Subject Matter Experts: The Key to Knowledge Transfer

Subject Matter Experts & Knowledge Transfer

Subject matter experts (SMEs) have a deep understanding of specific areas. And whether it’s helping customers and clients or sharing their insider knowledge with peers, SMEs play a vital role in your organization. In this post, see how you can identify internal SMEs and capitalize on their expertise to create and share knowledge across multiple channels.


What Are Subject Matter Experts?

A subject matter expert, or SME, usually has at least one area in which he or she excels—such as a certain technology, software, subject, or process. SMEs should have proven knowledge and backgrounds in their respective areas of interest. While some experts have advanced degrees, others may have acquired their knowledge through years of work and hands-on experience.

For instance, an SME might be great at recalling technical information, like product specs and details. Another might have a knack for distilling complicated ideas or functions so they’re easier for others to understand.

Additionally, SMEs tend to continually grow their skill sets by keeping up with the latest news and best practices or writing and peer-reviewing articles related to their areas of focus.

How to Identify Internal SMEs and Capture Knowledge

When identifying subject matter experts in your organization, start by making a roster of the stakeholders, analysts, technical leads, and others who are commonly recommended or sought out by colleagues to answer or explain certain topics. Write a profile for each SME that lists his or her areas of expertise, experience/background, and influence. (TIP: This roster is a living document that will need to be consistently updated and expanded as you find new SMEs.)

Remember, SMEs cover a wide gamut of disciplines, departments, and teams (e.g. client support, IT, operations, marketing, leadership). In other words, widen your perspective when looking for your internal experts.

For instance, ask employees who they regularly ask for help or insight and on what topic(s). If you notice several of the same names coming up more than once, it’s worth investing in those folks as valuable SMEs.

Even if you’re familiar with experts in your organization, chances are there are SMEs-in-the-making who are waiting to be discovered. This is especially true if you work in a large organization or have multiple office locations.

And don’t forget—recent hires are another source for finding your next SME. They may bring valuable experience or perspectives from prior roles, such as within a regulatory agency, competitor, or adjacent market. Or they may have been brought on to add critical skills to their working team—skills from which the rest of the organization could also benefit.

Great Resources, Great Learning Content

Once you’ve established your list of experts, it’s time to showcase their expertise, capture their knowledge, and transfer that knowledge across the organization.

Internal SMEs are ideal candidates for creating and publishing user-generated content. This can be easily accomplished with software, such as a learning experience platform, that enables users to upload and share topic-specific content with the learners who need it.

Flexibility also is key. Most people, including SMEs, aren’t “naturals” in front of the camera. It takes a little time, practice, and direction to hone professional on-screen skills. Help subject matter experts prepare for their close-ups by offering advice on basics such as eye contact, posture, and cadence. While some SMEs may be perfectly comfortable on camera, others may prefer to share an article or slide presentation to complement an existing course or video. So provide the right tools and technology that cater to different preferences.

In addition to publishing their own learning content, SMEs can contribute to more comprehensive eLearning courses. In this case, you may need to work with several SMEs.

Let’s say, for example, you need an eLearning course about workplace safety and compliance. Rather than guessing what content needs to be covered, seek input from those who are well-versed in these areas to ensure accurate, comprehensive training.

You might include an SME from production who can demonstrate proper machine operating procedures or from human resources to explain OSHA requirements. These experts can tell you what content must be included. And just as important, what information isn’t needed or relevant.

This will help ensure your eLearning course is effective, credible, concise, relevant to your organization’s unique training needs, and delivered in the appropriate format(s).

Benefits of Working with Internal Subject Matter Experts

Working with internal SMEs offers other benefits, such as

Keep in mind that SMEs have their own projects, priorities, and deadlines. So, be respectful of their time and set expectations accordingly. It’s also helpful to remind SMEs (and their managers if applicable) that sharing expertise not only helps peers increase their knowledge and performance, but also helps the business as a whole.

The Bottom Line: SMEs & Knowledge Management

Finding, developing, and building relationships with subject matter experts takes time, but it’s well worth the effort. Invite one or a few internal experts to join your next learning program development team.

Take time to promote their involvement among management, peers, and direct reports. And who knows? You may just inspire other SMEs to support L&D’s efforts by capturing their knowledge, creating relevant learning, and, ultimately, driving business results.

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