Podcast 3: Challenges and Opportunities of 5 Generations in the Workforce

Today, co-host Nathan Eckel leads the verbal charge in a discussion about the training, learning and communication challenges and opportunities of 5 generations in the workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that we have 5 generations working and contributing in the workforce until 2020.

Listen as Nathan and Peggy discuss the exciting ways that the 5 generations affect corporate culture, communication, learning and knowledge transfer.

To recap, the 5 generations are:

World War II

Baby Boomers

Generation X


Gen 2020 – born post-2000 and entering the workforce this year 2017 as they begin to graduate from high school.

We welcome your comments below.



12 Great Questions When Interviewing an Expert


bubble wrap  The interview process is a big part of working with subject matter experts. Your curiosity is your greatest asset when you are talking to an expert whether you are looking for information for an article, a book or a training program.

Capturing expertise and packaging it for transfer to others is a bit like moving precious cargo and surrounding it with bubble wrap. You want it to arrive safely and look the same coming out of the box as it did when you put it in.

In journalism school, you  learn a bit about how to structure an interview including getting simple facts straight like spelling someone’s name and title correctly and jotting down the date and time you spoke with them. Those little hacks are good to apply to any interview, anytime, for any purpose.

If you don’t know much – or anything at all – about a subject that you have to write about, here are a few starter questions to get you on a path to uncovering the important information that will help you develop a strong document.

These following questions are suggestions, and as such, they are broadly worded so you can adapt the questions to your situation.

Ask about:

1.                  Length of career, education, history with company or field

2.                  Details of studies or techniques

3.                  Ways this may differ from current knowledge, skills, attitudes

4.                  Any simple steps, shortcuts or easy ways to remember this information

5.                  Ways this information can be applied immediately

6.                  Any warnings or special care instructions

7.                  Variations or exceptions to the knowledge provided

8.                  When and where to apply knowledge

9.                  Types of exercises or practice to reinforce knowledge

10.              Any anticipated changes in this knowledge, field, technique

11.              “Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think should be included?”

12.              Date and time of next interview or check review schedule for materials created

One Last Tip

The good stuff is usually in the follow-up questions that you ask. Often, people will provide only basic information or will forget some important detail to the above questions. After your interviewee has answered the question, find a nugget in their answer that you find interesting and ask more about it.

Now you are getting to the gems. And they will appreciate the fact that you are listening and showing genuine interest.

What are your favorite interview questions? Please comment below.

Podcast 2: Capturing the Right Knowledge at the Right Time

Welcome to Episode 2 of the Working with SMEs Podcast. Today, Nathan Eckel and I talk about 4 questions that commonly arise when we talk to corporate executives about managing the knowledge of their internal experts. (Listening time: 16:25)

Listen as Nathan and I drill down into these four questions:

1. Are we talking to the right experts?

2. What knowledge should we capture that is most important to the business going forward?

3. What knowledge needs to be captured immediately as opposed to eventually?

4. If we have limited resources or limited time, which experts should we speak with first?

Are you using your valuable, finite resources to capture the right experts?  Please comment below!

For Trainers and Instructional Designers: Your SME is Valuable During Evaluations

bostonredsoxspringtrainingschedule_2017 This blog is “inside baseball” for those who write training programs.

Recently, I wrote about how the subject matter expert is most involved in the design phase of your training program when you are doing knowledge capture. But an expert can be helpful during all phases of your training program. Experts who are with you every step of the way add more to your program’s depth and richness, and contribute to the learners in ways beyond a mere “information dump”.

As part of your course design, you most likely have included evaluation of the material, perhaps using Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels or some other validated evaluation process. As you get feedback on your course, make sure your expert is included in getting feedback from the evaluations so he or she knows what is working and where the course is not hitting the target.  The expert can remain a valuable asset as you adjust the course in response to evaluations.

Here are a few ways your expert can participate in the types of evaluation based on The Kirkpatrick Model, with which most instructional designers are familiar.

·         Level 1 Reaction: This measures learner satisfaction and “the degree to which participants find the training favorable, engaging and relevant to their jobs” to quote Kirkpatrick.  Let your expert know if the learners enjoyed the content. This is particularly important if the SME also participated as a live classroom trainer. If they were rated as a trainer, share their scores with them.

·         Level 2 Learning: This measures learner retention and “the degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence and commitment based on their participation in the training” according to Kirkpatrick. Your expert may be best suited to determine if the learner gained the knowledge that the course set out to teach by reviewing the tests and assessments.

·         Level 3 Behavior: This measures learner application on the job and “the degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job” Kirkpatrick says.  Your expert may be one of the people, in collaboration with their direct supervisors, who can assess if learner performance reflects correct application of the material on the job.

·         Level 4 Results: This measures if business goals are reached and “the degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training and the support and accountability package” according to Kirkpatrick. Depending on the view of the expert regarding the long-term strategic objectives of the business, the expert may be able to help assess if learner performance is supporting the business and the outcomes desired. If performance is not advancing business goals, some experts have strategic insight into how to adjust the content to support the business. In many cases, however, experts are focused on one particular area of the business and may not see the bigger picture. But it is a good idea to include your expert in this information and get their feedback anyway.

The important takeaway here is that when you employ experts, they are often valuable to your training, information collection and overall business goals in ways that may not be immediately obvious. Therefore, if you are engaging your subject matter expert in your training program, make every attempt to engage them during all phases of knowledge transfer.

Experts more often than not can contribute in ways that even they do not know. It’s your job as a trainer and instructional designer to make sure you are getting the most benefit from their experience.


Podcast Premier: Lifelong Learning and a Department of Human Potential

Welcome to the premier of the Working with SMEs podcast. In this first episode, Nathan Eckel, author of Open Source Instructional Design, joins me as co-host in a discussion on the importance of lifelong learning. Nathan and I recorded a dozen episodes and they will appear in this blog space on Thursdays.

In this episode, we discuss the ways that people have become 24/7 learners aided by an all-info, all-the-time culture, and the implications that this kind of learning has for business.

Thank you for listening to this edition of the Working with SMEs podcast. Let us know if you like this format in the comment box below.


Respecting Your Learner’s Need to Know and the Value of Just-in-Time Learning


If you have ever been deeply engrossed in a subject, you know that life is constantly presenting you with opportunities to learn more about it.  Everything I do somehow relates back to something I am learning and writing about.  Yesterday, for example, my microcassette recorder wasn’t working. Yes, I still use it occasionally, and in this case I wanted to listen to a tape I made many years ago. I use the microcassette  infrequently enough that when I investigated the cause of the malfunction, I found the batteries had leaked into the battery compartment and the contacts  were corroded.

I “YouTubed” a video on how to properly clean the corrosion. The video was 3 minutes long. The solution was simple.  Dip a cotton swab in clear white vinegar and gently wipe the battery compartment clean, being careful not to get any of the leaked battery acid on your skin, and careful not  to drip any liquid into the device. Wipe the vinegar off the contacts with a paper towel. Soak another cotton swab in water and wipe the inside of the compartment to remove any traces of vinegar. Dry it with another paper towel. Done.

That probably took you about 20 seconds to read that paragraph. But it takes about 3 minutes to watch someone actually perform all those steps in real time.  Three minutes is a long time to watch this process.  After about one minute, I found myself checking the remaining time on the video and figuratively tapping my foot wondering when the heck this video would be over. But I knew if there were two remaining minutes, there must be more to it so I better watch the whole thing or I might miss something crucial.

I learned two things yesterday.

1) I learned how to clean the battery compartment of my microcassette player and

2) I learned just how impatient we have become as learners.

If I –  someone who was educated in the pre-YouTube era, someone who reads 300-page books to learn one critical point  –  if I didn’t have the patience for a 3 minute video, imagine how short the attention span of children who graduated from baby rattles to baby iPads by the time they were one year old.

The Post-9-11 Workforce

Those children born post-9-11 are entering the workforce this year en masse as they turn 17 and graduate from high school. Your employees of today learned to swipe an iPad to get the answer before they could drink juice out of a cup without a lid.

The other day I lunched with a woman who will be retiring within a few years who shared her experience of younger workers.  She works in a medical technical field in a hospital.

I will paraphrase her comment only slightly. “They ask me a question, and they only want to hear a quick answer. They don’t want to know why or how or the context. They just want to get right back to checking Facebook or looking at Instagram.”

I do not want to castigate younger employees. Quite the opposite,  in fact. I am suggesting that perhaps as we consider how all people learn today, what captures and keeps our interest, how we think and what we need to know to do our jobs,  that we respect the effect of our all-info, all-the-time culture on the way we expect to receive information.  After all, I can’t even sit through a 3 minute video without looking at my watch and wondering when the YouTuber will get to the point.

As you craft training programs to communicate with your workforce, ask yourself if you are you considering our cultural bias to learning new information. Is your approach and content relevant and compelling?

As experienced trainers know, if the learner isn’t paying attention perhaps it is time to revisit your methodology.




Negotiating the Facts with Your Expert

justthefacts   Facts are facts, right? Not always.

Some facts, particularly expertise, can be evolving as the context or the realm of known knowledge expands. What was true yesterday may not necessarily be true tomorrow. Or, what is true in one situation may be less true in another.

If you are learning from your corporate experts, be prepared for conflicting answers. You may get more than one answer, or an unclear answer, or no answer.

Here’s why.

One definition of expert judgment states that a true expert may be simultaneously analyzing up to 50,000 pieces of information when making a decision or performing an action. Obviously, this is happening at a subconscious level. But that click-click-click in the brain is considering extraneous factors and confounding inputs that could affect the outcome or answer. With all that raucous thinking, the answer may not always be clear.

Recently, I heard two math experts discuss the difficulty of finding an answer to what seemed like a very simple question. However, in considering the multiple factors that would influence an answer, they determined the question could not be answered definitively. The parameters could not be set in a way to result in an answer that had a high degree of confidence.

In a different and far simpler type of example, you may have conflicting information or opinions on something such as company policy or best practice. Different facts such as conflicting information can be the result of several different people or departments putting practices into play over time without culling their files. Different facts may also arise from competing internal political agendas or infighting between power centers.

As someone who is just looking to get a straight answer, you may be very frustrated at these kinds of interactions.

Tactics for Getting Your Facts Straight 

If you encounter an expert who confounds your knowledge gathering process because the facts are not clear, you have a few options.

1.       Redefine your question or provide further guidance to seek clarity from your expert.

2.       Get a second opinion from another expert.

3.       In the case of conflicting experts, you may want to seek an outside third party depending on the importance of the discrepancy.

4.       Ask a decision maker to negotiate unclear facts or policies.

5.       If you can’t get clarity on competing “best practices”, use the latest version unless someone with authority decides otherwise.

As much as it would be much easier to live in a world of factual facts, the truth is that the truth can sometimes be relative. When you are collecting internal expertise for posterity, check with the highest authority you can enlist to make sure your facts align with corporate best practices, policies and agendas. And in the case of a defining a quirky equation, limit your problem to specific parameters and qualify your answers…if you can.


The Expert’s Curse: You Need Patience and a Plan

Ignorance isn’t always bliss. For experts in any field, whether they have double PhDs  or have been operating a complex machine for 20 years, the curse is the fact that experts, by definition, know more than they can ever re-tell succinctly.

Abraham Maslow is credited with developing the levels of competence that has true experts at the pinnacle of competence. Maslow said experts are unconscious competents who know more than most people will ever be able to learn about their field. Often, experts are unconsciously competent because they love their field; they think about their work even when they aren’t at work. Their knowledge becomes part of their identity usually internally and often externally.

Expertise Challenges Corporate Knowledge Management Efforts

If experts could stay in one position forever, their job never changed, their company’s mission never changed, the market never changed and technology didn’t evolve, expertise would not be a curse. But in reality, some or all of those things are bound to change over time. And that is when it is important to be able to excavate the expert’s knowledge for preservation, modification and transfer. Change presents challenges to corporate knowledge management efforts.

If your experts are so immersed in their own knowledge that they can’t completely reconstruct it, how can your company manage the wealth of corporate intelligence?

First, companies need to get their arms around the body of knowledge, skills and attitudes that make them profitable and valuable to customers. Many companies today who are facing changing conditions – such as mass baby boomer retirements, corporate downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, competition from nimble startups – are putting plans in place to make sure they preserve critical information.

When preserving critical information, most companies start by working with their internal experts to ensure business continuity. And that is when they encounter “The Expert’s Curse”.

Patience and a Plan

Many companies are finding themselves stuck at the intersection where they have made the decision to catalogue critical corporate knowledge and the place where they decide how to collect it. They need to make decisions about how best to collect it based on what technology and skills sets they must employ to gather information in a logical framework and how best to organize it for effective transfer while overcoming the expert’s resistance to describing their knowledge.

Often the expert’s resistance is simply the result of too much work to do. But many times that resistance is accompanied by a true frustration about how to begin to deliver a stepwise description of their expertise whether it is intellectual capital, processes, procedures or physical actions. How do  you impart what is often a lifetime of study and application – the subtleties, hints, tricks and clues- that lead an expert to make decisions that those with less experience are not as equipped to make?

You can never replace an expert. But you can isolate the unique knowledge they bring to your organization and lead them to re-tell it in a way that allows it to be captured and preserved. You can help your experts overcome their brilliant blessing disguised as a curse. It just takes patience and a plan.

Replace Products with Outcomes in the New Economy

We touched on this idea in an earlier blog, and “this idea” is that to stay competitive in a rapidly changing industrial environment, you need to focus on the business you are really in. The example was Kodak, that once shining icon of great invention that lost its luster when it failed to identify its core mission. Read the Kodak blog here.

Why is this important in relation to your corporate expertise? Simply, you must make a clear-headed decision about whether today’s expertise is relevant tomorrow because you will have to dedicate your valuable, finite resources to capture and retain it. This important decision is cause for some crystal ball gazing, for sure, but it is important work as you decide to put energy, time and money into making training and talent development decisions in your organization.

I was reminded of this critical decision today when I stumbled on this article in strategy+business  titled “The End of Conventional Industry Sectors”.  Here’s the link.

The article discusses how basic industries, particularly in the manufacturing sector, are evolving their business models to respond to a different culture spurred in part by exponential leaps in technology. For example, car manufacturers are reimagining themselves as the providers of on-demand mobility which may – or may not – involve owning a personal mobility device (eg. a car, for those of you following along on the home game).

The call to action to remain competitive is to think of your company in terms of the outcomes that it provides to its customers which may or may not involve the current products and services you offer. Had Kodak expanded its awareness that it was providing memory capture, as opposed to film and chemicals, it might have soared in the age of digital cameras rather than ceding the field to companies that made cellular phones and photocopiers.

As you assess the knowledge that you must capture and retain, consider the gems that reside in departments focused on the customer, especially sales. What do they know about your customers’ needs that may elude the design department that is focused on the body design of the latest model year car? Download the information from your sales and marketing people, survey your boards of directors, ask your CFO what’s rising, what’s falling and do they know why?

Beyond R&D and manufacturing, think about your future customers when you determine the kinds of knowledge that you need to retain and (dare I say?) exploit to remain competitive.

I also want to thank the great team at AmpTech in Malvern PA for hosting our workshop. Thanks to Drew Ortyn, Simon Kassas, Summer Kumar and Natalie Haritonow for arranging everything. We hope to be back with more topics soon.