Culture & Competency

Avoiding Accidental Expertise Discovery

There are some really sad stories of how people have accidentally stumbled across expertise that was sorely needed. While the stories make for funny reading, they are sad in the sense that these types of accidents just shouldn’t happen. Organizations should have better ways of sensing who is an expert in a particular topic. Here’s the stories:

  • The Chemist. A research manager at a pharmaceuticals company was talking with the HR director in an elevator. He was bemoaning his inability to find anyone inside the firm with a specialization in a particular chemical compound. As a result, he told the HR director, he needed to instigate a search for a new external candidate to fill the gap. A women in the elevator—a current employee of the firm who worked in the same building—overheard the conversation, turned to both of them and said, “I have a PhD in that chemical compound. How can I help?”
  • The Project Manager. A new design project was kicking off at a manufacturing firm. The intent was to significantly update the current in-market product—the one that generated a significant amount of revenue for the firm—increasing its attractiveness to current customers and new prospects alike. The problem was finding the design documentation, project plans, and the discussion documents from the previous design project. The project manager was talking about this one day with a colleague, and an engineer in the next cubicle stood up to speak to them. “I was on that project,” he said, “and I know where to find those files on the file server.”

The good news is that the required expertise was found in each of the examples above, but it was entirely accidental. The bad news is that there are many times when the required expertise is not found, and either new people have to be hired, or the organization has to learn again how to undertake a particular process, activity, or project. New ways of finding expertise should reduce the likelihood of trusting to luck.

Got Another Story Like This?
I’m looking for another copy of stories like this? Do you have one from your organization you could share with me?