Nurturing Workplace Expertise: Companies Must Analyze Critical Jobs and Understand How to Nurture the Expertise Workers Need to Perform Those Tasks

Article excerpt

WORKPLACE EXPERTISE is the fuel of an organization. Experts are good problem solvers in their field because they have a high level of training, skill, knowledge, and judgment concerning a specialized domain. Successful companies know this, and they learn to develop and foster expertise among employees.

Consider the case of one large corporation that set out to increase the expertise of first-line supervisors in its manufacturing plants. The company determined precisely what knowledge plant supervisors needed to have to function as experts. Management then implemented a training and support system to develop and sustain this level of expertise among all supervisors. As a result, the business realized a 900 percent return on investment in two years.

This strategy was not an academic approach, nor was the solution a generic off-the-shelf model of good supervision; it was production specific and company-specific. That made all the difference.

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In contrast, a large financial corporation used an expensive off-the-shelf program for ten years to improve management techniques. As an auditor for the results of the program, I could find no evidence that the program had any impact on the corporation. The generalities covered in the program were interesting but did not represent what people were required to know and do to perform well on the job. In other words, the program's generalities did not hone workplace expertise.

Most organizations are ill equipped to develop and maintain expertise in their work force. Rather than learn to do so, many businesses simply decide to outsource work requiring specific expertise. Sometimes that's appropriate, but much workplace expertise is company-specific, and it is impossible to hire such expertise in the open market.

Whether they outsource it or not, many companies fail to document the knowledge and skills that comprise the critical expertise needed to achieve the organization's mission. Without that documentation, when an employee leaves or when the outside expertise is no longer available, companies must start over. Organizations that want to survive and grow must deal purposefully with the problems of procuring, developing, and maintaining workplace expertise.

Managers must also be able to accurately gauge the expertise of employees. Organizations that overestimate the innate capacity of workers can pay a heavy price. In extreme cases, companies have been forced to close clown large scale operations when their work force had neither the expertise nor capacity to meet the demands of new processes. Conversely, underestimating the capacity of the work force can hurt performance.

There are three aspects of workplace expertise that managers can document, thereby establishing a path that new workers can follow: the job description, task inventory, and task analysis.

Job Description

A job description defines the boundaries of a job. Consider the following job title as an example: corporate director of human re sources. Most managers would agree that this is an impressive title, but what does a director of human resources really do? Let's take a look at the job behind this title in one company and compare it with the job be hind the same title in a second company.

In Company A, the corporate director of human resources heads the corporatewide human resource department, supervises 15 professionals, and manages a $2 million budget. …