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.

For Experts: 10 Tips for Providing Great Information

When I originally conceived the Working with Subject Matter Experts project, its focus was limited to providing information for instructional designers in the training and development field. After speaking with many people about the topic over the last several years, it is clear that this topic has many more audiences including marketers and public relations professionals who want to communicate with customers and other external stakeholders, corporate executives interested in the strength of their company’s competitive position and the actual subject matter experts themselves who want to provide value and continue their legacies.

This last audience, the SMEs themselves, are stepping forward with interesting stories and information about their own experiences. Experts appreciate being valuable to their companies. They seek guidance on how to be better partners in the knowledge transfer process.

For the experts, I have put together this list of 10 suggestions for experts who want to be more effective when communicating their knowledge. As always, I welcome input on this list in the comments below.

Without further ado…here are 10 Quick Tips for Providing Great Information.

  1. When you are sharing your knowledge, pretend you are talking to a court reporter. Share what you know slowly, carefully and logically. Your expertise will be used later to educate, train, inform and persuade.
  2. Keep in mind that procedures and knowledge are often being written for people new to the information not other seasoned experts. A new hire needs to know every single step in a procedure and needs explanations of complex concepts. For example, pressing the “enter” key after an action might seem like common sense to you, but would a new hire know to do it?
  3. When presenting introductory material, aim for the overall picture first. Context is critical to understanding. Describe the reason why the information is important, something especially important to a new hire or neophyte.
  4. Provide who, when and why your information is important. When you’re giving instructions for completing a specific action, don’t forget to mention who the knowledge will affect, when the knowledge is applicable, and why it is important.
  5. People only know what you have told them so include detail. Inaccuracies arise when people try to interpret ideas or fill in missing links of information. If you have doubts about your wording, jot it down on paper. When you are presenting complicated information to someone else personally, be sure to ask, “Did you get that?” before you proceed
  6. When giving information, stay on track. Avoid extraneous information that does not pertain to the specific topic you are documenting.
  7. Break procedures into multiple sections to make the information more user-friendly. If you have complicated information or processes, a good rule is to limit steps to about 10. If the number of steps becomes excessive, break a process into smaller procedures. When reviewing your information, pretend the procedure is totally new to you and imagine performing the steps or using the information as you have just presented it.
  8. While shortcuts are advantageous to someone who has worked in your field for a while, they are usually confusing to a new person. Share all the officially approved processes the first time. Before giving information on corporate process or procedure, ask yourself, “Is this our organization’s best practice?”
  9. Carefully review information that is returned to you for verification. If you make a change when reviewing a document, note your change directly on the page next to the information you are correcting whether using a review function in an electronic document or affixing a sticky note to a hard copy. Be clear about the change. Try to avoid ambiguous statements such as “No! This step needs rework.” Instead, try to use statements such as, “Add after step 3: Move the cursor to the next line before proceeding.”
  10. Whenever possible, provide documentation. If you have a slide presentation that you have delivered on the topic, provide that. You may have charts, graphics and sources in those materials that will fill in valuable information.

These 10 tips simplify what can be a very demanding process. There is no substitute for strong communication skills and mutual respect between experts, their companies and the people assigned to work with them in the knowledge transfer process. If you have an experience you would like to share, please comment below.

 

Answering an Important Question: “So How Can I Work With You?”

Lately, several people who are interested in the Working with SMEs and Finding Your SMEs methodology have asked me, “So how can we work with you? After we buy the book, then what? Am I on my own to figure this out for my company?”

You are not on your own! The books are good starting points for understanding how and why to work with your internal corporate expertise. However, I offer workshops, presentations and consulting packages to help you and your team pull through the ideas, execute on them and get results. If you are in the Philadelphia area, AmpTech in Malvern is sponsoring a public workshop next Friday, January 13 from 8:30 a.m. to noon, 3 Clear Strategies for Finding, Capturing & Transferring Retiring Expertise. You can register here.

If you want to work directly, here are a few ways I can help you today:

  1. Presentations for your organization including a one-hour overview of how to work with subject matter experts geared toward subject matter experts and instructional designers, and a half- or full-day session for decision makers who are concerned about losing valuable corporate knowledge.
  2. Ongoing consulting to pull through finding your experts, working with them and helping you move the process toward completion that includes presentations, relevant workshops to meet your particular circumstances and one-on-one sessions with key personnel.
  3. Do-it-yourself workshops on Working with SMEs and Finding Your SMEs that include presentation materials and a detailed facilitator guide with or without train-the-trainer assistance from someone on my team.

I also have a few projects in development this year to help expand my reach to help more people more easily.

  1. A handbook, Working in SMEville: Tips, Tools and Techniques for Subject Matter Experts and the People Who Work with Them, will be available for sale by the end of January. It is designed to help the training department and subject matter experts with some practical advice drawn from the two books organized quickly and simply in one place.
  2. This blog will continue on Tuesdays, and I am working on creating a weekly podcast that will run on Thursdays in this space with conversation and advice that addresses issues presented by clients and readers. If you sign up for weekly emails, you will receive the blogs and other notifications.
  3. Video classes and presentations on individual topics, both on-demand and live.

Admittedly, the two books can be used as working documents with charts, checklists, diagrams and explanations of the theory behind them for some intrepid individuals to implement on their own. However, I have developed workshops that tie the pieces together and take you through the various processes. And I would be very pleased to work with you to make the plans work inside your organization.

If you are interested in exploring ways we can work together, contact me at workingwithsmes@gmail.com and let’s schedule a discussion.

 

 

 

Does Your 2017 Strategic Business Plan Include Retention of Your Experts? Public Workshop on Capturing and Transferring Corporate Knowledge

Your strategic business plan for 2017 must include a comprehensive assessment of your internal corporate expertise, and a plan for retaining critical assets. If it doesn’t, it’s not too late.

Join us for a second presentation of this public workshop in the Philadelphia area on Friday January 13 based on the book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave, where we will look at the kinds of expertise you need to capture and how to make those decisions. We had a lot of great participation at the December session, and we look forward to another exciting exchange of ideas.

I hope you can be there. It will be so much better with you. Here are the details.

Topic: Working with Subject Matter Experts: 3 Clear Strategies for Finding, Capturing & Transferring Retiring Expertise.

Date: January 13, 2016

Time: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Place: Malvern, Pa

Cost: $30 (lunch will be provided)

Seating is limited to allow maximum participation by attendees. We recommended that you send more than one person from your organization to facilitate discussion within your company.

A nearly perceptible anxiety surrounds the retiring baby boom generation in corporate America today. Many thriving businesses began in the post World War II manufacturing boom. As those knowledge workers leave for the sunny golf courses of Florida, they take with them lifetimes of knowledge and skills that some businesses will never replace.  But it doesn’t have to be that way for your organization.

Join us for the second presentation of this workshop on January 13. Click here to register.

Our host for the event, AmpTech, serves as a provider of expertise for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups.

AmpTech Commercialization Center

As part of the Greater Philadelphia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem, AmpTech maintains a collaborative environment where start-ups, service providers, investors, academia and local businesses can join together to get products and services to market FASTER. AmpTech bridges the gap for start-ups and corporate innovators by providing a place to develop products quickly and under one roof. AmpTech provides rapid prototyping capabilities establishing an opportunity to pilot various technologies before market launch.

31 General Warren Blvd, Malvern, PA 19355, USA
info@amptech.org   |   484-320-8938
http://amptech.org/

Join us for this popular workshop Friday, January 13 in suburban Philadelphia where we will be discussing managing corporate knowledge assets. Click here to register. Lunch and a copy of the book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave are included in the registration fee.

 If you have questions, you may also contact me directly at workingwithsmes@gmail.com.

 

Subject Matter Expert or Poser?

I love doing live workshops, webinars and seminars because the questions and discussions are usually a great place to further explore the subject matter of subject matter experts. A discussion at a Working with SMEs workshop the other day led to an issue that deserves a quick mention – and that is, how do you know if you are working with a true subject matter expert or if you are dealing with a poser?

Let’s define our terms, and that will get us where we need to go pretty quickly.

A subject matter expert (SME) is somebody who has dedicated about 10,000 hours to learning a subject. In working years, that translates into about five full-time years of effort. People who earn PhD’s, for example, dedicate effort to research and working in a very small area of study for least as many years. They are expected to be able to defend what they know to a jury of their peers and then write several hundred pages of documented effort showing their work.  A Harvard Business Review article from 1989, The Experts in Your Midst by Michael J. Prietula and Herbert A Simon, defines a SME as someone who is analyzing and applying about 50,000 disparate pieces of information in their head at one time. It goes mostly without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, they know their subject well enough that their analysis and ability to problem solve is mostly happening at a subconscious level.

An expert in business and industry who hasn’t earned an official PhD  might have dedicated 5, 10 or 20 years perfecting their craft at a machine that manufactures a specific item or part, or by learning from their customers while meeting their needs. That’s true expertise, too.

What is a poser? For that, I defer to Merriam Webster. Definition #2 is “a person who poses.” The etymology of the word is “pose” and the first known use is 1888. A person who poses as a subject matter expert is not a subject matter expert but is donning the position. How do you know if that is what you are dealing with?

One of my mentors, the late turnaround  artist Elmer Gates, could sniff them out pretty quickly. When he took over a company, he called his direct reports into his office and asked them some basic questions about their lines of business such as how to defend their sales projections. He asked detailed questions about their customers’ businesses. If they didn’t have the hard data, he asked them to go find it. When his direct reports drilled down into the organization and found the answers, the actual knowledge usually resided one or two levels down.

Your actual experts are doing the work every day. They understand their machines, they understand your customers. Posers tend to be the people who know how to play the political game and leverage the actual expertise of others.

So when you are dealing with someone who puts themselves out as a subject matter expert, ask for detail. Look for the data. I read an article recently that stated an expert is usually known by their peers, but that is occasionally untrue. A master politician can accrue a lot of political capital to defend their job and bluff their way through a meeting. If you ask your subject matter expert for detail and they don’t have it, you may have a great politician or people person on your hands, but you don’t have an expert. You have a poser. Elmer Gates usually sent those people a pink slip because they added no actual value to the organization.

Spend your valuable, finite resources capturing  and retaining irreplaceable knowledge in your company, and make sure you are talking to actual experts by asking the hard questions and looking for detail. People with great people skills and master politicians are great to have around and companies need them, but they are a lot easier to replace.

Join us for a workshop Friday, January 13 in suburban Philadelphia where we will be discussing this and related issues. Click here to register. Lunch and a copy of the book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave are included in the registration fee.

 

Anticipating Training Needs for the U.S. Manufacturing Sector

Certainly, more than at any time in recent memory, we are in uncertain times. A surprising U.S. election result… Brexit… Cuba. You can feel the global shift. Among all the hype and hyper-nationalism may appear a chance to change course from outsourcing jobs from the U.S. to bringing jobs back.

The U.S. can’t continue our slide into deficit spending without the substantial amount of productivity needed to support that spending. And we certainly can’t sustain a trade deficit that has us buying more from foreign countries than we’re selling to them.

For some companies, this shift signals opportunity. With opportunity comes costs. Some of the costs of bringing back manufacturing jobs will include the cost to train or re-train workers. 

The November issue of TD, ATD’s monthly talent development magazine, featured an article on the cost of training workers. The ATD 2015 study sponsored by Bellevue University and the Training Associates included more than 300 organizations. The study analyzed annual per capita training costs in 4 sectors: finance/insurance/real estate, manufacturing, information and software, and public administration. The average direct expenditure overall for all sectors was $1,252 per employee. However, the expenditure for manufacturing workers at $503 per employee lagged far behind the training costs in the other sectors. The low rate of training expenditure on manufacturing employees was attributed to several factors, among them “less specialized and less rapidly changing development needs” and the fact that more manufacturers are located in China, India and Mexico where “the costs of developing and delivering training may be much lower than in the United States  or other advanced economies.”

If an enterprise is to survive today and thrive tomorrow, it must always be alert for changes in the environment. That includes being able to interpret current events in light of historical trends.  If companies can anticipate a shift to increased manufacturing plants in the U.S., companies will also be gearing up to train those workers.

Right now, I am seeing a perceptible anxiety among manufacturers regarding losing their experienced, legacy employees to retirement and their inability to find qualified employees to replace them. If we anticipate a shift to more manufacturing jobs in the U.S., the need to find and train workers for this sector will become more acute. And, looking at the TD study, it will also become more costly.

The goal of training is to increase the productivity of employees. With this in mind, it is time for companies to consider the kind of training that will support new U.S. manufacturing workers with rapid uptake, skill reinforcement and to do it cost efficiently.

Join us for a workshop this Friday, December 16 in suburban Philadelphia where we will be discussing this and related issues. Click here to register. Lunch and a copy of the book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave is included in the registration fee.

Preserving Expertise: Essential for Entrepreneurs and Early Startups

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Are you an entrepreneur or startup at the beginning of your business and product lifecycle?  If so, you might think that it isn’t yet time to worry about cataloging your internal expertise, after all, you are still making it up as you go along. Right? Half right.

The truth is that there is no better time to start to memorialize your business processes and product development methods than from the very beginning. In fact, if you take knowledge management seriously from day one, you are less likely to find yourself in the position that you have to worry about losing key employees. And let’s face it, if you are a young business, you may find some of your talent will be wooed away by competitors or some other interesting project because, by nature, people attracted to startups are adventurous individuals who are often just passing through.

Knowledge management is as important for your young business as for a mature organization.

Knowing a few essential tactics for managing your expertise and implementing knowledge management tactics early and systematically can help you avoid playing catchup later.

Consider the following.

  1. People: Some of the best and brightest people who will ever cross your threshold are with you today, bringing their ideas to the party. Make sure you capture the nuances of their contributions to preserve the details of what you hope will become your competitive advantage.
  2. Processes: By implementing a knowledge management protocol in your early stages, you will have a system for capturing knowledge as it is developed, storing it in a way that it can be easily retrieved while you are working and doing it in a way that is user friendly as you onboard your first employees. When you have the technology and system in place upfront, you establish a culture of learning.
  3. Business Acumen: The habit of preserving your processes and methods from day one indicates to investors and early employees that you plan to stick around. It also demonstrates that you are forward-thinking.

Storytime

I was brought on to an early stage startup to document its innovative software application that it hoped to sell to large corporations. The idea was very creative and had a lot of potential to streamline what was then a very cumbersome, manual process. The company founders had attracted some early stage funding from a public entity after undergoing stringent scrutiny. As I began to document the software for training purposes, I uncovered many serious glitches in the program that made it non-functional for actual customers. It turned out that the developers and early business partners could only run tests, but it would not work for in an external environment. Instead of writing software documentation, I spent three frustrating (and ultimately uncompensated) months uncovering the problems and working with the software developers to try to correct the problem.

Moral of the story: When the owner tried to write a technical manual for instructions, it couldn’t be done because the software didn’t work in the real world. Creating training and documenting processes can help you uncover problems before your customers do!

What You Can Do about Knowledge Management as an Early Stage Venture

Learn how to proactively think about knowledge management early in your business lifecycle because all successful businesses today are learning organizations.

Next Friday, December 16, I’ll be in Malvern, PA in Philadelphia’s western suburbs for a public workshop where we’ll be talking about how to determine your competitive advantages, work with your subject matter experts, and scan the environment to preserve your edge going forward.

If you are part of a startup or an entrepreneur, it would be great to see you there to add your perspective to the discussions.  Register here.

What Are You Doing About Retiring Expertise? New Book and Public Workshop on Capturing and Transferring Corporate Knowledge

What are your plans for preserving your internal corporate expertise in 2017?

Join us for a public workshop in the Philadelphia area on December 16 based on the book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave, where we will look at the kinds of expertise you need to capture and how to make those decisions.

Here are the details.

Topic: Working with Subject Matter Experts: 3 Clear Strategies for Finding, Capturing & Transferring Retiring Expertise.

Date: December 16, 2016

Time: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Place: Malvern, Pa

Cost: $30 (lunch will be provided)

An additional session in January will be available to accommodate holiday schedules. Seating is limited. Recommended that you send more than one person from your organization to facilitate discussion within your company.

A nearly perceptible anxiety surrounds the retiring baby boom generation in corporate America today. Many thriving businesses began in the post World War II manufacturing boom. As those knowledge workers leave for the sunny golf courses of Florida, they take with them lifetimes of knowledge and skills that some businesses will never replace.  But it doesn’t have to be that way for your organization.

Join us for the workshop on December 16. Click here to register.

Our host for the event, AmpTech, serves as a provider of expertise for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups.

AmpTech Commercialization Center

As part of the Greater Philadelphia Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem, AmpTech maintains a collaborative environment where start-ups, service providers, investors, academia and local businesses can join together to get products and services to market FASTER. AmpTech bridges the gap for start-ups and corporate innovators by providing a place to develop products quickly and under one roof. AmpTech provides rapid prototyping capabilities establishing an opportunity to pilot various technologies before market launch.

31 General Warren Blvd, Malvern, PA 19355, USA
info@amptech.org   |   484-320-8938
http://amptech.org/

For more information about AmpTech, click here.

If you have questions, you can also contact me directly at workingwithsmes@gmail.com.