Require Subject Matter Experts to design

Photo Credit: Chris Pirillo via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Chris Pirillo via Compfight cc

This is the 2nd in a series of 5 weekly posts that are following up from my session at Learning Live this year.

This post is all about number 41 on my list of 50 big ideas. The big idea says:

Require Subject Matter Experts to design and deliver learning support

There are a few elements to this big idea which don’t appear at first reading.  I’m suggesting that we require Subject Matter Experts to do this. Making this a requirement changes the nature of the L&D relationship with the business. It’s not our role to deliver it – it’s yours. I’m also expecting the SME to design. Do they know what good looks like? Do we understand design enough? It’s also their role to deliver. Not yours, not someone else’s  but theirs. Can they? And it’s about learning support – not training, not resources, nor courses, classes, workshops.

Bearing this in mind, I’m reviewing the output from one of the groups at the session I ran. As last time, this is a stream of consciousness – I’m seeing the results for the first time since the event.

1. Simplify

It says beneath it – Twitter 140 and K.I.S.S. I agree completely. One of the most interesting challenges I have working with SMEs is the desire for them to add content. Layer upon layer. A decent conversation about the value of stripping back and building components which fit into my 52 minute concept soon yields valuable insight as to which content should be there.

2. Profiles readily available

This is really important – who is the best person in your organisation to ask about coaching? How do I know? How can I find them? I’ve developed a self-nominated approach to who the experts are. Quality assurance takes place after the fact, not before. If a SME isn’t of the calibre expected, the people using them should be able to tell me. For the time, energy effort and bureaucracy to pre-qualify them isn’t effective use of my time.

3. Cameras and reductive technology

If you have a smartphone you have the ability to take pictures, record videos and record speech. That’s 3 ways that a SME can create simple, in time, personalised performance support that are nil/neutral cost and readily available.

4. Simulation/park the recurring

Every email query a SME gets is a FAQ. Answering it in a linear one to one format is a waste of time for the SME. Publish the questions on a ESN such as Yammer, post the answers and invite contributions, work out loud and reduce the recurring demand. As people realise the support is ever present they’ll ask more complex queries which are personalised to the questioner.

5. What are experts learning?

The sub heading to this point is ‘what motivation exists?’. How often do your SMEs wotk in a space only they can access? Can one simply walk into the SME, sit next to them and ask what they’re doing and how they do it? It can take years to develop the expertise and insight that the SME has so how do they keep up to date? Before engaging them as a SME, challenge them to show their working out, expect them to demonstrate why they should be a SME, demand they prove their currency.

 6. Horizon scanning

Yes, yes, yes. The L&D professional’s role should be to identify what’s happening 6, 12, 18 months ahead and then approaching the potential SME well ahead of time to make sure they are engaged and ready.

7. Talent Management

The subtitle to this says ‘expert now good trainers’. This is also an interesting challenge. The SME who says they can’t deliver learning isn’t an SME. For me, the expert who can’t explain in simple therms the complex and complicated isn’t an expert. They’re a specialist. Find the experts and build the channels to turn them into the trainer (shudder) that the organisation needs.

8. Maintain enthusiasm

There’s a lot to be said about keeping your SME warm, maintaining relationships and courting them. They are, after all taking responsibility for part of your portfolio. They’re likely to be doing it for a range of reasons and you need them to do it for as long as possible*.

*Until you can find another SME.

9. Ball in your court

It says as a sub heading ‘back to you’. I have no idea what this means. If you were at the session please fill me in so I can understand what this means.


 It seems that this group were happy with 9. Regretfully, the brief was clear – I needed 10 small ideas and I’ve only got 9. You’re only 90% effective, you’ve failed by 10%. Are we satisfied with that?

I like 8 of the 10 9 ideas represented above – they’re relevant and appropriate and it’s clear from the way they’ve been written that the participants with this group were considering quality over quantity.

What do you think? Are the group on track or are there core elements which have been missed? Please let me know in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Require Subject Matter Experts to design

  1. Really liked this, Andrew. Again, I need to read it over and absorb more slowly.

    One additional idea I had would be to encourage the SMEs to communicate with each other and share their experiences of helping others learn – could be simply by talking to each other or more Working Out Loud, but with a focus on how they are helping others learn & how this is working.


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