How to Leverage Your Organization's Expertise
Knowledge is power - both in our personal lives and work lives. But, in our organizations, the management of this knowledge is one of the most crucial yet overlooked aspects of workplace progress. When employees fail to get access to the knowledge necessary for completing their tasks, the organization can suffer. In fact, there are many benefits to using a practice called Knowledge Management to purposefully manage your organization's knowledge assets and ensure access.
Today, we'll be exploring an aspect of Knowledge Management called Expertise Location - the idea, in a nutshell, is to manage knowledge by identifying experts on a particular topic and then leveraging that expertise in support of business goals and objectives. Every company has experts on different topics, and Expertise Location is a way to formalize and easily identify and track where to go to leverage this expertise. Ready? Let's jump in!
What is Expertise Location?
Expertise Location helps organizations to manage knowledge by identifying experts on a particular topic and then leveraging that expertise in support of business goals and objectives. To some extent, it also allows the organization to verify and qualify that expertise. And it allows individuals to claim, and support their claims, to verify expertise through demonstrated effort and work product.
Expertise Location involves identifying human expertise, determining the status of that resource and integrating the person or expertise into the interaction process. It is used to maintain in-depth representations of skills, geographic locations, availability and other parameters relevant to the use of the expertise. (Gartner)
What Are the Best Tools and Approaches for Expertise Location?
There are a couple of different tools and approaches available for expertise location. Let's take a look at them:
Expertise Location – Profiles: The first one we’ll look at is profiles. These are often user-generated and populated, and their completeness and accuracy vary widely. These profiles could be created and stored in specific tools for managing expertise. Many self-proclaimed experts will develop and manage social media profiles, such as personal blogs, LinkedIn profiles, and profiles on other public and private social media services.
Some organizations still use spreadsheets to track staff areas of expertise. Many smaller consulting firms in fact, manage their expertise in this manner, with lots of columns for industry experience, more for horizontal/process experience, still more for types of information management projects they’ve worked on, etc.
The problem with all of these approaches is that they are heavily reliant on individuals to report their expertise completely, accurately, and without exaggeration. The other problem is that they are often out of date by the time they are completed by all the relevant staff.
Expertise Location – Interaction: The next approach is through interaction – that is, how do other people perceive your expertise? We just mentioned LinkedIn; in addition to the profile you create, it can also display skills and endorsements and recommendations, which are provided by other people.
Another interaction-based approach is through communities of practice. These are groups organized around a particular process, technology, or challenge. Individuals participate based on their interest and the value they perceive from participation; those who participate actively, speak, organize, etc. are often perceived as experts within that community. These could be in-person, like user groups, or online communities and forums.
Finally, there is a class of tools called question and answer (Q&A) platforms. As the name suggests, these are tools that let some users or, in some cases, anyone ask questions. Someone or anyone can answer questions, and just about anyone can rate the questions and answers. These make it fairly obvious as to who the experts are on a particular topic or issue. Interestingly, these can also surface gaps in existing documentation, training, etc. and point to potential opportunities to address them.
Expertise Location – Analytics: The last approaches we’ll review here rely on the power of analytics to identify experts. One way to do this is to use content analytics to evaluate individuals’ contributions to documents in the repository, with the idea being that the better and more frequent the contributions, the greater the level of expertise.
We can also leverage analytics to analyze email traffic or social media traffic. Who’s being emailed about a particular topic, who’s blogging on a particular topic, whose blog posts or articles or Tweets are reposted and forwarded? Social media, in particular, presents interesting opportunities to identify expertise through the so-called “social graph,” or the interactions between individuals across a variety of platforms.
What are the Common Issues with Expertise Location?
There are a number of issues associated with locating experts. The first and perhaps most obvious is that of false expertise, generally because the “expert” claimed expertise he or she didn’t actually possess. This could be for any number of reasons but should be straightforward to determine using the analytics – and interaction-based approaches.
Another issue relates to the frequent disconnect between an individual’s official job title and their actual expertise. Sometimes this is because of the proliferation of job titles that are more creative than informative such as “Information Maven.” But it’s not uncommon for people to be hired for one thing and have a passion and skill at something else that would benefit the organization if only it knew.
The last issue we’ll mention is that of “expert fatigue.” This occurs when the organization relies on a particular expert so much that the expert starts feeling stress and overwork from what is generally an additional role or duty. In these cases, it may make sense to set up a center of excellence to let those experts serve in that capacity full-time.
The Importance of Knowing What Your Organization Knows
Knowledge Management and Expertise Location drive innovation and directly contribute to the bottom line. Not knowing what your organization knows can be a recipe for rework, stagnation, and inefficiency.
Each of these tools and approaches has pros and cons. Some will fit better for certain circumstances, so it is important to always consider your options.
No matter which tool(s) you choose, those based on automation and analysis are almost always going to be more effective and easier to define and maintain compared to any manual and self-reported approaches.