Posted tagged ‘knowledge sharing’

Everyone is an SME

20 August 2012

One of the recurring themes on my blog is a call for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to share their knowledge with the wider organisation.

In my view, this isn’t just an expectation: it’s an obligation. Organisations whose people embrace collaboration will prosper, while those who don’t will be left behind.

While the stereotype of an SME is a Sheldon-like character with superhuman intellect, the convenient truth is that we’re regular folk.

Of course the level of expertise in a particular domain will vary across a population, and the label of “expert” will naturally be assigned to those who have the most. However, it would be a folly to assume that the eggheads are the only ones who have anything to contribute.

You see, everyone is an expert in something. When humans work in a domain day in, day out, they familiarise themselves with it; they grow to understand its subtleties; they think up ideas to improve it; and they recognise the difference between business reality and academic fallacy when other people talk about it.

SamSo while they might not be experts in the entire domain, they will be experts in parts thereof.

Take Sam for example. He’s an administrator in the back office of a financial services organisation.

He’s no expert in superannuation, but he sure knows how to process a unit switch – even complicated ones. He processes dozens of them every day.

So when you need someone to record a unit switching tutorial, who you gonna call? It sure as hell won’t be Carl the CFP, or Mary the MBA, or anyone else with an acronym after their name. It will be Sam, the unit switching expert.


When we view the concept of subject matter expertise through this lens, we realise our roles as learning professionals need to change:

  • We need to stop deifying the few. This creates an “us & them” mentality which – even if affectionate – discourages the participation of the mortals.
  • We need to empower the many to share their expertise. In the modern workplace, this will involve social technology.
  • We need to cultivate a participatory culture. The best technology in the world is useless in an organisation with inhibitive policies and attitudes. Tools are meant to be used.

So unless they are doe-eyed novices, all the employees in your organisation have knowledge and skills to share. And if they don’t or won’t, let them find alternative employment with your competitors.


How social are our intranets?

30 July 2012

I tailed my previous blog post with the question:

What is the SII of your organisation’s intranet?

By “SII” I mean Social Intranet Index – a metric I have proposed to measure the degree of social functionality afforded by the platform. From 1 through to 10, the SII represents an increasing level of sociability.

Business woman using computer

I posed this question to 23 intranet managers from around the world, and they kindly rated their respective platforms against a 10-point likert scale. The results are displayed in the following graph.

The current distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

Graph 1. The current distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

I also asked the respondents to rate what they thought the SII of their organisation’s intranet would be in 12 months’ time. These results are displayed in the next graph.

The future distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

Graph 2. The future distribution of Social Intranet Indices across 23 organisations

While my sample size is no doubt too small to indicate statistical significance across the wider population, simple observation suggests the following:

We expect our intranets to become more social than they are today.

As you can see in the first graph, the ratings are quite spread out across the scale (x̄=5.1 σ=3.3). In other words, the level of social functionality is variable among our different intranets. Plenty of us are still using the platform as a broadcast medium, while others have added social elements.

As you can see in the second graph, however, the ratings shift noticeably to the right (x̄=7.5 σ=2.4). In other words, we expect the level of social functionality to increase over the short term. Whether we are planning, hoping or praying for this to happen, plenty of us think that in a year’s time our intranets will be personalised and our target audiences will be producing the content.

As an e-learning professional with a passion for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, I hope we realise this future state sooner rather than later.

The 10 Commandments of Microblogging

7 February 2012

As microblogging solutions such as Yammer sweep across the corporate sector, a melting pot of social media veterans and newbies inevitably begins to boil.

And this is a wonderful thing. Loads of new people from disparate areas of the business communicating and collaborating with one other, usually for the first time ever? I’m all for it.

Having said that, many of the noobs have never microblogged before. Some don’t even have a Facebook account, let alone Twitter.

This in itself isn’t a problem. They don’t need to qualify to participate, and their views are just as valid as anyone else’s.

However, it probably means they don’t know the ground rules.

And this can be a problem, because it frequently distracts other participants, discourages other noobs from joining in, and generally makes the whole process of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing much less efficient than it otherwise could be.

So what is good practice?

Good practice is a subjective concept, but some universal principles have emerged over the years.

If we set aside the obvious – bullying, belligerence, condescendence, and generally being an a**hole – then we have what I call the 10 Commandments of Microblogging

We'll need a supreme court or something to interpret these.

I. Thou shalt use a real profile photo.

It’s really important in the workplace – especially the virtual workplace – that we know what you look like. At the very least it signifies you’re proud to be a member of the team.

II. Thou shalt respect other people’s opinions.

You might not always agree with us, but that doesn’t make you right. Consider our contexts and circumstances before pulling on your Captain Correct lycra.

A subset of this commandment is: Thou shalt not put words in other people’s mouths. Be careful of how you respond to our messages. Be mindful of what we did – and more importantly, what we did not – say.

III. Thou shalt steer clear of politics and religion.

We don’t care what you do or don’t believe in. Nothing you say in this forum will change our minds.

IV. When linking to an article, thou shalt explain why it’s relevant.

We’re busy people. We won’t click a link just because you say it’s “fantastic”.

V. When praising someone, thou shalt describe the outcome.

Saying that one of your team members was “really helpful” is really nice. If you explain how and why it matters, you’ll encourage the rest of us to be really helpful too.

VI. When running a poll, thou shalt include all the options.

If our answers aren’t options, we won’t pick another one to humour you. We’ll just ignore the poll, and you’ll be left with skewed results.

(Hint: “None of the above” is often a get-out-of-jail-free card.)

VII. Thou shalt not post many messages in quick succession.

This is known as “flooding”, and it makes you look like a douche. If your messages are truly valuable, then spread them out over time so that we can digest them and formulate constructive responses.

VIII. Thou shalt create a group.

It’s great that you’re so passionate about medieval basket weaving, but you’re polluting our feed with irrelevance. Create a group and party like it’s 1399.

IX. If you appreciate someone’s message, thou shalt “like” it.

It’s called professional courtesy, and it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. It also shows your boss that you have a brain and you’re not afraid to use it.

X. Thou shalt answer questions like an angel.

If you don’t know the answer to one of our questions, refer it to someone who does. The point of an enterprise-wide microblog is that it generates value. If that value is not realised, then why would we bother coming back?


Of course, I’m not going to pretend that social media veterans role model these 10 Commandments like modern-day disciples.

We’re all human, and we stray across our lanes every once in a while – sometimes with good cause.

Nevertheless, I hope they provide some semblance of order that will extract the most out of our corporate communities.

The 2 sources of freebies

2 August 2011

A little while ago I attended the latest Learning Cafe in Sydney. The theme this time around was Learning in a cost conscious environment.

We’ve all seen it with our own eyes: when a company hits hard times, its training budget is one of the first casualties.

Bob Spence rightly pointed out that the training function is often seen as a cost rather than an investment. To counter-act that perception, the L&D team must do a better job of demonstrating its worth to the business in terms of performance and, ultimately, profit.

Stack of money

We all nodded in agreement and a lively discussion ensued on how we should go about doing that.

However in the back of my mind I was empathising with the poor bunnies who are stuck now with slashed training budgets. What can they do about their current reality?

Of course the remedy is simple: spend less. The challenge is doing that without compromising value.

While there are many pieces to this puzzle, I think an oft-overlooked one is the exploitation of freebies. Freebies are everywhere, just waiting to be gobbled up. The trick is finding them.

There are 2 broad sources…

1. The external environment

Everyone knows there’s a wealth of free learning resources on the web, and many of them are relevant to the corporate sector.

I’m referring to things like:

• Blogs
• Slides
• Videos
• Podcasts
• Webinars
• Social networks
• E-Journals
• News articles

Why waste money reinventing the wheel?

Whatever topic you care to nominate, odds are some expert somewhere around the world has written about it, talked about it, filmed it, or presented a slideshow about it.

And published it to the web.

2. The internal environment

This one isn’t as obvious, but it’s arguably more important: every employee knows something worth sharing with their colleagues.

Furthermore, I contend they have an obligation to do so.

Our job as L&D professionals is to facilitate that collaboration. I’m referring to things like:

• Discussion forums
• Wikis
• Communities of practice
• User groups
• Brown bag sessions

Why pay for training when you have an army of SMEs at your disposal?

Whatever topic you care to nominate, odds are some expert somewhere in the organisation can write about it, talk about it, film it, or present a slideshow about it.

If that person does not exist, perhaps a number of employees can chip in their nuggets of knowledge and experience, and together make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.