By Dominic Johnson, Master Facilitator, Expertship programs at HFL
It’s a major challenge for technical specialists to get organisation/business savvy. As their leader, here are three suggestions we have found work well, can be promoted by you, but take almost no time at all.
We have worked with hundreds of subject experts from a variety of different organisations in many different industries.
By far the most common question they ask us is: “How can I get more connected to the business/organisation?” They often have a feeling of being disconnected. They feel that they, as experts, are seen as one-dimensional technical specialists with no interest in or ability to impact the broader organisation, its operational performance, its customers, or its competitive positioning.
As their manager you are ideally positioned to help them address this need. And in so doing, you can greatly improve both their performance and their value to the business.
We have three specific suggestions that are easy to implement and in our experience have large payoffs.
1. Build up their broader organisational knowledge
It’s likely that you already receive, or have available to you, data that will help you achieve this. This information can be in the form of reports or data on such things as company-wide KPI performance, customer metrics or competitor analysis. Often it never occurs to those who create or circulate this information that it could be relevant to experts. But this sort of information can provide important perspectives that will help inform the experts’ agenda and demonstrate to them what they have to offer in these areas.
Where possible, get hold of this information and share it with your subject matter experts. Be ready to discuss the contents at your team meetings so that the broader organisational context is always known.
And put the data into context. Express the numbers in terms of the outcome of the work you’re assigning to your experts. Show them how the work is relevant in terms of the organisation’s business requirements.
All too often experts receive only the technical brief and are left out of the bigger picture. They need to be thinking in terms of business outcomes and the impact of their work, rather than simply the specialist tasks or methodologies they carry out as part of their technical responsibilities.
2. Expose your experts to key stakeholders in non-technical interactions.
It is likely that you have a number of key stakeholder relationships with people of strategic significance who are affected by the work that the experts do. In such cases it is very valuable for your experts to get to know these stakeholders, and to understand their priorities.
Some of your immediate stakeholders – owners of the business requirements – are also stakeholders to your direct reports, including the experts you manage. It is very valuable for your experts to be able to connect with them directly and get first-hand exposure to the business issues they face.
This gives an opportunity for them to ask their own questions of the stakeholders, and to hear things ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’. It also helps the experts improve their exposure within the organisation, and their personal brand. It is a real win-win.
This process can be as simple as taking the expert along to your next meeting with the key stakeholder to shadow you. Or you can set up an introduction so that they can make direct contact with your stakeholder. But be sure to brief the expert beforehand and debrief them afterwards, so that these meetings become a coaching and development experience.
3. Use organisational networking opportunities to build your experts’ knowledge and networks
Instead of just attending top get their fair share of the pizza and beer, it’s time for experts everywhere to use networking events to proactively interact with colleagues from other parts of the organisation.
Expertship Programs Coming up – for next datesWe would recommend you start to re-position internal networking events as intelligence gathering experts. It’s a new piece of content we have included in the expertship programs we run and its received rave reviews, mostly because it works.
Experts attend events having pre-planned which departments of the organisation they would like to meet with and why. One simple example: your experts might want to find sales people to talk to, to find our which clients have been won and lost recently, what created the wins, how did competitors engineer the losses, and what are the prospects in the coming months. This is all information and insight can be leveraged into understanding the pressures on the organisation better, and also understanding where opportunities to add real value might exist. In a public sector organisation the example might be talking to those who interact with key politicans and ministers to find out what the latest issues and objectives are.
If positioned as a precision campaigns to discover important insights useful for future value creation, and arming experts with the sort of questions they can ask, internal networking takes on a whole new meaning for your experts. No more standing in the corner together.
These are three ideas to help your experts become more business savvy, and to build their skills at connecting with key business stakeholders, all of which you can promote with little effort.