Being Left Behind—A Refusal to Participate Leads to Isolation

Having knowledge of a domain lays the context for being asked to contribute that knowledge to a topic, a project, a cause, or an initiative at your organization. When new tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Connections, or Jive (among others) are used to bring people together in these situations—or just in preparation for such situations—today’s experts with hard won knowledge have to choose whether to participate or stay on the sidelines. Their active involvement can cement the effective use of these new tools, but equally their active resistance can neuter its effectiveness, slow its adoption, and contribute to failure.

There are a slew of good sounding reasons for refusing to participate, whether in subtle or less subtle ways:

  • Too much to do already (busyness). Experts with a full plate of work can shrug off participation by noting how busy they are. Any involvement in discussions, learning activities, and providing a thoughtful response to requests for help will take them off of their current work. By claiming busyness, experts hope that others will see that their participation would negatively impact their current work, which would be bad, and therefore not a good path to pursue.
  • Poor use of time (insufficient value). When new tools are first being introduced to an organization, the value opportunity is hazy. Sure there is a vision of improvement, but it hasn’t been achieved yet. There are many variables that need to line up in order for the organization to get value and individual people to benefit. Experts can decry immediate participation, in case the system does fail, because that would mean they had wasted their time.
  • Too senior to get involved (pride). Long-standing employees may feel that they are too senior to get involved. New social tools are for “the new kids,” the “young turks” who are infiltrating the organization. They don’t want to sully their wisdom with the ill-formed ideas of the younger employees.

If these reasons are accepted and today’s experts can remain on the outside, they will gain more time to work on their own activities. An expert is going to see that as a benefit. There is a cost, however, which is less immediately seen: by being left to work on your own current activities, you become relegated to the past. Isolation from the new real work of the organization will rapidly result.

If the new tool doesn’t get adopted, the experts may not have lost much by refusing to participate. But if it does get adopted and becomes an essential business tool, today’s experts will be on the back foot and will rapidly become the experts of yesterday. They will have lost reputation, presence, and the capability to contribute. Expertise is forged in the heat of work, but if the willingness to participate in that process goes away, today’s experts will be passed over for a new generation.

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