Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them – so goes a famous saying from yester-years. The corporate world extension of this is: Expertise may sometimes actually exist but can always be portrayed to exist.
The corporate world is full of experts if not expertise. You name it and there are one or more experts. At the strategic level, you have the expert on mergers and acquisitions; company turnaround; getting into, sorry, out of, bankruptcy; improving the bottom line, top line or anything in between, and so on.
Experts at the tactical or operational level provide a lot of fun while creating immense confusion in the organization. Typically, such an expert’s ‘expertise’ is based on one incident, situation or project that he or she has encountered earlier in the career. For example, an office manager who has reorganized the office in a five people company, essentially by moving a few tables around, becomes the expert in ‘office remodeling’. She then touts her expertise and attempts the same technique (more like a trick) in a multi-location, global company with hundreds of employees, with disastrous results.
These experts are like one-trick ponies. They learn something somewhere and try to apply the same principle or methodology over and over in any and all situations. Such expertise is even better peddled if the ‘expert’ moves from company to company quickly (which may also be a necessity as their bluff is called out in short order at each place). They constantly try to prove the cliché, ‘one size fits all’!
The pinnacle of the corporate expertise phenomenon is reserved for ‘Ask the Expert’ sessions that are a favorite comic interlude of every conference and convention. Imagine yourself as a helpless spectator in such a gathering, with the panel of experts on the podium dishing out their wisdom to unsuspecting audiences, and enjoy the show:
Panel Moderator: We are honored to have multiple experts on managing project costs to answer questions from our eager group of project managers in the audience.
Audience-1: How can I speed up a project without increasing resource costs?
Expert-1: There is always a cheaper resource – use metal sheets of thinner gauge, use stainless steel instead of ….
Audience-1: But excuse me, we are talking of a software development project.
Expert-1: Well… you know……. maybe you could use a cheaper software language, maybe Java instead of C… it is all the same principle, you know.
Audience-2: Hi, in our project the requirements keep changing and the stakeholders do not realize the added costs due to this. How best can we get the right message across and establish controls?
Expert-2: We had the same situation when we were designing the process flow for making soaps in a client’s factory. We just used an existing, competitor’s soap as our requirements specification and ……
Audience-2: But, with due respect, we are designing a unique multi-storey condo complex to custom specifications.
Expert-2: It is all the same. I have seen it in several factories that our consultancy has designed…… Just adopt an existing model…
Long live the clan of experts – but stay away from their expertise!