Your Partners in Training: Working With SMEs

Monday, August 14, 2017

Whether we in the talent development profession care to admit it or not, much of what we hope to accomplish hangs on those with the subject matter expertise. They can—almost single-handedly—make our training project development a walk in the park or pure drudgery. But we can help SMEs help us.

In “All About SMEs: Building a Successful Partnership,” a new TD at Work collection, the authors offer guidance on how you can select the right expert for your project. For example, would you choose Busy Betty, who has terrific organizational skills, but who is already spread too thin with her current projects? Or perhaps you would choose Skeptical Sam, who—despite having a previous negative experience with training—is detailed-oriented and supportive of those who he has worked well with.

In “Secrets to Successful SME Projects,” one of the issues in the collection, authors Sarah Wakefield and Patty Murdock explain the rationale for electing each, depending on how much time you have to complete your project, and how many experts are involved.

“All About SMEs” also provides pointers on how to demonstrate your skills and knowledge to your SME, so that they will more fully appreciate what you bring to the table. It’ll also give you tips on how to convey to your SME the benefits of working on the project with you.

Whether your SME is weighing in on content or presenting training, this collection provides tools and practical advice. For example, how can you transition a relationship with your SME from consultants to collaborators? In “Designer-SME Collaboration,” Nathan Eckel writes, “What sets collaboration apart from a normal working relationship is the sense of voluntary partnership, as well as synergy.”

Eckel suggests the following strategies to get to that point:

  • Continue to consult with your SME on substance and try to match your SME’s style. For example, consider their deadline orientation, whether they are laid back or work in a fast-paced manner, and how often they prefer to be kept in the loop on communications.

  • Allow the SME to take more ownership of the project by educating them on the why and how of design basics. For example, if you choose the ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) model, briefly inform your SME of the steps and process.

  • Further empower the project’s expert by explaining why you are making certain recommendations.

  • Finally, despite the reputation of relations between L&D professionals and SMEs being strained, a successful collaboration is furthered by presenting a friendly demeanor.

Among the tools in this TD at Work collection are:

  • A sample RACI checklist, outlining who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed of each task and decision in the training project.

  • A chart to help you decide whether you should rapidly prototype the training module, or draft it in detail.

  • A primer for SMEs on training design terminology that will help your expert understand the vernacular when you discuss the project.

  • A SME training inventory checklist. (Is your SME knowledgeable about how adults learn, for example? Can they establish a good rapport with participants?)

  • A chart listing the pluses and minuses of individual training tools, such as a whiteboard or DVD.

Take a look inside this collection to learn more. “All About SMEs” is available for pre-order (print only) beginning August 14, 2017. During ATD Member Week, check for a special discount on the collection on August 25, 2017, at!

About the Author
Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
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