Uncovering Your Knowledge Assets by Watching Your SMEs

In this blog I will attempt to lay out a skeleton of how to gather more value from your SMEs and provide you with a foundation for how to discover who your thought-leading SMEs are in the first place – and then how to use them to drive more consistency and quality in your knowledge-workers.

Who

In a previous blog, I talked about gleaning more value from what your executives think, but the topic is of course broader than just mining the execs, and should cover the three other main categories of knowledge-builders in your organization:

  1. Executives
    The folks with the budget and control, who have the fancy office, and who provide your organization’s mission, high-level goals and objectives.
  2. Subject Matter Experts
    Your “Gold Collar” Knowledge Workers that take your biggest corporate assets home at night and on whom you rely to produce the products and services with which you compete against business rivals. Without this cadre you have structure and a mission, but no stuff to sell.
  3. Process Experts
    The people who provide the administrative structure so that things work in a consistent and efficient manner.
  4. Non-corporate Experts
    The hidden category that exists inside other categories, and who know people and know stuff that could be very handy if you only knew what they were passionate about and who they were. These are people whose friend at the model-boat club is also the CIO at a firm to whom you want to sell products.

What

The objective is to build an informational framework and knowledge ecosystem that (obviously) includes Content Management, Learning Management, and Knowledge-Bases, but that also makes it visible to staff what other people’s informational habits are in terms of business-related subjects and particularly in their domain i.e. (See also Social Network Analysis)

The concept is that once you have established who your thought-leaders are, making their information consumption visible will drive the followship of people who will also use the material and thus allow your SME to dynamically drive the informational material that others use – reducing duplicated effort, providing more visibility of critical informational sources or artifacts, and reducing variation and improving quality.

How

This effect can be achieved in practice in many ways, but will typically involve a software tool that tracks information usage and might also make use of tagging, rating, and other features. An example of this in the academic scientific world is Connotea

The information you will want to make visible includes mainly the following:

  1. What they read – journals, blogs, periodicals, textbooks, etc.
  2. The Podcasts or other materials they listen to
  3. Any Video materials including vlogs that they watch
  4. The seminars, conventions, symposiums, etc. that they attend
  5. The groups, fraternities, SIGs, and CoPs they belong to

As part of this you mainly want to know how your SMEs rate them and what they think of them, and most importantly – how they think the material relates to the company and the industry.
By knowing the opinions of your thought leaders, others are able to not just find information sources in a better and more natural way, but will also be able to more readily gauge trustworthiness and reliability.

In order to drive this information-consistency, it is necessary to capture three major meta-informational aspects:

  1. The identity of the SME that reviewed or captured the information
  2. How they rated the article in terms of
    1. Trustworthiness
    2. Completeness
    3. Accuracy
  3. Why they view it as pertinent to the organization or domain
  4. The vocabulary they use to describe the information i.e the internal or domain-specific jargon that will form a controlled vocabulary

In addition you want to make the information-sources that your SMEs use visible i.e.:

  • Who they think the thought leaders are in the industry or domain
  • People or groups they think are authoritative
  • Sources of information they trust

Why

This does several important things for your firm:

  1. It uncovers and makes visible who your staff perceive as subject matter experts
  2. It allows followship which consolidates knowledge and drives consistency of use rather than having inconsistent practices and variation in methods and techniques.
  3. It forms the basis of leadership-replacement
  4. It feeds your Knowledge-bases with content that is rated and self-cleaning
  5. It builds a Controlled Vocabulary

Possibly the most important effect it has though, is that it builds Communities of Practice that in turn lead to higher staff retention and improved job performance respectively through an alternative career path to line-management, and faster access to better job-related information and knowledge sources.

An alternative to career progression through line management is progression as an expert, and a CoP provides the basis for recognition and peer approval in a domain of excellence. This allows people to earn a reputation for knowledge and expertise that is a valid and sought-after alternative to “going into” management.

By allowing the SMEs to select, rate, and drive usage of materials and sources, a significant amount of intellectual value is created, and re-use reduces duplication of effort and variation in practices. Since the SMEs are qualifying materials and sources, the average applicability and quality is higher than if people were finding their own way.

Conclusion

There are significant benefits to building an information and knowledge infrastructure that enables staff to see what materials and sources the SMEs consume and how they rate them. The net effect can include increased quality of work, decreased costs, and more work consistency with lower variation in quality.
It also provides a social structure to recognize expertise without requiring promotion into management positions, thus paving the way to lower turnover and increased tenure of your thought-leaders.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.

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Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

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