Workplace culture is as important as ever. As organizations face the challenges of distributed work, they are also facing employee turnover at unprecedented levels. Many are referring to this as The Great Resignation. Gallup research suggests that 48% of U.S. workers are considering new job opportunities.
If you’re a training professional being asked to play a greater part in culture-setting, what should you do? For starters, you should recognize that training can play a powerful role in building culture. Training professionals are especially well-equipped to create a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing, which are key drivers of performance and retention. Research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity suggests top organizations are 5.5 times more likely to emphasize collaboration in their culture.
One culture-building strategy this article explores is celebrating subject matter experts (SMEs) in your programs. The role of SMEs in training programs has been debated over the years. Critics contend that SMEs don’t possess the skills to be effective instructors. Placing demands on their valuable time can also be a productivity drag. Proponents counter that SMEs have intimacy with on-the-job skills and benefit from being practically familiar with topics of instruction.
Yet little has been discussed about how SME involvement affects organizational culture. The reality is that SMEs can be critical culture-bearers given their tenure, skill set and associated influence as leaders. Building programs around SMEs can help training professionals promote a culture of mentoring and performance. It achieves this by rewarding organizational knowledge sharing, building empathy in top performers and establishing critical social ties.
Here are three key points to consider when leveraging SMEs in your own programs and how those efforts can encourage a more fulfilling and collaborative culture:
1. Empower Your SMEs
After recruiting and identifying your SMEs, it’s critically important to publicly empower and recognize them. Make it clear their talents are appreciated and strive to make it a proud moment that they’ve been selected to share their expertise. Doing so will show them that their knowledge and experience has been recognized and acts as a motivator for both their individual performance and wider organizational success.
2. Show SMEs the Effect They Have On Learners
Next, it’s critical to help SMEs understand how they’re helping others. Make it a point to outline the purpose and reasoning behind the instructional sessions. Also consider sharing any results or metrics you track. Encourage students to share their feedback and appreciation directly with SMEs and what exactly they absorbed. The goal is to get top performers empathetic and invested in their learners’ success. Studies in neurobiology show that helping others is intrinsically rewarding. Making sure that SMEs get the feedback loop on the impact that they’re having is critical to their future willingness to help coworkers and teammates both in formal programs and in their day-to-day responsibilities.
3. Move Beyond the Classroom
Lastly, you should consider how you can structure interactions between high performers (SMEs) and training subjects beyond the classroom format. Incorporate mini breakout periods into group sessions when possible. Ask your SMEs if they are open to shadowing sessions or video recording themselves during certain workstreams. See if they are available for subsequent coffee chats or office hours with learners and encourage them to make themselves available for follow-ups. SMEs’ hours are probably limited, but additional interactions can really make a difference. These exchanges create an opportunity for an expanded set of social ties in the workplace that otherwise may not have existed. Further, it creates an opportunity for learners to find subjects for observational learning and role modeling. Social learning theory argues that we learn by observing the behavior of others — and training programs can be an important facilitator of this interplay.
In summary: As a training leader, you should be excited about the opportunity to impact culture. Leveraging SMEs in your programs provides one pathway to create a closer-knit organization with a culture of knowledge sharing and performance.