Tip #153: Preparing SMEs

Subject matter experts rarely refer to themselves as SMEs and they certainly don’t find that role on their job descriptions! We need to approach them in a manner respectful of their other responsibilities and let them know how important their expertise is to the design of effective training.

My dear friend, Julie Almont, who is the Executive Director of Employee Development at Delaware Park, sent this wonderful description of how she prepares her SMES:

“I have embarked on a campaign to take the company’s TEAM leaders, who comprise many of our SMEs and peer mentors, and offer them a very simple approach to training tasks. These folks are line-level employees and first-time supervisors. They have never had any kind of ‘Train the Trainer’ experience. Most of them have been successfully multi-tasking for so long that they have little understanding for the novice and no understanding of the theories of training adults.

My reasoning is that our company moves people on a fast track to management. I’m doing myself a favor by preparing these future managers with the tools and understanding of the demands of properly designing and implementing a training program.

Often times, department heads put line-level champions in the new employee orientation/training process believing that the the assignment is seen as an act of recognition. They believe it to be a gesture of acknowledgment of the employees’ years of service and outstanding work.

After interviewing several of our employees who are seen as new employee ‘mentors’, I found that most see this type of duty as a frightening and troublesome nuisance. Why? Because, no one took the time to train them to train or set expectations.

One of the problems with continuing to use this process is that the workplace champion feels taken for granted and begins showing signs of negative behaviors. Not the right personality to assign to service training of new employees!

So, I created a few modules for our line-level team leaders that help them understand their role in all of this. Informing them that I see them as part of my SME reference group when writing proposals or developing programs, allowed them a sense of team pride and belonging…true recognition! I visit them in their workplace to add a level of comfort and confidence.

I am finding that some of the most important highlights of the training are:

  • Getting departmental approval and support
  • Defining the role of SME as both a developmental reference and facilitator
  • Providing training materials, references, coaching and support
  • Simplifying and encouraging the use of task training skills (Explain, Demonstrate, Practice, Test and Repeat)
  • Offering reward and recognition

The thing I like most about this program is that it is simple in theory and method. It certainly isn’t expensive…I take individuals out for a cup of coffee or lunch when I follow up. They enjoy the recognition. And, I have increased my workplace SME reference group by about 20%! ”

Isn’t that an inspiring model? Actually, knowing Julie as well as I do, I believe that folks in Delaware Park probably fall all over themselves volunteering to serve as SME’s to simply bask in Julie’s warm and generous attention!

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