December 7, 2023

It’s Time to Include the BME

Author: aysha-ashley-househ
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Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm.
Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm.

I recently heard from a colleague who shared the following story with me. He was facilitating a design meeting to create a course for new managers. In the room were his traditional stakeholder subject matter experts. Two new managers also were invited in to listen.

According to my colleague, one and a half days into what felt like an amazing data-gathering exercise, one of the new managers spoke up. She said, “Although all of this information is amazing and will ultimately help me become an effective manager, my biggest concern is surviving my first 30 days without being fired or sued. You just filled four whiteboards with tasks each of you do every day. I hope to get there someday as well. However, if this is the class you create for me, I’ll be overwhelmed by noon of the first day, and I won’t be able to use most of this anytime soon.”

The SMEs looked at each other and didn’t know how to reply. As far as they were concerned, everything they had been sharing was important for a new manager to know. What would they dare skip? Ultimately, they ended up starting over with the new manager leading the discussion and the experienced managers adding color commentary. They refined the four boards of content down to one and reduced what would have been three to five days of training to one to two days.

Does this story sound familiar to you? I bet it would to your learners. For years, our design models and processes have pivoted on gathering SMEs into a room to help us design our deliverables. Those SMEs continue to be valuable contributors, but this story introduces a new stakeholder, one who was instrumental in making my colleague’s new manager program successful: the business matter expert.

BMEs are the consumers of programs. They are the individuals who want to become an SME someday but have miles to go in their development and ability. They are also the ones we’ve been over-teaching for years and, as this story shows, overwhelming at the same time.

Introducing a BME into your design models can produce powerful results.

First, it will force you and your SMEs to rethink the word “important.” To an SME, all tasks are important, but to a BME, only certain tasks are critical. The rest can be learned later in the workflow where learning is optimal. Criticality is defined by the result of failure. Tasks where the impact of failure is hurtful, destructive or unrecoverable must be taught.

This leads me to my second point: Using a BME will force you to design a true blended learning program that includes both training and performance support deliverables. For years our SMEs have been helping us design deliverables that over-teach. We have been overburdening our classes, e-learning and most every training deliverable we’ve ever built with too much content. A BME will force you to move the noncritical tasks to the workflow to be learned later. They know how much they can handle and will want support learning the rest when it’s time.

Performance support is the tie that binds. It’s the missing link in a true blended learning solution. When married with training and introduced as a support tool, performance support allows the classroom to pare down a surplus of content to the most critical information.

Finally, using a BME will create a stronger relationship between L&D and your lines of business because you will pivot more on the true workflow than an assumed one. It has always amazed me how little we know about our learners’ workflow. We know what it should be, or ultimately could be, based on the SME’s view of the work, but that’s not usually the BME’s true workflow. Many SMEs have been removed from the workflow a BME tries to survive each day. Great sales reps become sale managers and are removed from the field. Great employees become leaders and promote themselves out of the daily duties of a frontline manager. These rock stars become SMEs. Unfortunately, most lose the new learner perspective. Adding a BME to your design mix will introduce you to the realities of the line of business in ways we haven’t been a part of for years.

SMEs are still an important part of our design process, but with workflow learning coming of age, as well as the incredible embedded learning technologies that can support it, we need to reorient ourselves around the realities of today’s workflow. The BME is the new stakeholder who must be a part of the process.

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