It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane….It’s a SME??

Posted by Liesl Christle - September 17, 2019



I am probably one of the least knowledgeable people out there when it comes to the Superhero Universes. Exhibit A - I have not seen Avengers: Endgame. Shocking, I know.

But I’d like to think I would know a Superhero when I see one - and in the L&D community there are many 'hidden heroes' that perhaps don't get the recognition that they should. Maybe it's because they choose not to be in the limelight, or perhaps they don't exercise their superpowers until absolutely necessary. Whatever the case may be, I've learned that it's beneficial to learn who these superheroes are - one of them being someone you are probably pretty familiar with…Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)!

So how do you recognize these superheroes?

Let's take Superman as an example - one of the few Superheroes I know (thanks, Dad!). He isn't recognizable, being practically invisible as the news reporter, Clark Kent. And yet, Metropolis wouldn't know what to do without him. They may not recognize that Clark Kent and Superman are one in the same (much to my shock - he's only wearing glasses!), but the fact that many don't recognize the 'superman' qualities of Clark Kent until they are in their moment of need doesn't mean they're not there.

I feel like Subject Matter Experts often get the same treatment. They are always there, being the Clark Kent of their specific area of expertise. We often don't realize that they are the personal Superman (or Superwoman) to the needs of our learning projects; you might just have to look at them in a new light in order to see how their superpowers can save the day.


Light The SME Signal!

When you need support, and your “SME-signal” is lighting up the sky, your SMEs are there to help you out. But like me, you may find that you're lighting that signal more times than you thought you would. And in all honesty, your SME may get a bit miffed with all of lights flashing in their sky. Instead of these one-off rescues, here are some tips to ensure you make the most of your time with your SMEs right from the get-go to ensure you have a superhero side-kick for all of your projects:

  1. Make room for their superhero powers - a SME's strength lies in their passion and expertise, and that's what is going to help you bring the training to life. From helping to define practical application to ensuring the critical points are covered, SMEs and their knowledge are invaluable when it comes to creating the perfect solution.
  2. Define and refine - who knows your audience better than your SMEs?! With their 'laser vision' they can provide insight and help determine learning objectives, training format, interactivity, etc. Their input may save the day when it comes to creating an impactful learning event.
  3. Even Superman needs a vacation - to the best of my (limited) knowledge, no one ever expects Superman to be more than Superman. It's not like we all of a sudden need him to carry a hammer and protect Asgard (like Thor…) in addition to keeping the people of Metropolis safe. But just to be sure, it's best to set expectations with your SMEs such as what sort of milestones you will need them for, how much time you think they will need to commit to the project, and identify if they have other time commitments/travel/vacation that you need to be aware of, etc.

Looking for more information to help guide these critical, initial conversations with your SME’s? Download our helpful resource to get you on the right track and save the L&D day! You can just consider it another tool in your superhero utility toolbelt.

Topics: training and development

Recent Posts