Subject Matter Consultant

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I saw this great question from Krystyna Gadd yesterday:

I’ve a lot of time for SMEs – they’re the expert in their topic and know it backwards, forwards and sideways. The smarter SMEs recognise this and know that ‘most’ people don’t need to know a topic in the same detail. I remember working with one SME who didn’t quite get this and wanted to design a 3 section elearning module; it was made up of an introduction section (one page), a content section (26 unskippable text pages), and a conclusion section (one page).

The example above is extreme, but describes some of the problems with using SMEs for in-house training. The focus on content, governance, and ‘just in case’ learning is strong. In this situation, I always challenge the SME to do the following:

  1. Describe the learning activity as if it were being told to a 6 year old, making sure it can be understood in one pass.
  2. If you only had 7 minutes of someone’s time, what would be the key elements that you would expect to be included? When they’ve done that, allow them 13 minutes of someone’s time. When they’ve done that, repeat but with 26 minutes of someone’s time.

A few things are likely to happen. Firstly, they’ll edit vociferously; this can be savage and painful so expect some push back. What it does though, is distil the content to the purest elements of acquisition – what people need to know. This is the espresso of the learning content if you will. They will then start asking about what people are likely to know – this is awareness content and can be built as choosable extras, that people can personalise. Finally, they’ll recognise that application elements can be done later, in the workplace, as part of the work process.

The role of the independent consultant is then different. Not knowing the organisational culture limits their ability to ‘present’ to an organisation; the jargon, cadence, unwritten hierarchies and intrinsic knowledge can limit their ability to engage with the audience/workforce. However, if the voice of the consultant is to question, challenge and diagnose what needs to improve, the consultant is best placed – missing the organisational baggage – to be able to confront the business issue.

Both SME and consultant have roles to play. Knowing how to use each to get the best value requires thought and understanding.

One thought on “Subject Matter Consultant

  1. Saw this tweeted about and thought I’d drop in and read. I really like the prompts for editing and how to position content and pushback is to be expected any time we want to push up against norms, usual ways of working or where we are trying to prompt change (of any scale) so it’s good to acknowledge that. Yes to having both and other roles. When we have in-house and external resources aligned and working together……then the magic can happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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