Skip to content

How to find your hidden subject matter experts

Blog posts | 30.04.2021


Shaping the future of learning

This article is from our partners at Totara and has been published here with permission.

“Any ideas? Anyone?”

If you’ve ever hosted a meeting in a room full of introverts, you’ll know that it’s not always the most productive way to extract information and ideas from people. Even the most creative, imaginative people can clam up in front of a group, meaning that great ideas go unheard while the more extroverted, outspoken members of your team always have their say. But this isn’t a fault in the quieter members of your team - it just means that you have to find a better way to help them feel comfortable sharing their ideas.

Susan Cain, co-founder of The Quiet Leadership Institute, said: “You should know as a manager that you’re very likely not getting the best of an introvert’s brain if you’re asking them a question in an all-hands meeting.” With 30-50% of the population being classed as introverts, it’s clear that managers who fail to meet the needs of introverts are missing out on a lot of great ideas and useful knowledge. So how can we discover the hidden subject matter experts in our organizations?


Take the conversation online

Written communication is often preferred by introverts, who like having the time to process the topic at hand internally without interruption or the pressure to speak up.

That’s why creating online spaces for people to talk can help to balance out the conversation, ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to share ideas in a low-pressure environment that’s optimal for engaging employees. Every voice is equal in an online space, so introverts don’t feel “shouted down” and extroverts don’t dominate the conversation.

With a learning experience platform (LXP) like Totara Engage, you can create dedicated workspaces for teams, projects, roles and more. These workspaces can be used to stimulate conversations, to share resources and to discuss challenges, solutions and ideas, and these conversations can take place asynchronously across time zones and locations to keep global teams engaged.

“Bookend” your meetings

Obviously it’s not always practical to avoid in-person meetings, but one thing you can do to tap into your hidden experts is to “bookend” your meetings with some online activities. For example, you may ask people to brainstorm ideas in your workspace before a meeting, and you can then review these ideas together. After the meeting, you can post a poll to find out which ideas were the most popular, or start a forum thread with the meeting notes and encourage people to post their reflections or follow-up questions.

Susan Cain has another recommendation for managers to engage with introverts: “If you do have something to add after the meeting, don’t be afraid to share this with the team by sending out an email with ideas and action points.” Obviously emails serve their purpose, but capturing this information on your LXP ensures that everyone can offer feedback and weigh in on discussion points.

Open up questions to the team

On the subject of emails, try replacing private emails or one-to-one private messages with group conversations. You could use a tool like Slack or MS Teams for quick responses, or your LXP for conversations you want to record permanently. 

And don’t forget to tag people into your posts! @mentioning your coworkers will prompt a wider range of responses, and may encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise have responded to your post to get involved.

You can also post a direct request for assistance, such as: “Does anyone have any good resources for improving presentation skills?”, and see who responds. Inviting open responses means that people can share links, videos, documents, e-learning courses and more, and others can “upvote” or “like” the resources they also find useful to help direct the poster to the best suggestions.

Recognize your subject matter experts

When someone displays expertise on a subject, ensure you recognize them within the LXP. For instance, you may award them a badge (such as “Health and safety expert” or “Infection control expert”) or a label in the system to help users know who to approach and whose opinion they can trust on any given topic.

This can also help if a member of the team isn’t necessarily known for their expertise in a specific area. For example, Justine may have recently joined your team as an account manager. However, in her last company, she was also responsible for marketing. On account of her prior experience and her insightful comments on marketing-related posts on the LXP, the LXP administrator can award her with a “Marketing expert” badge to “advertise” her knowledge to her colleagues.

Surfacing and fostering expertise

Finding your hidden subject matter experts won’t happen overnight. It’s an ongoing process that involves a lot of talking and even more listening. Continuous performance management conversations can be a good time to discover hidden areas of expertise, or you may discover the depth of someone’s knowledge by chance when you read someone’s posts on your LXP. But one thing’s for sure - once you’ve found your hidden subject matter experts, ensure you keep them sharing their knowledge and resources with inclusive conversations, online discussions and the right tools.

Totara Engage

If these ideas sounds interesting to you, consider learning more about Totara Engage. This learning experience platform (LXP) allows organisations to harness the power of informal learning and collaboration all under one roof. Empower your workforce to adapt and thrive in a new world of work while increasing engagement. Totara Engage also allows your business to share the know-how to deliver the right training, resources and information at the right time and place, all in the flow of work. Visit Totara for more information.  


Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.