Monday, May 10, 2010

Capturing information from retiring subject matter experts

There are many methods for capturing subject matter expertise. We have some strong arguments as to the most effective methods and also on how to organize and share that expertise; however when you are talking specifically about capturing expertise from a retiring SME the methods and goals are different from those you might otherwise adopt.

A worker with potentially decades of experience has a rich history that may be worth sharing. The operative word is “may” because although there are years of experience in place, the pieces that are really worth sharing are those that can impact future performance of the enterprise.

You cannot discount years of know-how especially the type of knowledge that comes only through exposure over time, resulting not just in proficiency, but in the ability to deal with unexpected situations. Unfortunately, in our experience many retiring SMEs that have great “tribal” knowledge also have a difficult time communicating specific information that improves the way the business operates. That's because storytelling (the tribal piece), full of anecdotes, factoids and arcane internal political references is easy. Trying to tie those stories to actual performance is another matter.

Our approach is to take a retiring subject matter expert and harvest knowledge that can be specifically tied to the job processes, procedures and tasks he or she has been charged with performing. Using this approach, not only do you focus on what is relevant to performance, but you also create a menu for navigating of these so-called knowledge nuggets that you obtain from that individual.

Context is all important and without it, information cannot be applied effectively.