Are You An Expert?: Stereotyping the SME

Tomorrow, I will be participating in the 2011 Midwest Forum on Talent Management right here in Madison, WI. The event is back for another year of discussion with nationally recognized speakers on accelerating quality company talent.

I am delighted to be speaking at this conference on engaging with subject matter experts (SMEs) as a way to enhance project development. Working with SMEs can be a challenge, and many writers and developers have a difficult time communicating with experts to acquire the information necessary to create online eLearning material. It may be difficult, but SMEs are critical to the development of your course materials.  Whether you’re managing knowledge or building talent in an organization, bottling the expertise of SMEs to build your body of knowledge is crucial.

The session will focus on ways to engage SMEs in your training project through techniques to “mindmeld” and share expertise. During the session, I will debut what I hope to be a humorous approach to talking about my model for SME collaboration by incorporating what I call “The 5 SMEs.”

A brief introduction to the 5 SMEs:

Sergeant SME – The Sergeant SME considers themselves above those packaging their knowledge. In order to share their knowledge with others, recognize the power relations between SMEs and product developers to level the playing field.

SME at Sea – At a recent conference, an instructional designer in the Navy said his SMEs are often out at sea. The comment inspired the SME at Sea, who represents those experts who are often unavailable. Maximize access to their knowledge by managing rigidly.


Mystery SME – Research shows that some experts have a very difficult time communicating why they know what they know. Finding a way to get to the core of their knowledge is a Rubik’s Cube of sorts. The challenge of working with a Mystery SME is to develop a shared language.


Stuck SME – The Stuck SME is not willing to use technology or consider new ways of being innovative. In the field of building computer simulations, a formal, organized way of incorporating user testing and involving the SME will get them unstuck.


Sparkless SME – When dealing with a Sparkless SME, you will inevitably find yourself competing for the SME’s passion. The challenge is getting the SME excited about the knowledge you are bottling and sharing with others. Ignite their passion for the project by spiking momentum.

Each of these types of SMEs presents different obstacles. In my session, I will further explain how to best communicate with SMEs in an effort to maximize project success. If you are an expert, avoid falling into one of the five stereotypes by being aware of the challenges you present and understanding the collaboration process.

I am really looking forward to this opportunity to speak on this topic and be a part of this year’s event. Click here to find out more information about the 2011 Midwest Forum on Talent Management or learn more about my Mind Meld: Using & Managing Subject Matter Experts forum session.