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Subject Matter Experts: How to Engage and Influence SMEs

I am a dissertator at the University of Wisconsin, and my research topic is on “Factors that enable collaboration between the IDD (instructional design and development) team and the subject matter expert.” I have written a series of blog entries on the various expertise sharing factors, which I have discovered (slow drip style) can be utilized by eLearning managers. While conducting my research, one interviewee said bluntly: “the amount of collaboration really comes down to the personality mix of team members.” Well, yes and no. “Personality style” and “influencing style” of the group leader(s) and team members does play a role. But the topic of team member “style” is not specifically part of my research.

Recently, I and others at Web Courseworks have been attending UW-SBDC workshops on delegating, motivating, and leading teams. The following are a few “take-home points” related to engaging and influencing experts.

The “Secrets to Successfully Engaging Others” workshop is led by Patricia Clason. She has put together an impressive syllabus. Here are my picks of online resources:

The discussion that struck me was on research conducted as early as 1924 regarding the dissonance between what management thinks is important to workers and what workers actually think is important. For example, managers rated “Full appreciation of work done” as a low motivator, but employees rated the item high on the scale of important motivation factors. For those of us managing a team that includes subject matter experts, we should remember to not only deliver praise to the IDD team members but also to the subject matter expert. According to author Robert Cooper, recognition—to be successful—needs to be:  Immediate, Genuine, Specific, Individualized.  In this research article, “Understanding employee motivation,” James Lindner summaries the body of research on the dissonance.  One definition of motivation he cites: “a predisposition to behave in a purposive manner to achieve specific, unmet needs” (Buford, Bedeian, & Lindner, 1995) relates to our quest in motivating experts to share.  Usually the subject matter expert is not directly under the supervision of an IDD team project manager and thus influencing skills become important.

The Influencing Style Clock from HRD Press is a way to reflect on your own style of influencing. Better comprehension of the way you influence others during development can help you improve your skills at engaging experts. The psychometric instrument helps you classify yourself as a Visioner, Orchestrator, Regulator or Harmonizer.  Feedback and personal action items can be attained by a professional coach or from the various facilitator  materials available on line.  For example, I scored high as a Visioner. Although often seen as an energy source and idea generator when interacting with others on projects, it is recommended that I remember to LISTEN. If I slow down and give others the time to respond and contribute, my ability to influence increases.

As an IDD team leader, your job is to engage and influence subject matter experts to share and enthusiastically commit to help you develop quality interactive online content. This often also starts with you reflecting on the expert’s Personality Style (Behavioral Style) and your own Styles. I will discuss the various assessments for Personality Styles in my next blog post.

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