K-Leader to Expertship

Our Journey to Expertship

We’ve changed the branding of our flagship development program for subject matter experts – K-Leader. We have now renamed the program Mastering Expertship and here is why...


Suzie, an organisational development specialist, was pulling her hair out. For several weeks she had been promoting HFL’s program for subject matter experts – K-Leader – around the organisation. Both the CIO and the CFO had understood the importance of developing their technical experts, to aid engagement and retention. They had suggested a list of high value experts to be potential participants.


But the experts themselves were not biting. Suzie reported a variety of conversations.

“I’ll never go on another leadership program,” one software architect told her. The content wasn’t relevant for the work and stakeholder groups he managed.  “It’s not a leadership program,” Suzie had explained. “Then why does it have “leader” in the title?” came back the reply.


A finance business partner, when told the program was about “knowledge leadership rather than people leadership”, told Suzie that he didn’t do knowledge management. He was in finance.


Even within her own department, Suzie struggled to get traction. A remuneration and benefits specialist – a perfect example of a subject matter expert role – told Suzie she wanted to go on a program that helped her build influence with her stakeholders. The “leadership” element of the program didn’t appeal to her – she was not a people leader, no one reported to her.


Unfortunately for us, and for Suzie, the branding we had initially chosen for the K-Leader program was not getting traction among the potential participants.


The program itself was getting rave reviews from those who had been persuaded to join. K-Leader has enjoyed very high Net Promoter Scores, with participants lauding the experience as extremely useful, relevant to the work they do, and with personal growth plans being both embraced and executed.


For OD specialists like Suzie, the positioning of K-Leader was clear– everyone in the organisation was capable of making a leadership contribution, and subject matter experts would do so in the domain of “knowledge leadership” (hence the K-Leader name, “K” being for knowledge)


In August 2017, we sat down and had a rethink, and considered what we had learned about our most important target audience – the subject matter experts we wanted to attract to our program. As Suzie’s experience had showed us, convincing the OD team was pointless if our branding was not landing with potential participants.


Time to make a change – but what to?


We concluded that most subject matter experts:

  • Don’t want to attend a “leadership” program – they had typically done so in the past and found many sessions about leading a team irrelevant to their day to day work;
  • Don’t necessarily want to be a people leader – many are far more comfortable in their technical knowledge domains; and
  • Found the concept of “knowledge leadership” confusing – it appeared to mean many different things to different people, and meant nothing at all to people in engineering, accounting, HR, legal etc.


We realised that we had to find a phrase that described what it was that subject matter experts do – that complex combination of knowledge, expertise, problem solving, consulting, and driving change. We landed on a simple construct:






It follows that leadership programs are designed to help leaders lead better, and expertship programs are designed to help experts be the best expert they can be.


How did people react to the introduction of “expertship”?

Chastened from Suzie’s K-Leader experience, we set out to test the “expertship” positioning. We asked our K-Leader Alumni what they thought, and we tested the concept with potential clients and their subject matter experts.


The alumni group were split – many had fond memories of their K-Leader experience and didn’t want to see the brand changed, or felt that once explained, knowledge leadership made sense to them. Others liked the concept, and felt that having their own “ship” was helpful in explaining what they did, and how this was different, but no less important, from leadership.


What made the decision easy was the response in meetings from clients, and the subsequent incoming participants. We attended meetings where the term expertship was used openly and with clarity. OD specialists reported that using the “leadership versus expertship” descriptions was easy and quickly understood.


A further development also had impact – we changed our underpinning capability framework from the “Knowledge Leadership Model” to the “Expertship Model”.  The Expertship Model describes the nine impact areas a top expert needs to master in order to reach the highest level of expertship (Master Expert). This positioning caught on very quickly in meetings with clients and participants as well.


Introducing the new branding – K-Leader becomes Mastering Expertship

From November 1st 2017 the K-Leader branding will be replaced with our new Expertship program Mastering Expertship. Whilst the branding has changed you can rest assured that all the things our clients and participants love about K-Leader still exist in Mastering Expertship along with additions and improvements that will further enhance the program journey for all.


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For further information about expertship please contact us.



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