The Role of a Subject Matter Expert in Organizational Change
It is true, change happens at the individual level, but it requires several people to drive a transformational business change like a shift from in-office to a work-from-home model or from multiple small departmental systems to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system implementation. One of the critical players in driving change is the subject matter expert (the SME); an individual who possesses deep knowledge or expertise about a particular part of the business or the activity taking place. They arguably play one of the most important roles in driving change for many reasons including:
They are keenly aware of the impacts, challenges and obstacles that will arise as a result of the change because of their role and the expertise they possess;
They are experiencing the change first-hand and;
They are one of the top influencers that will drive the change within the business as they are respected, well-known, and trusted members of the team.
The Value of a Subject Matter Expert
Let’s use an ERP system implementation as an example. For this project, there would likely be multiple SMEs from teams such as human resources, finance, procurement, and warehouse, etc. They’re valued members of the team as they will help direct how the system is developed, ensuring that it meets the needs of their respective teams and streamlines how they work.
For example, the human resources department often uses an ERP system like MS Dynamics for time tracking, payroll, or recruiting and onboarding. To ensure the ERP system works for the HR team, it is critical to include at least one SME from that department so that they can provide guidance on what functions and work processes are required. Implementing a new system without their involvement would not be favourable.
They also support testing and training, and are an avenue to cascade updates and provide feedback from their colleagues back to the project team. Testing often involves many people from a business unit, but prior to various activities, the SME is responsible for taking the lead to ensure the system meets the needs and requirements for the human resources department.
Training is also integral in driving change and a SME who has been involved throughout the entirety of the project, will possess the most knowledge about how the system works for their function. Because of this, they will often be tapped on to lead or support the training with their colleagues and teams.