Expertise search – the strange use case of the ‘New Hire’

by | Oct 7, 2020 | Collaboration, Digital workplace, Search

Over the last few months I have seen a number of suggestions from search vendors and from KM consultants that an enterprise search application is essential for new hires (NH) to be able to find subject matter experts from around the organisation to help them move on with the work they are doing.

I would like to consider some wider managerial implications of this use case which seem not to have been taken into account.  

When a NH arrives in an organisation there are two certainties. The first is that they will have a manager. The second is that they will be introduced to project managers or team managers that they will be working with. Their manager will then start them on their first task, and they will quickly be invited to join project and team applications and meetings. However the assumption by those offering expertise search is that the minute the NH hits a problem the solution is to use the search application to find an expert in the organisation who can help them.

Now if I was a NH the first person I would speak to would be my manager. They would either be able to solve the problem or suggest someone I should talk to within their network. That is the role of a manager. I could also raise the issue with someone else on my team, perhaps by posting a message on the team chat. I will be familiar with intranet technology so I might look to see if there is a specific document that I can refer to.

I ask you, is it likely that in an organisation I am totally unfamiliar with that I will conduct a search to find an expert? For a start (and this is a problem in any expert search situation) I am probably not familiar enough with the ‘business language’ to know how to choose relevant query terms for a problem I have never come across before. Just as important the search application may list out more than one expert. How do I choose which one to contact, and how certain can I be that the solution they suggest is sound advice, especially if they are working in a different department, a different country or are responding in their second language?

Let me now consider the situation from the perspective of the manager.  Because the NH has not talked to them at the outset manager will not be aware of the problem, so they cannot either offer a solution to the NH or appreciate that they need more training. The manager will also not be able to assess whether the problem is one that has arisen before and which needs deeper investigation as to why it still seems to be a problem.

From the viewpoint of the expert, they will be concerned that the manager is failing in their duty to support the NH and may decide to raise the issue with the manager’s manager, to everyone’s embarrassment. The manager themselves will be concerned that so soon after joining the organisation the NH does not trust them to be supportive and team members will also be curious when at the next meeting the NH explains that they decided to search for an expert because they felt that the team would not support them.

The bottom line is this. How would you, as a manager, feel if a NH seemed to have so little trust in you that they would resort to using a search application they are unfamiliar with to find an expert they did not know to help them with a problem that they could not clearly define?

Martin White