It’s good to have a subject matter expert on your team. A good SME is a resource that virtually every other member of your team can rely on for valuable insight again and again.
It’s a nice feeling for that resource too. Who wouldn’t like to be the person that whole team turns to for advice, like a swami high upon a mountain top.
Power like that could go to one’s head. It often does.
The power of knowledge
It’s been my experience that the more knowledgeable the SME, the more difficult it is to work with them. Many SMEs, have one – or both – of the following traits:
- They’re renegades. They know they have the knowledge. They know that knowledge is power. You can define all the process and rules you want. But they’re going to do things the way they want to, your rules be damned.
- They hoard their knowledge. Since said knowledge is power, they’d like to hang on to that power as long as possible. You may ask them a question and they will answer it. But that’s all. Don’t even think about knowledge transfer, coaching or mentoring. You and your team members are on your own.
The SME sometimes becomes synonymous with prima donna.
Sometimes their lack of cooperation leads you to wonder if you’d be better off without them, which leads others in the company to say “You just can’t let all that knowledge walk out the door.”
What is the knowledge worth?
Would it be all that terrible? If they insist on fighting the system and not playing by the rules, the rest of the team wonders why they should have to comply. A morale issue ensues.
If they are going to hold onto their knowledge and not share it with the rest of the team, no one else learns anything. The problem just perpetuates.
In most cases, when you remove the SME, you remove the source of the problem. The rest of the team begins developing knowledge out of necessity. They don’t have the SME to rely on and they’re forced to figure things out themselves. There may be a temporary learning curve for them to get over, but it’s rarely insurmountable.
The manager suddenly has leverage to enforce compliance without the morale issues that come with making exceptions for the SME.
Having a subject matter expert on staff can be a great benefit for a team. But if they refuse to share their information through mentorship, they might just be expendable.
The graveyards are full of indispensable people.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.