I speak frequently on the topic of Pitfalls of Engaging Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in training and content development. The number one pitfall by a wide margin is always SME availability: how hard it is to get time on SMEs’ calendars, cajole them into providing information, and coax them to meet deadlines.
It isn’t that SMEs don’t want to help. Most often they are very interested in assisting you. It’s just that they have another job that isn’t related to content development at all, and that job takes precedent. Knowing that availability will be a challenge, here are 12 strategies to combat it.
- Set expectations. Let SMEs know what the role is, what you need from them, how you’ll work together. If they know from the beginning, they can mentally prepare for what you’re going to ask from them during the project.
- Get buy-in right from the start. Explain the value of the program the SMEs will be involved in and ask if accept the challenge. If they don’t, you may need to show more value, or find a different SME.
- Discuss how SMEs can accomplish their role. Have an open conversation with your SMEs about what they can do to be successful in your training projects.
- Redefine their role to fit within their availability. Sometimes SMEs can’t give the time commitment required. If that’s the case, redefine their role to maximize their value within their availability.
- Adjust their workload. When you see SMEs missing deadlines, reassess the workload and make adjustments. While it’s never easy, it’s better to be realistic about what’s possible.
- Add more SMEs to balance the workload. You may find that working with two SMEs instead of one will accomplish the same goal with less frustration. This approach works especially well with manager and executive SMEs.
- Have the SME role added to their job description. If you’re using a group of SMEs consistently it may make sense to have their SME responsibilities added to their job description. They’ll make themselves more available because you really are part of their job.
- Offer a bonus. Money talks. No need to say more.
- Lavish the praise. Everyone likes to hear what a great job they’re doing. Sometimes SMEs are forgotten after the program is completed. Praise them before, during and after.
- Establish a personal relationship. SMEs are people, too! They better you know them, the more likely they’ll want to help you personally because they want to see you succeed.
- Communicate their way. Identify the way your SMEs prefer to be communicated with and use it. While you may prefer meetings, email may be more achievable.
- Plan consistent status meetings. Count on SMEs missing at least 20%, if not 50% of them. But if you plan for consistent status meetings, at least you’ll pin your SME down 50% of the time. That’s probably more than you are able to do today.