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As L&D leaders, we’re always trying to figure out how to be closer to our businesses. A critical part of that approach is finding those people within the organization who are the authentic voices of internal experience: our subject-matter experts!
Collaborating with subject-matter experts, or SMEs, can help you build great learning experiences. Through these partnerships, you and your team can co-create and develop engaging content that matches the needs of your teams and delights learners.
But how can you source and manage a sustainable collaboration with your SMEs? At our recent meetup, the L&D Collective discussed a range of insights and experiences to help you develop and grow your SME partnerships in a fruitful and impactful way.
We spoke about helping SMEs to stay engaged and motivated given their day jobs, and how to manage those relationships in a way that keeps them coming back for more collaboration. Now, let’s jump into it.
Keen to join the conversation? Sign up for the L&D Collective today!
Our recent L&D Collective meetup gave us a fantastic list of pro tips to develop and sustain SME collaborations. From setting clear expectations for SMEs through to sharing a clear definition of learning needs, here are ten of the best.
What works well for Cheryl Haga, Director of Knowledge and Learning at Deel, is being incredibly detail-oriented when you engage with your SMEs. As she says, you need to let them know how much you’re asking of them so they can adequately plan ahead and make sure you get their final sign-off.
By ensuring you do a really good job of celebrating the effort the SMEs put in, you can continue to get that ongoing buy-in. Remember: giving out kudos to your SMEs means they’ll be incentivized to reach out to you first next time a learning need arises.
When Noelle Sue Chalfant-Morra, Director of Training at Navis, engages outside SMEs, she has an entire format laid out of what is expected of an SME. The layout includes the timeline, responsibilities, and what needs to be done.
The next step? Ensure SMEs are thanked for their time, and importantly, that the SMEs aren’t penalized for their collaboration. These new responsibilities are not part of their day job so you have to make sure the core requirements of their day job are not negatively impacted.
At Carnival Cruise Line, Learning Programs Manager Hakeem Basheer has to think about crew members who work onboard for eight months, 14 hours a day. Anything he puts in front of them besides compliance has to connect with their lived experience.
That’s why when collaborating with SMEs, he always asks himself the question: is this learning experience going to be fun? Next, Hakeem applies his golden rule to set up clear expectations with every SME you work with: get them involved from the beginning, set up clear expectations, and share feedback regularly.
At the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa, Learning and Development Advisor Ashley McMullan has found one proven way of identifying social worker SMEs with the experience they need: look to managers or leaders to identify the right individuals.
By turning to managers and leaders, Ashley can help identify the right SMEs to contribute to onboarding new staff and capturing best practices. This way, Ashley ensures that the SMEs are supported by engaging in regular communications and showing SMEs the positive impact of their insights and experience.
Crystal Ryan, Training Specialist Learning & Development at Knauf Insulation, utilizes internal networking platforms such as Yammer, Teams, or 360Learning which has a Learning Needs tool that is great for recommending experts to contribute to training projects.
As she says, this makes it easier to get those who request training involved with determining who might be the best-fit SME within the organization to help develop the training content. Crystal also finds that taking administration tasks off SMEs as much as possible helps them focus on providing the right information for the content.
For Global LMS Manager Gary Wilton at Hoya Vision Care, collaborating with SMEs is all about providing clarity on what is expected in terms of time, effort, and commitment–and also making it known that their contributions will be put to proper use.
Next, says Gary, you should be keeping SMEs involved by having check-ins and updating them on progress in an organized manner. You should make sure they are and know they are a part of the process, because SMEs like to see the progress of their contribution–especially when this is on top of their normal responsibilities.
Jovana Zec, Director of Product, Education and Enablement at Visier, explains that you should find at least one point to make their lives easier. And because word of mouth is so contagious, when fellow colleagues hear how working with L&D made their lives easier, this means volunteers will pop up in day-to-day conversation.
What also helps for Jovana is to speak the SMEs language where you can–and to remember that they won’t understand Bloom's taxonomy like L&D teams do. Jovana and her team also have an e-learning to streamline the process to set SMEs up for success at the outset, saving time and making the process a lot easier.
At InsideTrack, Senior Director of Learning and Development Megan Breiseth works with leadership and colleagues to understand who would be motivated to participate, who has credibility within the organization, and the best way for them to share their expertise.
For example, Megan found this worked really well during the overhaul of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion curriculum. By understanding how to build expertise within the organization, you’re benefiting the SMEs you’re asking to collaborate.
What works for Robert Ryan, Senior Training Specialist at Nokia, is making sure the process feels like a partnership and not a handoff. According to Robert, you can achieve this by collaborating with SMEs to solve the problem at hand and get involved early on.
The more collaborative the partnership, says Robert, the more you can move away from the Waterfall model to the Agile model, where you are involved with them during the process. If you are a member of the team, then your SMEs are more inclined to collaborate because you’re both sharing the same definition of the problem.
Rocio Donis, Senior Manager at TELUS International, finds that a great starting position is getting the buy-in from SME leadership. Ask them who their ‘top gun’ is for a particular topic, and if they’d like their 15 minutes of fame in their area of expertise.
This means that from the get-go, you can start the program as co-creators. The L&D team at TELUS has also built an internal review process where the SMEs get an unofficial sign-off of the concept before going live. As Rocio says, this is a lifesaver in making sure their SMEs feel invested and a part of the project.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of ten pro tips for engaging your SMEs and helping them to have the most fun possible. To really help your experts shine, you need an efficient and effective way to engage them in course creation, improvement, and more.
A collaborative learning platform like 360Learning can cut out all of the administration of finding your experts, for example, through our Projects and Expert Engagement tools. Keen to learn more? Sign up for a free demo with one of our collaborative learning experts!
Creating an L&D community is not only great for crowdsourcing impactful approaches and methods–it’s also fun to share insights and experiences with your peers. This meetup was but one of many L&D topics planned for the future, so be sure to come and see what else we have in store.
Keen to join the discussion? Sign up to join the L&D Collective!