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Why Expertise Won't Get You a Job

07/04/2016 11:03 | Updated 07 April 2016

"Nowadays you don't want to be a knowledge expert, you want to have a knowledge network".

The words above were uttered by Brian Murphy, the Head of L&D for Citi in conversation with me last month. And they are important words because they underpin a huge shift in how knowledge is perceived within organisations and the impact on hiring decisions in the future.

In the past, people were employed because of their expertise and knowledge. Many hours were spent building that expertise and, in a culture where many people followed a 'job for life' career path, expertise and knowledge were kept in-house and passed on by their holders to their successors as people moved up through the organisation.

That's no longer the case. Now, following the same model, when a knowledge-holder leaves an organisation there is the risk of them leaving a big hole as they take all of their knowledge with them. The value an employee brings to an organisation lies less in the bank of information they have collected over the years (although, of course it still plays an important role in ensuring competence and effectiveness) but the knowledge they can bring to the organisation at any one time and access to new sources of information.

Neil Munn, Knowledge Manager at the UK branch of KAS BANK, told me, "I'd argue that sharing their knowledge is actually even more important now than before given that for almost all organisations these days knowledge is at the heart of the business - in my view both managing and mobilising knowledge is absolutely critical to success and the motto 'No one is as smart as everyone' is truer now than ever before"

Murphy goes a step further, referencing the The Corporate Leadership Council's Learning and Development High Performance Survey (2012). "In 2002", Murphy told me, "78% of a business unit's profit could be derived from employee's 'Individual Task Performance'. By 2012 this had dropped to 51%."

What about the other 49%?

Murphy continued, "This component of business profit could be linked directly to employees 'Network Performance'. That's a shift of +27% in the importance of network performance to the bottom line in just ten years - a radical shift which shows the changing nature of work in that time and the need for delivering performance through networks rather than retained knowledge.

"The importance of network performance is only going to continue to increase, in fact I'm sure that by 2016 it has easily overtaken retained knowledge in terms of impact on the bottom line."

Demographic changes in the workplace are not the only influencer on the change in our relationship with knowledge. Technology plays a huge role too. Today it is so much easier to capture, curate, distil and distribute a wider range of knowledge to a wider audience.

Munn offers a warning though, "The tools allow you to store and access enormous amounts of information - the skill is knowing how to identify, capture and disseminate what is of most value rather than just collect terabytes of "stuff".

"The technology has levelled the playing field in terms of allowing both large and small firms to have roughly the same capability when it comes to storing and accessing knowledge. Google is fantastic at being able to return 30,000 hits in under half a second but the skilled knowledge worker learns how to use the tool in an advanced way to refine the results so you avoid the '30 thousand hits, some useful' problem."

For the business that means that there is less of a need to employ experts.They can be more dynamic, responsive and agile by implementing a robust knowledge network. That may mean employing a Knowledge Champion at a senior level to oversee the strategy and then implementing a mix of technology and human resources to farm knowledge in the most effective way possible, taking into account the challenges outlined above.

For the individual, there is more of a drive to understand how to best access and curate knowledge and position yourself as the go-to person. Organisations need to create a culture where their employees are encouraged to seek intelligence and new ideas, diversify their networks to access different perspectives and constantly seek to question what is happening in their industry, their clients' industries and beyond.

Murphy is a fan of Harold Jarche's 'Seek, Sense, Share' model for 'Personal Knowledge Mastery'. Jarche explains as follows:

"Seeking is finding things out and keeping up to date. Building a network of colleagues is helpful in this regard. It not only allows us to "pull" information, but also have it "pushed" to us by trusted sources. Good curators are valued members of knowledge networks.

Sensing is how we personalize information and use it. Sensing includes reflection and putting into practice what we have learned. Often it requires experimentation, as we learn best by doing.

Sharing includes exchanging resources, ideas, and experiences with our networks as well as collaborating with our colleagues."

Interestingly, Jarche goes on to share the same quote that I often do in my talk on Connected Leadership when he explains how strong knowledge networks can lead to greater fortune in connections made and innovation uncovered. "Chance favours the connected mind", said Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From.

These changes are reflected not just in the employment practices of big organisations but in their training too. Classroom learning, while not obsolete by any means, has to compete with collaborative and social platforms. In the age of social media, everyone is an expert (or at least, they think they are!) and that means that participants in learning programmes want to share their knowledge on courses too and. in many cases, can add value by doing so.

With all of the noise created by knowledge networks, skills in curating such knowledge are probably more invaluable to many employers than the knowledge itself. Developing a knowledge network and understanding how to work with it effectively is the area both organisations and individuals need to master, not simply becoming an expert in one area.

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