Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Subject Matter Experts - The 'Perfect Partner' in Training

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) - what comes to your mind when I use this term?

When I asked this question to some of my colleagues, the answers were plenty....."how do we work with them?", "Oh...they don't understand anything!", "some are nice - and some not worth mentioning", "..hmm it's tough to get the best out of them!" some more responses were lots of animated facial expressions! So, yes - each of us at some point in our professional life have worked with SMEs and have something to share about the experience!

I too have something to share about my own experiences about 'working with' SMEs. Though I'd like to believe that I don't 'work' with them anymore - I 'collaborate'! Here are my views on how you can collaborate with SMEs and make them a partner in training - the perfect partner - using the 'CIA' Model. (For the lack of any other acronym... I just created this easy to remember one!...no offenses!)

Communicate > Innovate > Accommodate

  • Communicate - Communication is the key to developing any relationship - with an SME or any other stakeholder on the project. However, with the SME it becomes even more important. Communication entails not only informing them about every progress and development in the project, but also keeping them involved right from the start. Communication should immerse them completely in the project so that they feel its 'their project' and can proudly boast about the same to their peers! There are project management aspects to communication that include sharing the plans, delivery times and methods, and meeting them regularly to share the progress. There are also ID-related aspects to communication, which include discussing the review comments shared by them and taking all comments to closure. Communication is the key to collaboration.
  • Innovate - Innovate in the use of tools and technologies when collaborating with SMEs. I have learnt that we need to be 'open' about how our SMEs would like to work with us on the project. Let's take a basic example. The most important aspect of an SMEs job is to review the content for technical accuracy. Now, there are some SMEs who are comfortable writing down their comments within the work product, others prefer sharing the review comments over a conference call after they have reviewed the product, and still others like to 'review' the product collaboratively. Some of my SMEs (not located at the same physical location as the project) have reviewed the work product in hard copy and then scanned and sent me the 'reviewd document scanned images '- cause that's what worked the best for them! These SMEs have inspired me to think and innovate about the tools and technologies that I propose to an SME when initiating a project. With Web2.0 knocking on the learning community, we have more tools available to us right now than ever before!
  • Accomodate - Finally, we need to accommodate as per the SME's style, preferences, and overall approach towards the project. I believe, adjusting and accommodating are 'positive' words and we should embrace them without getting our egos in between! For example, it is a good idea to ask the SMEs about the days and time that they would prefer a regular weekly meeting. It indicates that you are sensitive about their needs too. And this makes a tremendous difference to the way SMEs approach the project and the entire team. Or for example, it is always best to ask for their calendar so that you can schedule the project deliverables as per their availability and not 'pressure' them when they are on leave. I have also noticed that one of the key aspects of collaborating with SMEs is to understand that they have different priorities. The SMEs are super busy people whose first job is not training development! As instructional designers, we need to understand their priorities and build our activities around the same. True partnership happens when we understand each other's priorities and consider them like our own.

I have had many successful SME/ID partnerships whenever I have communicated, innovated, and accommodated! These three very basic 'tools' have helped me achieve my goals in designing and executing a training project.

Some more on specific tips and best practices another time. Watch this space...

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Role and Responsibilities of Learning Professionals

This month's Learning Circuits question - "What is the Scope of our Responsibility as Learning Professionals?" is a thought-provoker. (Thanks Manish for making me think!)

I have been engaged with ‘learning’ all my life and feel specifically responsible to help others learn for 9 years. As a learning professional and a trainer - I have always taken the responsibility of helping my learners learn. Whether it is from a perspective of an instructional designer writing courses that help employees of ABC company work better/quicker or from the perspective of a trainer, delivering courses to employees of my own organization - I have always felt responsible.

From a philosophical (and a theoretical) point of view, it is easy to say "no one is responsible for anyone else's learning" - but if not me, who else will? Besides, the point really is to help employees do better, gain higher skills, be ready for the changing times. Whether I do it alone, they do it alone, or we do it together – the objective is the same.

I am not sure what my scope is and if there are associated (and limited) responsibilities within this scope. As a learning professional, I constantly hop into the shoes of an instructional designer, trainer, human resource personnel, recruiter, line manager, supervisor, mentor, coach, change initiator etc....all multiple roles with multiple responsibilities but one single goal - to help the organization have the best set of people with the right skills. Therefore, I don't scope what I want or need to do. I don't have my responsibilities written out on a sheet of paper. I create them myself. Towards the common goal, I do all and whatever is that I need to do.

In my current role, I feel like a learning leader. I like to lead learning and also create and engage with the learning environment. I feel responsible to create a culture that can allow people to learn by sharing, by making mistakes and talking about them, by challenging current beliefs and systems, and working together to build new ones. I'd like to think of myself as someone who goes beyond what I teach in the classroom. I like to help and support people with the new content and help them find ways to use it quickly. No one asked me to do it - I feel that it is a part of my responsibility as a trainer. The learning doesn’t end in the classroom – infact that’s just the beginning! I constantly add to my responsibilities at times without knowing about them. Sometimes I wonder - are we responsible only for what we were asked to do – or also for what we feel is the correct thing to do. I believe in the latter.

Now that I have made my point about the responsibility, let me also talk briefly about what I am doing as a learning professional. My current scope! Well, I have noticed that over the last 3 - 4 years, I find myself spending more time in coaching and mentoring people by using 'not-so formal' methods. While the classroom sessions continue, much more is happening at the coffee machine, near the water cooler, and just by hanging around the workstations and talking to employees about what works and what doesn’t. People want more interaction so that they can learn - social learning as they say - is what I am getting involved with increasingly. And this is not only about their learning but mine too. I feel responsible to keep myself updated of all things ‘latest’. There is no pressure, no stress – instead there is motivation, drive, and positive energy.

While Web 2.0 catches up in my organization, I continue to form physical groups of people who can learn from each other and help themselves learn. So, whether formal or informal - whatever method is needed, I use it! Somewhere along the way, I also feel I help them become more 'open to learning' using such methods. It is important for us, as learning advisors, to help learners also become engaged with their own learning and feel responsible for it.

While a large part of my responsibility is towards teaching specific skills, I notice much more craving for learning towards developing career paths. As a learning professional, I also feel responsible for helping people think about and plan their career. I am not sure whose job it is - the HR, the supervisor/manager, the employee herself, or mine. But that doesn't really matter to me at this point. I like to believe that I am a trusted advisor of employees. I think I have the power to initiate positive change in employees. With this power comes greater responsibility. And I like to take that responsibility.

The bottom line is that we are all currently working in a dynamic environment full of opportunities offered by technology, learner motivation, and various training intervention tools and methods. It will be foolish to let go of these opportunities and limit and scope our thinking to ‘am I responsible to do this?’ It is time to exploit all the resources available and create many more learning communities and even more learning leaders like us who take up this responsibility - to help others learn.

Maybe it my passion for learning that allows me to feel completely responsible and yet not be bogged down by the scoping of the same. I feel free when I learn and when I help learn…