Podcast Episode 7: Small and Medium Business Survival Planning

In this episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, co-host Nathan Eckel leads a discussion about the importance of finding your critical corporate advantages especially in small and family businesses where succession planning can be even more sensitive than in larger, publicly-held corporations.

You can leave behind a sustainable organization by putting supports around new leadership.

Find out your most critical assets by building a map of your competitive advantages that explore your most valuable products, processes and people.

We welcome your feedback in the comment section below. Thanks for listening!


In Favor of a CLO? When Next Gen Learning Needs a View from the Top

This post originally ran May 28, 2016.

When organizations do knowledge management well, it is usually because territorial battles waged. Someone with authority at the top made decisions and roles of responsibility in the training department realigned. That is why it is critical for organizations to have a chief learning officer sitting in the C-suite. Territorial battles need referees who have the big picture and no entrenched interests in preserving an individual fiefdom in the kingdom that is your corporation.

Knowing which knowledge to capture, retain or discard requires trainers to be part of the inner circle of business leaders in an organization. It becomes the role of the training expert to also understand business in general as well as their organizations and industries specifically so they can be at the helm with other executives to assist them in making these decisions. We are beginning to see Chief Learning Officers (CLO) alongside the CEO, CFO, CIO and, in medical organizations, CMO. As we think about successful businesses as learning organizations, it follows logically that the training department is an essential member of the team that determines the direction of the organization.

This critical role at the big kids’ table requires trainers to learn the business of business, as well as the industry in which they work. Without industry knowledge, programs lack context and this contributes to the fact that training programs often wind up as shelfware, never used or cast aside after a brief time. If the instructional designer has little knowledge of the business or industry in which they work, how can their programs have context or relevance to the enterprise? The answer, of course, is that they can’t.

The subject of knowledge management is now as much part of an organization’s success strategy as its sales, R&D and marketing strategies.

Here are 5 steps to guide your organization’s critical knowledge capture requiring a champion in the C-suite

1. Funnel all training and knowledge management through one pathway in the organization that ends at the top

2. Identify the expertise you need to capture by doing a matrix walk-through

3. Create a plan for working with your critical subject matter experts and conduct interviews that result in capturing critical information for your training programs

4. Develop a logical single system for storing and retrieving critical knowledge

5. Establish a review process to assess the ongoing relevancy and accuracy of critical knowledge stored in your organization

The final arbiter of the value of existing knowledge and its relevance going forward must be someone who has the widest possible vantage point in the organization. That person needs to have as few attachments to the way things are done as possible because it is their job to envision the way things need to be. CLOs,  or someone in a similar high-level, above-the-fray capacity, needs to be able to make the tough calls regarding which training is most effective and which consultants are adding value.

Does your training department have a strong voice in the executive suite?

Podcast Episode 6: Succession Planning is More Than Replacing an Individual; It’s About Knowledge Transfer

Welcome to Episode 6 of the Working with SMEs Podcast.  In today’s conversation with co-host Nathan Eckel, we discuss the challenges of succession planning. Succession planning is more than just grooming the right person and getting out of the way, but it’s about making sure new leaders have all the information they need to move forward.

Nathan reminds us, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.”

A great leader must embody qualities like vision and the ability to inspire, but he or she also needs the right information to be able to accurately define reality and make good decisions. A strong learning organization has all that information available and usable.

An organization is a living, breathing organism. Everybody’s contribution makes the organization work, and that is why knowledge capture and transfer is at the heart of success.

As your key people retire, are you capturing what you need to know for business continuity?

(Warning: Peggy tells a joke in this episode.)

The Good News About a Meticulous Project Plan


Meticulous planning usually results in…well…a meticulous plan. If you’ve ever been asked to follow a plan, you know that when the perfect plan meets reality, you need to be flexible.

It is in that flexibility that you achieve your best results. As events unfold, budgets are blown and circumstances change, the truly successful know how to pivot. This doesn’t argue for proceeding without a plan but it does argue for responsiveness.

I was reminded of this yesterday during a workshop when we were talking about the challenges of developing training. Several times, our discussion circled back to the same conclusion: Many issues that arise during a project can be avoided by setting out expectations and aligning the right resources in the project planning stage.

Conversely, we also discussed that some issues that arise are unavoidable even when they are considered at the planning stage. Personnel change. Schedules change. Sometimes the ideal doesn’t match reality no matter how hard we try to account for it.

True excellence, it seems, occurs when a good plan meets competent individuals who know how to respond to changing circumstances.

The U.S. Marine Corp Seven P’s

As I was considering the importance of good project planning today, I was reminded of the following saying most often attributed to the United States Marine Corps:

“Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

The military often precedes and exceeds the private sector in leadership and training initiatives. Therefore, it is no surprise that it also gives us some of these gems of wisdom to live by. But in deference to the fact that the private sector is not as well-regimented as the military and its human resource not as easily commanded, the softer approach to planning in the private sector accounts for many of the inconsistent results.

As the training group discussed yesterday, many issues can be anticipated and accounted for in the planning process. In fact, crises can be averted when the right resources are applied in the right amounts at the right time at the planning stage. However, in an age of constant change, it pays to master the arts of flexibility and responsiveness. For example, if a project loses a critical person midstream, there is a far greater chance of completion if there is a plan in place that the rest of the team and any new members can continue to follow. In a cult of personalities where individuals run the show, the loss of any single critical team member can derail a project. A well-run project has backup resources and focuses on the plan, not any single individual.

While the best laid plans may go awry, anyone who has ever achieved anything of note knows that a well-thought-out and well-executed plan employing well-considered resources was somewhere at the heart of it.

Podcast Episode 5: The Importance of Interviewing Experts and Sharing Information

In this episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, Nathan Eckel and I touch on a few issues regarding the importance of interviewing experts in an organized way and the value of information-sharing in a learning organization.

A few things we talk about today include:

  • decide what is important in your organization before you decide who is important in your organization
  • the value of interviewing your employees in an organized way for training purposes
  • why you need to have a culture of sharing information among employees in a learning organization

Thank you for listening to the podcast. Please add your thoughts and comments below.

Work with Your Experts the DIY Way: Introducing the Working in SMEville Workbook


Several people have asked me to put together a DIY version of Working with SMEs with worksheets and step-by-step checklists, templates and guidelines to show you exactly how to work with your subject matter experts. Done.

Working in SMEville: A Workbook is now available in an 8X10 inch format that you can write in, copy pages, and use in a way that gives you a step-by-step method for getting information from your expert in a linear way.

The workbook is in two sections. The first section is a distilled version of a workshop about the 10 Types of SMEs and how you can work together to overcome specific, common hurdles. The second section is the step-by-step guide with templates and worksheets to help you gather information, verify it and evaluate your work in a systematic way.

Working in SMEville: A Workbook is a quick way to immediately apply the Working with SMEs methodology step-by-step in a DIY way.

We hope this inexpensive workbook helps you through the process of working with your subject matter experts and managing knowledge transfer in a systematic way.

We are interested in your comments and feedback below.


Podcast Episode 4: How to Position Your Company for a Knowledge Transfer Best-Case Scenario

In this week’s episode of the Working with SMEs podcast, co-host Nathan Eckel and I discuss the three knowledge transfer scenarios in which a company will find itself: Best case, worst case and second worst case.

Find out which scenario your company is living today, and how to up your game (if you need to!).


In summary:

The worst case scenario is that your employees with your most valuable, critical skill sets have already left and you will never see them again. Ouch!

The second worst case scenario is that your employees with your most valuable, critical skills sets have retired but you can get them back – on their own schedule, at their own price.

The best case scenario is that you use the last, best years of your most valuable employees’ tenure to capture what they know so you can pass it on.

Which reality are you living today?

We’d like to hear how you handle the expert knowledge capture in your organization. Please comment below.


Company Culture Promotes Right-the-First-Time Attitude


Last week, I attended the AGXPE regional meeting where we had info-packed sessions on the process of getting compliance documentation right. It was a pharmaceutical-focused group so we had a lot of discussion around FDA inspections. But, as any industry under regulatory supervision knows, the kinds of best practices and standard operating procedures that guide safety can be found in any manufacturing environment where employee and customer lives are on the line.

Two perspectives emerged from the sessions. First, the group discussed the many issues involved in getting data right the first time. Second, the group wrestled the issue of quality control checks on the back end. In both cases, many of the same attitudes and issues underlie the problems that result in faulty data and information capture that, in the case of pharmaceutical manufacturing, often result in lines shut down, batches thrown away, lots recalled or patients injured.

To get to the heart of the accuracy of initial data entry and quality control, you have to take a close look at what causes human error. Causes are almost as varied as the humans involved.

The AGXPE group had its share of trainers in attendance, and training people know that they are the first stop when a performance issue is uncovered. Training people also know that often the problem can’t be solved with training alone.

A complex human problem, especially this one, cannot be narrowed down to one or two specific issues with a couple of quick and neat little fixes. What really is going on is a complex web of human knowledge, skills and attitudes that come both from the personal background and experience of individual employees combined with the culture of the organization.

This is where the organization can affect the outcome. The one thing organizations can address and control is the culture. A right-the-first-time mentality can be cultivated, encouraged, rewarded and modeled from the top down. In fact, it is the only way that a company can reinforce behaviors that it values.

After employees are imbued with the company culture of responsibility and accountability at the source where information is captured or products manufactured, then training can come in and do their jobs by providing guidance and methods for achieving excellence the first time.

If solving the complex reasons behind human error were simple, the problem would not exist. But if solutions were impossible, near-perfect performance would not already be happening in plants around the world where examples of human excellence abound.


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.