My SMEs don't have time to contribute content to training. What can I do?

February 27, 2010

groucho-1Ever find yourself asking this question?

“My SMEs don’t have time to contribute content to training. What can I do?”

I have come across this question several times. Subject matter experts are that for a reason, and because so many rely on them, contributing content to training is the last thing they have time for. I have thought it over many, many times and I have the following ideas to offer:

  • Put SMEs in a pool and tap one at a time to contribute. For example, if you are creating an e-learning course, you may ask one SME to help you gather material, discuss your high-level design with another, and a third SME would review your first set of storyboards. You may even end up with a better product than if you only worked with one SME because the different opinions and contributions balance each other out. Now, that could also mean frustration as SMEs may disagree; in that case, you can tap into yet another SME in your pool to act as “tie breaker.” This works nicely because the time for each to contribute is greatly minimized while you still maximize your design with the multiple perspectives—the best of both worlds (but a challenge to manage)
  • Hire SME consultants. This may seem simple but many don’t think of it. However, you can hire SME consultants who will be there, dedicated and focused only on helping you create training. Before you hire anyone, get your internal SMEs to at least interview them to make sure they are on the same page before you bring someone in. You will still need to have an internal SME to answer organization-specific questions, but they’ll need to commit considerably less time.
  • Give the task of “extracting knowledge” from SMEs to a new hire and use to onboard. New hires (I am talking about analysts out of college) are usually thirsty for knowledge and anxious to contribute. What better way to get them going than to aim them toward an SME or SME pool and tell them to go interview them and collect data? You may have trouble finding the time to do this, but a new hire will take the challenge on with excitement and laser focus—and just think of how much they will learn
  • Provide incentives. SMEs need to balance your training project with dozens of other priorities. It’s not suprising that your priority is sometimes the last thing on their minds. So what can you do? Figure out what motivates them—is it recognition from senior management? That one usually works. Make sure you get their senior manager’s attention and support so the training initiative is considered a key project. If you can’t do that then you can always recognize them from the training department. Take SMEs who have been helpful in the past and use them to entice the rest, put their picture on the training intranet and call them SME of the month, then send a thank you to their manager with a link. All you need is the first SME highlighted in this manner and the rest will come—trust me, I know, I have done it.

Well, that is all I have! If anyone has any other ideas, please submit them, we would love to gather all these great ideas together for all of us to share. Happy SME hunting!

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