Subject matter expert
A spotter’s guide to the men and women of finance.
Known fondly by management consultants as an “SME” — or less fondly as a Morlock—a subject matter expert is one of those benighted people without whom the organisation would not function, who are nonetheless poorly paid, forced to live in a dungeon below ground, being routinely beaten by the inhabitants of the sedimentary layers of middle management and, if any management consultants engaged by middle management have anything to do with it, are shortly be made redundant.
Speaking of redundancy, there is the very adjective itself, “subject matter”. What kind of thing is an expert without subject matter to be expert in? But as a qualifier, in the hands of middle-management, subject matter demeans ones expertise; it limits one to one’s material, implies a cluelessness beyond it — especially as far as business management skills — those necessarily possessed by apex predators in the corporate ecosystem — are concerned.
So, in deference to these overlooked, maligned, vital people, we shall call them “experts”. That is what they are: the ninjas; the boy-wizards; the aces in the hole.
Thereafter, when an unexpected generational change in the business environment, or another unexpected generational change in the business environment — they’re happening annually at the moment —will wreak havoc on the organisation, as squadrons of hastily-engaged contractors having no institutional knowledge, not a scooby-doo in the world what they are doing and an abject lack of common sense will attempt, by operation of the hive mind, to adjust the organisation’s direction of travel towards some voguish new direction, probably involving the blockchain, with disastrous results.
Think ocean liners and icebergs.
There is an argument that middle management is little more than a game of chicken to see how many subject matter experts you can fire without the organisation actually imploding on itself.
No matter what McKinsey thinks about it, subject matter experts cannot safely be replaced by contractors, much less consultants from PWC, however much your dogma commends you to wish it were so.