Are you hiring a tech expert? Here is what you need to know

- September 6, 2021 3 MIN READ
tech expert

Not every small business employs technical specialists like engineers, software developers, or scientists. But those that do rely heavily on their ability to develop new products, reduce costs and increase the value of the business, writes Alistair Gordon, author of Master Expert.

After hiring an expert, often, the business is disappointed. This is slowly changing, but a majority of newly hired experts will have largely spent their career focused on technical challenges – not business results.

As a result, it’s rare they have had the opportunity to learn the full range of skills needed to drive change, to sell ideas, commercially contextualise their benefits, or convince stakeholders to join their crusade.

I’ve been an executive coach of technical specialists for nearly 10 years and I see this same problem occur again and again. Specialists are hired at great expense, then left to “get on with it”. They’re the experts, after all!

That doesn’t drive peak performance. If you expect to leverage a new hire to grow your business, you have to do the work of helping them understand how you want your business to grow.

Here are three skills that will help your expert help you.

Coaching: your expert needs it too

Encourage experts to share their knowledge, and to teach everyone in the business to perform basic technical tasks. This builds a positive brand for the specialist and encourages the organisation to see them as easy to approach.

Coaching is a skill that can be taught. Without it, experts struggle to delegate their less important work. They then become a single point of failure, as they may be the only person who understands how to run – or fix! – a critical system.

Encourage experts to write short manuals for systems that only they understand. Insist they take time to write. It may seem like a significant investment of time, but it’s worth it if it helps the expert reduce their low-value support work, and gives them more time to help grow the business.

Understanding the organisation’s commercial priorities

Can your experts describe your company strategy in two sentences? Can they name your top three competitors? Can they explain which customer segments buy your products – and which won’t?

If not, they will struggle to pitch their ideas in a way that makes clear their commercial or strategic benefit. An idea’s technical benefits may be abundantly clear, but that’s not going to convince your accountant.

As an entrepreneur, you may not be willing to share your entire P&L with staff. Try to at least help experts understand which products and services generate the most profit, for example, or have the most challenged margins. Experts can’t add value unless they understand what challenges your business.

Choose the right work for your expert

Talk to your specialists about how they spend their time, and what might be more valuable. It’s part of “business skills” to know make sure they work on the right thing at the right time.

But don’t assume this is just about prioritisation. Asking specialists to grow a business, not just improve its technical infrastructure, is a bigger, broader challenge than they are likely to have faced in the past.

This group appreciates a challenge. In return, you’ll get the best of the expertise and ideas you’ve paid for.

And finally…

Don’t confuse the skills needed by experts with the skills needed to be a strong manager. People managers need to know how to lead teams, where experts want to learn how to drive projects, ideas and innovation. The first want to learn leadership, the second expertship.

These are two very different skill sets. If you’re not considering how to improve your organisation’s expertship as much as its leadership, you’re probably not getting the value you could from your experts.

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