Experts come and go – what happens to their expertise?

by | Apr 18, 2018 | Collaboration, Digital workplace, Search

Paul Corney and I have been working through the session topics for Expertise Discovery 2018, which will take place next Thursday 26 April in London. The results of the Survey Monkey survey we have been conducting (and it is still open) indicate that access to expertise is of critical importance to the majority of respondents. No surprise there! Many of the expertise finding options that are now available track the activities and outputs of people as a means of deriving a value of their expertise. SharePoint is just one example. The importance of network connections goes back to the advent of social network analysis. Of course, what was computationally difficult twenty years ago is now substantially easier with graph databases.

If you look at the marketing messages from search and search-based application vendors you will realise that they are assuming a steady state with respect to employees. In reality probably 10% of employees leave each year and are replaced by a similar number of new employees. Your organisation will have taken a lot of care in selecting these new employees on the basis of the expertise and experience they will bring with them.

One of the surprising outcomes of the survey is that little attention seems to be paid to bringing this expertise to the attention of people who might need it or who relied on the employee who has now left. The newcomer will (hopefully) be asked to create a profile but remember that the expertise system has been tracking documents have been written and other contributions that have been made by the person they have replaced for perhaps several years. How long do you think it will be until  the system presents the expertise of the new employee as at least equivalent to their predecessor? A month, six months, a year? Until this point in time the investment in the employee in terms of their expertise will be minimal other than to their immediate colleagues.

The expert who has left will leave a trail of knowledge behind but they will not appear on the list of employees or on the email directory. Even in small organisations it can take time for the disappearance of the expert to be common knowledge. Will people searching for expertise and find a name as a result of a document the expert wrote, a network they were part of, or a corporate presentation they gave, be directed to their replacement? This of course assumes that there is someone taking over a role and having the same expertise. Or will the search turn up the expertise equivalent of a 404 error? Managing this situation is not easy and in our experience there is often a difference of opinion as to whether it is the responsibility of HR, their business manager or IT as owners of the application.

Expertise finding applications have a role to play but only as a component of an expertise strategy. The survey indicated that most organisations do not have such a strategy, either stand-alone or part of a knowledge management strategy. Why not come along next Thursday, make the optimum use of the experts around you and leave with a framework for an expertise strategy?

Martin White