At the heart of the future…
I invited Melissa, a senior expert from an international high technology company, to dinner four months ago. I’d always thought it was exciting to be at the heart of something that could make the difference in our developed countries: not economies of scale, not doing more with less, but innovation! So I was surprised when through most of the dinner, I only heard about dissatisfaction.
My biggest surprise as Melissa talked was that she wasn’t even sure what the Expert role should be today! She had heard the pitch about how Experts have to move from the old mind-set of “knowledge is power” to a new mind-set of “trusted advisor”; about how they couldn’t just stay in their comfort zone, doing their own thing “in their corner”. But she felt that no one ever let Experts influence business decisions and that they were relatively powerless in the overall eco-system.
But trapped in dilemmas…
I started to make a couple of hopefully helpful comments but she cut me right off.
— Can’t you see, we’re trapped in a series of dilemmas, she said. We’re told that we have to work transversally and think globally, but I need all my time to work on my specialty. Not many people around here understand Fluid mechanics and when I’m called into a teambuilding seminar to “develop a common language” between myself and those programme people, I lose valuable time for the work I came here to do. And that I should be doing, she added with vehemence.
— As if that weren’t enough, she added, I get pressured by Marketing to “get out there” and sell our company’s image so we can hire the best young talent and get the hot new contract. And when I do, I have the product people jumping down my throat about how it’s our IP and we have to protect it! Then I get pressure from my boss to attend international conferences to keep up with other cutting edge research but purchasing hassles me about expenses. And even if I do go, because I need to exchange about my research with other experts, then I get Legal breathing down my back about confidentiality. Why can’t they get their story straight up there??!
— And worst of all, she concluded, now they want me to be a MANAGER!! A Manager! Anyone can be a manager! I know that being a manager seems to be the only way to get anywhere in the company, but I don’t care. I don’t want to spend time setting objectives, building teams and worrying about other people’s career development. I want to be a world expert in fluid mechanics. And I want Felix, over in programmes, to acknowledge that and listen to me before making initial design decisions and not come with questions once everything has been put in a box and wrapped up with a ribbon on it! That’s what I’m fighting against and all HR wants to do is send me on training programs for all kind of fluffy leadership stuff!
Seeing how upset Melissa was I decided to challenge her and then share some of what I’d seen lately in our work with Experts.
— I can understand, I replied, that it doesn’t make much sense for you to follow a career path that doesn’t let you develop your expertise and use it in the company in a meaningful way. But what are you doing about this? You complain that Felix over in programmes doesn’t listen to what you have to say and doesn’t even ask your opinion until it’s too late, but…
— But what? asked Melissa, too irritated to be objective. What?
When there’s a will…
— But I think there’s a way out, I said, even if it means you have to look at things differently too. If you want to have an impact on the business there are a couple of things besides fluid mechanics you really need to learn about. You need to understand the business and business constraints. Do you? And some new competencies would help you too.
Melissa grumbled something inaudible.
— You might not believe this, I said, but senior Experts we work with at T-Technologies tell us all the time how things change for them after they really decide to understand business strategy and work on becoming more powerful communicators and influencers. There’s nothing fluffy about that! Now I heard there’s a senior Expert programme starting in your company next month. Why don’t you take advantage of it and challenge yourself to really become that trusted business advisor you were talking about?
I could see that Melissa was uncomfortable but that she didn’t like letting my challenge drop. We said no more about it. I had to go away on business so I only saw her four months later. She had just completed the second module of the Senior Experts programme and couldn’t wait to test some of her new persuading skills on me.
What can I say? She won me over in the first 2 minutes!