Boost Your Value! Become a Mini-SME

Allan Dodson
Posted: October 10, 2019

So there you are, tapping a pencil on your desk. Checking your email. Nothing. You look to see what’s happening in the local online paper. Check your email again. Nothing.

What are you doing over there, my trainer friend? What are you waiting for?

You’ve just joined, probably not for the first time, the ranks of hundreds of training developers at any given moment who are waiting for a SME to respond. You need one simple answer, and the project can’t move forward without it.

Tap, tap, tap goes the pencil.

Like most training developers, you’ve probably devised some strategies for getting information from your SMEs. But SMEs are busy, and your project is often not their first priority. So you wait. What are you gonna do, right?

Here’s a thought: Cut out the middleman. Become a mini-SME. No, I’m not asking you to turn into a small version of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. A mini-SME is a force for good. And it can be you.

You (yes, you!) can develop true expertise that goes beyond the boundaries of the project. You can simultaneously cut out some of the pencil-tapping and increase your value to the organization. Try these four techniques as soon as your next project starts; it’s not as hard as it seems!

#1: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Everyone at Least One Dumb Question

Most of us tend to think asking questions makes us look weak or incompetent. “Am I the only one in the room who doesn’t know what a C-47 clip is?” you might find yourself wondering. Well, maybe you arethe only one who doesn’t know. But guess what: You needto know. And there’s only one way to find out.

I recommend requesting one-on-one meetings with as many SMEs in as many departments as possible.Try to meet in person, though teleconferencing is a good option if necessary and done with skill. Yes, it takes time to do it individually, but you’ll likely get information you wouldn’t have gathered if you had one big meeting. Chances are, no one has really collected all the information from all the various sources in one place. When you organize it all, YOU become the depository of knowledge.

#2: Research Other Companies

Groundbreaking as your company may be, the chances are pretty good that someone else has tried something similar to whatever project you may be working on. What can you learn from their mistakes and successes?

When you bring ideas from outside the company, you’re bringing solutions, cautionary tales, and maybe even a path to success. If you can’t find anything in publication, don’t be afraid to reach out to similar (non-competitive) companies and talk to the trainers over there. You might make a new trainer friend!

#3: Map the Process

One of the best ways to become a mini-SME is to understand the entire process from end to end. And we’re not just talking about the specific skill or process you’re training on — understand the entireprocess from the moment something happens to make someone take action until everyone goes home after a job well done.

Platforms like the Bizagi Modeler can help us visualize the process flow and find challenges that can be solved through process changes before we train workers to do something counterproductive. Plus, they look really cool when you pull them out in a meeting:

Image from Bizagi Demo

You’ll often find that no one in the organization has really looked at your project from a process perspective — and now you’re an expert. Easy, right?

#4: Expand Your Horizons

It should be clear from the above suggestions that the real key to becoming a mini-SME is looking at the big picture. We all tend to focus on “just our thing,” but the skill you’re training on is probably part of something larger.

How does this skill fit within the process? Within the organization? Within the industry? Asking these questions can unlock the secret of expertise.

If you’re working for a large organization, information tends to be siloed off, and finding everything you need can be like peeling an onion. Having tunnel vision often leaves you with a lot of “unknown unknowns,” and you can end up with a training program that doesn’t meet its maximum effectiveness. Don’t count on others to put all the pieces together for you; take the puzzle apart and assemble it yourself. If you can take your knowledge journey without an agenda, you’ll have a better grasp of the subject and your trainees.

The Bottom Line

Does all this extra work take time? Of course. But it will save you a lot of pencil-tapping on the back end of the project. Becoming a mini-SME really comes down to one simple thing: Ask everyone about everything in an organized fashion. While it’s necessary to focus on the specific project, it’s also helpful to work outside the lines a bit.

Becoming a mini-SME really comes down to one simple thing: Ask everyone about everything in an organized fashion.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a meeting about a new management platform. I’d trained everyone on the new process, and we were just getting some last-minute items in place. When a question came up, the VP looked at me and said, “Well, Allan’s the SME on this, right?”

“Huh,” I thought. “I guess I am.”

And you know what SMEs are? Indispensable.


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