Too often, Learning & Development (L&D) is looking to provide all the answers. They work to get the information from SMEs, and create courses around it. They may also create performance support resources as well. And yet there are principled and pragmatic reasons why this doesn’t make sense. Here’s what I’m thinking.
On principle, the people working closest to the task are likely to be the most knowledgeable about it. The traditional role of information from the SME has been to support producing quality outputs, but increasingly there are tools that let the users create their own resources easily. The answer can come in the moment from people connected by networks, not having to go through an explicit process. And, as things are becoming more ambiguous and unique, this makes the accuracy to the context more likely as workers share their contexts and get targeted responses.
This doesn’t happen without facilitation. It takes a culture where sharing is valued, where people are connected, and have the skills to work well together. Those are roles L&D can, and should, play. Don’t assume that the network will be viable to begin with, or that people know how to work and play well together. Also don’t assume that they know how to find information on their own. The evidence is that these are skills that need to be developed.
The pragmatic reasons are those about how L&D has to meet more needs without resources. If people can self-help, L&D can invest resources elsewhere. I suggest that curation trumps creation, in that finding the answer is better than creating it, if possible.
When I talk about these possibilities, one of the reliable responses is “but what if they say the wrong thing?” And my response is that the network becomes self-correcting. Sure, networks require nurturing until they reach that stage, but again it’s a role for L&D. Initially, someone may need to be scrutinizing what comes through, and extolling experts to keep it correct, but eventually the network, with the right culture, support, and infrastructure, becomes a self-correcting and sustaining resource.
Work so that performers get their answers from the network, not from your work. When possible, of course.