How to Develop Experts

Why experts need to adopt a consulting approach.

As subject matter experts we have many requests to answer and many stakeholders to satisfy. With a heavy workload, it’s tempting to solve issues fast by jumping to the solution.

‘Jumping to the solution’ is a natural survival strategy in our busy world. But could this behaviour be doing us more harm than good?

We are very good at jumping to solutions. In fact, we are experts at it.. No matter where we fit across the business, we often feel we know what’s needed long before the person asking for advice has finished describing their problem.

Just as often, our colleagues already have a good idea of what they want from us and aren’t really open to alternative suggestions – so we jump to their solutions. What could possibly be wrong with giving them what they’re asking for – even if we sense they really need something else?

There is a lot wrong with this approach. Fortunately, there is a better way.

Brand damage from acting fast

We need to be very wary of jumping to a solution – ours or theirs. There’s a very good chance the results won’t deliver the best value to our stakeholder or to our organisation. And there are potential disadvantages to our personal brand:

  • We will damage our reputation. We’ll end up becoming the go to person for last minute acts of heroism, or low-level grunt activity. We’re unlikely to be viewed as a strategy shaper.
  • If our solution fails, we risk earning a reputation for delivering substandard work. Relationships with the requesting stakeholders will be sub-optimal – master-slave rather than a collaborative brains trust.
  • We’ll be stressed and maxed out because we are handling activities that are unfulfilling, less worthy of our talents and not allowing us to realise our potential.

The answer? Switch to a consulting mindset

The good news is we can immediately start transforming these exchanges by adopting a consulting mindset. A few simple practices will transform the way we are perceived and how our talents can be leveraged

1.Undertake a comprehensive, business driven discovery process

  • What are the business issues that the requested solution is to resolve? It is best not get into the technical specifications until these are understood.
  • How exactly are those issues showing up? Are there metrics that indicate the scale of the problems? Can they be quantified?
  • Once the context is better understood, we can start interrogating the technical detail.

2. Shaping the solution

  • Define the issues or options as decided between the stakeholders.
  • Develop an agreed implementation plan and method of evaluating its success.

3. Proving Success

  • The solution should measurably address the issues as defined.
  • We can show we’ve succeeded by reporting on the hard stats and the soft feedback.

4. Learnings

  • Institutionalise the critical improvement question: “If we had our time again, what would we do differently?”
  • Honestly address the issues – both predicted and from left field.
  • Record the learnings.

Adopting a consulting mindset enables us to slow down and address requests and issues from a 360 perspective. We are better able to fight for what’s best rather than the easy option. If we do that we’ll deliver properly targeted and impactful solutions, and we’ll be appreciated for it.

If this structure makes sense to you, but you’d like some guidance in pulling it all together, for a more detailed exposition of the methodology click here.

DOMINIC JOHNSON is a Partner at Expertunity, and a master facilitator of the signature program for technical experts, Mastering Expertship. He is co-author of the Expertship Growth Guide, and the forthcoming Master Expert.