How do we manage an expert who has more knowledge than us?

How do we manage an expert who has more knowledge than us?

June 2, 2024 IPI 0

As managers, we often encounter situations where our subordinates are better trained in a particular field than we are. After all, our job is to lead the team and achieve the desired results, not to be an expert on everything. Therefore, we build the team from the best qualified people, and therefore from experts who are aware of their knowledge. How then do we enforce, delegate and manage teams that have expert knowledge of the areas they are responsible for, more than their supervisor, who is de facto held accountable for the total result of their work?

The master-apprentice formula is no longer the standard

The last several years have seen a generational reversal, with the younger ones teaching the older ones about technology and its operation. This trend is slowly passing, and we may not have realized until now that this is reflected in management in organizations, where the classic master-apprentice formula is no longer the standard, and the organization’s elaborate systems require the hiring of highly skilled professionals in a particular area. Management no longer has the same level of knowledge that experts in, for example, the logistics department or programmers working on advanced systems have.

Peter Drucer wrote about this back in 1999, “… employees are no longer hired as subordinates, providing predetermined services or activities, but rather should be called knowledge workers, who often need to be more knowledgeable about their work than their supervisor.” Nowadays, competence is seen through skills, as evidenced by a progressive trend where recruiters, when selecting candidates, give more weight to the experience and practical knowledge a candidate has, rather than the names of previously held positions.

Differences in management between experts and non-experts

The most important issue in expert management is that an expert does not need to, and indeed cannot, be managed instructionally, the leader does not give him instructions on what to do in turn. In such a case, one manages the relationship and the coaching style, that is, asking questions that are directing the person to find a solution according to his knowledge, not the knowledge of the supervisor. Similarly, when a turbine component in a ship stops functioning, its captain doesn’t need to know which part it is or how to replace it, he only needs to know to which man to delegate the task of fixing it.

It is the supervisor who asks the expert how will he or she solve the problem in the quickest and most effective way, or in terms of the result, what methods will we use to arrive at increased profits in the chosen area? In how many different ways can we do this?

An expert provides narrowly specialized answers and solutions in a given area. Management in this case boils down to the fact that leaders must provide them with transparent and simple rules for cooperation and a psychologically safe environment where there is a high sense of comfort. Experts themselves don’t like hierarchy, don’t like to be controlled and are averse to rules, so they may often want to circumvent or break those rules.

The impact of leadership style on achieving organizational goals

Leadership style has a huge impact on the achievement of an organization’s most important goals, and increasingly skilled knowledge workers, often experts, need management based more on relationship management or the development of their own soft skills such as emotional maturity. Experts managed by managers, leaders also need to have skills that enable them to adapt quickly to changing interpersonal, entrepreneurial or socioeconomic conditions.

When it comes to enforcing results with experts, it is often a matter of self-surveillance, which is why their attitude of high emotional maturity and proactivity plays such an important role in the process of managing experts.

In addition, managers stepping into the role of a super leader have the opportunity to unleash the intrinsic motivation of employees, which further drives itself.

Being a super leader, then, is about leading employees to lead themselves, that is, producing intrinsic motivation for work while not taking credit for its production by the leader. This approach may be revolutionary in many organizations, but such management ultimately inspires and motivates.

Proactive behavior is significantly influenced by a leader’s leadership style such as Ethical Leadership or, in the case of experts, management through coaching. Hence, CEOs, senior managers, whose role in the organization is crucial, also need to re-evaluate their leadership style in order to manage teams more effectively, creating innovative solutions. Since it is obvious that both the management of knowledge and, more precisely, knowledge workers and their proactive behaviors are supposed to lead to increased profitability of the organization regardless of whether it is a commercial corporation, country or society (Doval, E.).

Results, and conflict resolution

Another issue worth considering in leadership style is how to resolve conflicts in expert teams. In the classic strategy, it often seems that resolution is done from an either-or level, which directly leads to the rejection of one of the options. Such a solution introduces a sense of regret and loss and, paradoxically, can exacerbate the conflict.

Meanwhile, what would be good to introduce in the case of conflict is to bring people together in a third solution, where experts are brought together through their personal goals and values with the organization’s mission, vision and values to form alliances. Employees then stop defending their silos, or areas, and see the entirety of the organization and the interdependencies between departments, and thus act from the perspective of the benefits to the company, rather than just from the perspective of their department or its bottom line.

All of the above translates into a greater sense of meaningful work, as well as identification and understanding of one’s role in the organization. As the market has been reaping the harvest of phenomena such as Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting for some time now, it is worth understanding their deep cause, which is the lack of a sense of meaningful work. This involves both the difficulty of seeing the importance of one’s role to the organization, but more importantly, the failure to connect the employee’s personal values with those of the organization, his personal goals with those of the organization. That is, the answer to the question, why should a given employee work for this organization? What personal goals should he use the company for? Adopting such a perspective, builds long-term and sincere motivation to work for an organization. Because ultimately, everyone works for themselves and for the realization of their values.

Author Anna Modrzewska

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