Access to Experts: Seven Steps to Leveraging the Expertise in Your Organization

Written By

Steve Foreman

September 26, 2016

A small foreign company wants to open a large cash account at a bank. The branch manager doesn’t get many requests like this. Her typical commercial accounts are with well-known local companies. She looks up account-applicant investigation guidelines on the bank portal and finds a lot of general information about the risks of fraud and money laundering. Not sure how to proceed, she accesses the bank’s expert network. She searches on money laundering and finds dozens of experts within the bank. She narrows the list by selecting the potential customer’s industry and location. This yields a much shorter list containing three experts. The bio of one of these three states that he knows the relevant laws and regulations in the region and has experience with several cases of money laundering. She contacts the expert and gets invaluable guidance on risks, warning signs, and how to proceed.

Could people in your organization get critical expert advice like this with ease and confidence?

Who are the experts in your organization? Where are they? Every organization has experts. In fact, they are everywhere. Many of us have our own personal network of experts. But there are times when we need to go outside of our network. Think about all the times you would have liked to talk to an expert for advice and information, but didn’t know whom to call.

Is your organization getting the most from its experts? What opportunities do experts have to help your organization achieve its strategic goals? In many organizations, experts function within the scope of their own job role and team. Their expertise is mostly untapped by people who could benefit from it in other roles, departments, and regions. An organization’s ability to leverage the expertise of its people gives it a competitive advantage while increasing employee satisfaction and productivity. That’s why access to experts is so important.

If finding and using expertise is a challenge in your organization, here are seven steps to create or improve your expert network.

Step 1: Define strategic areas of expertise

First, it is important to align your initiative with the strategic goals of your organization. How will your “access to experts” solution advance the strategic goals of the organization? How will you know it is successful?

Identify the key job roles that have the most direct impact on achieving the strategic goals you are targeting. Work with stakeholders to compile a list of areas of expertise needed by each of those critical job roles. What areas of expertise do people in those roles need in order to be successful? In which areas do they need the most help?

After you have listed all relevant areas, rate each area (i.e., high, medium, low) in terms of (A) its potential impact on the strategic goal, (B) the estimated frequency with which people might need to apply this expertise, and (C) the availability of the expertise within the groups that need it. The areas to focus on first and foremost are those rated high in (A) and (B) and low in (C).

Prioritizing by these parameters enables you to focus first on the areas of expertise that are most impactful.

Step 2: Identify and engage experts

After you have listed the areas of expertise most relevant to your organization’s strategic goals, you must identify the people in your organization who have expertise in those areas. There are three major ways to identify experts. Experts can be appointed, nominated, or self-identified.

  • Appointed: In this approach, you ask upper management to identify the experts who work for them. Managers are in the best position to make strategic choices, and they usually know who their high performers are. This method works well when leadership must endorse the expert’s qualifications.
  • Nominated: This approach is more of a 360-degree method where you ask people to nominate experts with whom they have worked. Experts may be nominated by their managers, peers, and subordinates. Driven by the viewpoints of the people with whom they work most closely, this approach can be good way to vet experts. Nominations can be approved by a committee that represents the area of expertise, or by management—a combination of nominated and appointed.
  • Self-identified: This approach relies on people listing their own areas of expertise. It works best when you clearly describe the criteria for expertise in a given area, allowing people to compare their own expertise to the criteria you have outlined. Ideally, your criteria are observable and described in the context of the work.

Any of these three approaches can work. Decide which approach, or combination of approaches, is best considering your organization’s strategic goals and culture.

Step 3: Define ways to authorize, recognize, and reward experts

So what’s in it for the experts? They already have jobs and responsibilities. Why should they spend time helping others in the organization? Will this take away time from their “real” jobs? Will they be reticent about “giving away” their expert knowledge? These are some of the questions you must answer.

I have found that, in general, experts are not afraid to share their knowledge with others. Experts often appreciate the opportunity to share what they know—what they are passionate about—with people who are truly interested. Expertise is earned through extensive experience, both positive and negative. Its value and depth is enhanced by sharing it with others.

The biggest challenge you are likely to face in providing access to experts is time. It is true that experts have their own jobs, responsibilities, priorities, and goals. Spending valuable time helping others, if not built into their job responsibilities, may negatively impact their own job performance. It is important to work with management to authorize experts to respond to inquiries by allowing them time and building it into their job descriptions.

We all like to be recognized for our expertise by our leaders and colleagues. This is human nature. Find ways to highlight expert contributions. Showcase each expert’s skill sets and accomplishments. Recognize their authorship in content they create. Provide opportunities for them to socialize with leadership and other recognized experts in the organization. Give them positive feedback, and find other ways to incent and reward their expertise sharing.

One company provided a way for people to rate the value of the assistance they received from an expert. Ratings were not visible to experts or other users. Instead, the ratings were used to drive a recognition and rewards program. Experts who received the highest aggregate ratings from the most people were invited to their choice of a private dinner with executive leadership or to attend an all-expenses-paid industry event of their choosing.

Step 4: Put experts in the driver’s seat

Ultimately, each expert must balance time spent sharing expertise with other job duties. Experts must be able to be in control of how and when they want to be approached. For example, one expert might be receptive to being contacted with a phone call or meeting invitation, while another expert wants people to submit a consultation request via email, text message, or online form describing the need.

Some experts may make themselves available at times that are open on their schedule from week to week, while others establish regular “office hours” when they are available.

Provide options and let experts choose what works best for them.

Step 5: Provide an online platform for accessing experts

You can use technology to connect the right people with the right experts. The technology that supports access to experts ranges from a simple directory for looking people up by their area of expertise, to expert location and management software that manages requests, consultation scheduling, content publishing, and user ratings and reviews. Some organizations purchase commercial software applications for managing access to experts, while others build their own.

Think about how you want access to experts to work in your organization, and define your requirements before you make any technology decisions. If possible, involve your IT department. They may already have something in place or in the works. Communicate your requirements to them, and let them help you with technology selection, implementation, and support.

Step 6: Establish a reputation model for quality assurance

Experts develop reputations over time. We decide to consult an expert, in part, because of what we’ve read about the expert and what we’ve heard from other people. Similarly, your “access to experts” solution must build its own reputation for connecting people with the right experts and providing value to the organization.

In an expert network, a reputation model is a collection mechanism that tracks opinions and calculates a reputation score for each expert. Experts’ reputations reflect the level at which they are trusted and valued by people who have consulted them.

There are many mechanisms for you to consider using in your reputation model.

You can count things related to each expert, like the number of inquiries received, the number of consultations provided, the number of documents published, and the number of users who have retrieved those documents. You can provide a way for people to follow experts’ posts or publications and count their followers. All of these counts can give you valuable insight into the pulse of the organization: which areas of expertise are hot, and which experts are most popular.

You can collect feedback on expert engagements via ratings and reviews, this-or-that voting, or vote-to-promote features. Ratings can be aggregated into an average rating for each expert. Reviews can offer anecdotal information about people’s experiences with experts. This-or-that voting presents people with, for instance, a list of experts they’ve engaged in the last year and asks them to choose the one who was most helpful. Vote-to-promote often uses the results of ratings and this-or-that voting to promote or demote experts in search results. You can use this feedback to determine which experts are most highly valued by those who consult with them. These are your “star performers.” You may want to ask these experts to coach and mentor others.

You can award points to experts and people who consult with experts. For example, experts can earn points for a consultation they perform, a rating they receive, and other actions. Points can be tallied to rank experts, position them in search results, and recognize and reward them.

You may want to share reputation-model data openly with users, or you may use the data “behind the scenes” to provide private feedback to experts and continually improve your solutions. Choose the approach that best fits your organization’s culture and supports your strategic goals.

Step 7: Measure activity and impact

Create an online dashboard showing the metrics you are tracking in your reputation model. View them alongside the business and productivity metrics you are trying to impact. By monitoring this data regularly, you can gain new insights into what is working and what is not. Even better, you can use the data to demonstrate the impact of your expert network on business results.

For example: Your organization is trying to expand its sales into a new market segment. Your metrics dashboard shows that sales figures in that industry are sluggish. At the same time, you notice a significant increase in searches for expertise on a specific product line where there are few participating experts. You talk with some of the product development and marketing groups for the product line and learn that your primary competitors in the new market segment offer inferior products in that particular line. You engage a new set of experts from product development and marketing to respond to requests from sales for their expertise. You meet with executive leadership to share what you’ve learned. Focusing on sales of this product line could be a good way to break into the new market segment.

By viewing the metrics in your dashboard and taking appropriate action, you are able to continually adapt the expert-network solution in response to the changing needs of the business and demonstrate its value to your sponsors.

Conclusion

An employee’s value appreciates over time, so holding on to your best and brightest people is a winning strategy. One effective way to retain talent is to recognize and reward experienced employees for their expertise—and how they share it—and provide opportunities for less experienced people to interact with experts who can help them develop and grow.

Access to experts is one component of the learning and performance ecosystem. By enabling access to experts and their expertise, you can increase the performer’s chances for success, especially when success requires personalized guidance and direction to achieve a critical goal in a specific context.

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