Pros and Cons of Virtual Knowledge-Sharing Venues for Onboarding

In a previous corporate role, I completed a Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA with several colleagues in support of a new supervisory role slated for integration into 500+ retail stores. During the PWA, those slated for the promotion and a contingent of incumbents told us they wanted NO eLearning in preparation for the new role. Each store had one, maybe two computers available for training, so availability was tough and re-accessing eLearning all but impossible. Our practice was headed toward pushing training out to the stores for Floor Sales Supervisors and Managers to deliver. So much for using eLearning as a preferred delivery tool. What now?

Plan B morphed into a Virtual Knowledge Sharing (VKS) event where we determined the best source of learning should come from those who had already mastered it…and could share their knowledge…and interact with participant questions real-time in a collaborative virtual event. In theory, this felt like a good plan, and for the most part, it was. So far everything was coming up PRO.

The pilot sessions went well, and the participants liked the ability to interact and ask questions. On each call we enlisted an experienced Sales Manager acting as a SME. They were indeed SMEs…BUT…we needed them to be BMEs (Business Matter Experts). SMEs can share the “What” but often neglect to provide the learning context of “When, Why, & How” that only comes from a BME. We (L&D) fell short in equipping our SMES to act as BMEs. That constituted our biggest CON.

Our L&D virtual facilitators who rode shotgun with the SMEs were equipped with scripted set-up questions gained from the PWA findings based upon key areas of anticipated/known performance concerns for a brand-new Supervisor. That part of the program worked very well – another PRO. What we had not optimized was the expectation that our SMEs would jump in on their own and fill the gaps in the dialogue. Turns out they all had the knowledge but were not equipped properly to be effective facilitators by us in advance. We overlooked the fact that being a SME does not enable even the best Sales Manager to effectively lead discussions as a BME; another CON oversight.

While each SME received a walk-through of the material in advance of the VKS event, the context of “When, Why, & How” was not emphasized enough as their primary contribution to the discussion. First of all, the SME weren’t trained facilitators, they were Sales Managers and incumbent Supervisors. Secondly, the participants were in that place where they did not know what they did not know…and the “right” questions to prompt additional shared knowledge and dialogue did not come easily, or at all. When this happened, our L&D facilitators did a good job prompting the SMEs with additional questions to stimulate continued sharing, but it was by no means optimized; another CON.

Despite the sub-optimization of our pilot, we all felt the VKS venue was the right delivery vehicle, and it continued and improved with each subsequent event. Talented L&D virtual facilitators saved the day with the extra difficult work required to nail down SMEs and turn them in BMEs. This extra effort was not welcome time spent, but we knew we needed to better screen the SMEs for the ability to interact readily and adopt the BME role.

The VKS approach was a new venue. Yes, we already delivered Virtual ILT sessions, but those sessions weren’t interactive discussions like the VKS design. We learned several things from the pilot:

  • The VKS approach needed a communications campaign to precede and promote the venue since it was clearly a CHANGE moment for participants, SMEs/BMEs, and the Store Managers we needed to buy-in to commit scarce resources. Change Management had not been a priority, and it should’ve been front and center. We (L&D) knew what was going on but our supporting cast and participant pool were not part of our little L&D world.
  • SMEs do not become BMEs with a single walk-through of the content…seems they already have a day job and facilitating discussions on a VKS is not a bonus…it’s a distraction from other fires burning on the selling floor.
  • Better coaching and facilitator notes of SMEs-to-become-BMEs are critical to help prompt the “When, Why & How” elements a newbie needs to hear.
  • The SMEs selected should have additional assignments as part of formal stretch goals that could be reflected as extra effort when performance evaluations rolled around. Volunteers are great, but committed and motivated volunteers are better and more reliable.
  • Celebrate your BMEs contribution to their management…VKS is not their primary role…it’s extra effort.
  • Leave 25% of your scheduled time for participant questions to surface…and they will…and they matter.
  • Record each session for other participants to partake who were unavailable during the scheduled sessions.
  • Provide a social, collaborative forum for capturing post-session questions and providing answers.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate that the social collaborative forum exists and how to get to it with clear examples of why it’s there and the benefits for participation like recognition and ranking for those who answer questions.

Closing Thoughts

All told, the VKS approach was successful, especially when a geographically dispersed audience is on the receiving end. Hopefully, the list of key learnings provided here offer some help and crash-avoidance tactics should your team go down this path. Our audience satisfaction and engagement scores were bright points despite a less than optimized launch. Even sub-optimized the participants loved it because it was interactive start-to-finish. We learned and adjusted, and things only became more impactful as sessions continued. Last thought: Do not under-estimate how critical the context of “When, Why, & How” is to a newbie going through on-boarding. 

Thanks for reading, and as always, if comments or ideas, please share. If questions or clarifications around the PWA Methodology and/or PWA Workshop surface, just ping me.

Take good care!


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning