to bring new hires into the company fold. At many organizations, this onboarding is a one-way street, with the organization information-dumping as much information about the company as possible in as little a time as allowed into the new hire. Not surprising is the fact that many organizations who employ these run-of-the-mill onboarding programs measure their success by how much knowledge the new hire acquired about the organization. Barely a level two evaluation by Kirkpatrick's standards, and pretty low expectations.

Ask many managers and corporate leaders what they value most about hiring "outsiders" and many will report valuing the "new perspective" an outsider to the organization brings to the table. Trouble is, most new hires from the "outside" are hired and almost immediately indoctrinated in the company's ways. Not so at one organization who recognized this dichotomy. Wipro, which provides telephone and online chat support for a global customer base, tried something different and was able to achieve a more than 32% reduction in turnover during an employees' tenure with a new onboarding strategy. Additionally, customers' reported receiving significantly better service from employees that went through this new onboarding program. 

Wipro placed a heavy focus on individuals being able to perform in line with their individual strengths. This new "Personal-Identity Socialization" onboarding program allowed new hires to play to their strengths, and even bolstered the self-esteem of employees who participated in the new approach. You can read more about Wipro's innovative approach to new hire onboarding, and see if you may want to incorporate parts of their strategy by visiting this link

These are the out-of-the-box experiments in HR that lead to significant performance and productivity gains for organizations, and where HR truly has an opportunity to earn a seat at the proverbial table. When was the last time you looked at your new hire onboarding program? Are you simply measuring how much information sticks in their heads, or, are you demanding more of your investment dollars when it comes to onboarding your people? Let us know, we want to hear from you!

Alex Santos

Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.