Andrew McCune
January 17, 2017

SME Just Like Me!

Screenshot 2017-01-17 20.52.39.pngHiring season is underway, and you can’t wait to hire a Subject Mater Expert (SME) just like me…that is you I mean. Instinctively, hiring managers will seek to hire a SME who is just like them. There is nothing wrong with this as core business expertise is critical to any enterprise. However, an over reliance on the SME without a strategy to infuse process skills will create a trap that becomes self-limiting. This was identified in the Greatest Developments Report from BTOES Insights, 2016. Content and process domains can converge to build and sustain robust capability within a vibrant workforce that will be more versatile.

Screenshot 2017-01-17 20.46.03.png

To illustrate, see Diagram 1 above. The Content domain is comprised of SME by industry, company, technology, software solution, functional area, product, service, or regulatory specialty. This is the default assumption in organizations to have SME in the ranks. This preoccupation can lead to group think as experts of like background and focus will think and act the same. This limits innovation and growth to keep up with the changing market.

The Process domain we’ll define as an OpEx skill set in customer experience, strategy execution, process management, continuous improvement, design, and change management. The default assumption on Process is that it is nice to have Green Belt, Lean Leader or Black Belt skill sets. These are now commoditized and should come with Content. The blind spot here is the deference to the SME on Content with nice to have Process. After all, “we really knew what the solution would be, and we just used the Process skills to justify it” on the road to an OpEx Program check box in lieu of real skill development. This reinforces the reliance on SME, and in time, once the check boxes are complete, the real impact of Process skills wanes. SME group think settles back in, and “we really don’t have to do that anymore.”

How can this be avoided? Looking at Diagram 1, infusing new hire Process centric experts or internal transferees, who possess real Process capability, into Content areas can help. Specifically, a provocative approach is to insert Process expertise without Content knowledge into a group of SME. Clearly a gap will create the creative tension between the two domains, and this tension becomes the entropy (i.e. excited atoms) in the container. You, the leader, must make the container safe for this “creative tension” to create and innovate a new business model. Otherwise, the tension won’t release the innovation, and the effort grinds to a halt.

Next, the point where some overlap with Content and Process occurs creates a convergence of the “what” and the “how”. The Process new hires or internal transferees represent a “how” and content SME have the “what”. Much like in formal design, bringing the “what” and the “how” together in the container builds the enthalpy (i.e. heat). As before, you the leader must foster and make this safe to generate the heat of the convergence to innovate and build the new business model.

Over time, continued integration of Content and Process, in a safe environment created by you the leader, combines the two until there is no distinction between them. This becomes a robust capability in the workforce. Think of this as a complete skill matrix with the added ability to adapt new skill sets. Real “how to know how” emerges, and ultimately, becomes what everyone wants or originally mistook for the SME.

Bringing this all together, a strategy of putting Process new hires / internal transferees through assignments into Content areas where the creative tension infuses change possibilities. This leads to developing overlap with Content and Process creating real capabilities of the “what” and “how”.

Ultimately, staying consistent on the approach will, over time, builds real “how to know how” that enables the confidence to adapt and to prevent the trap of group think.

Andrew S. McCune
Senior Process Consultant, Engagement Director
Strategy Deployment, Operational Excellence, Change Management


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