Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 2 – a lesson about effective and ineffective communications and their consequences 2

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 5, 2015

This is my second installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see Part 1.)

I focused on communications skills in Part 1, and continue that discussion here, beginning by proposing a point of opinion that might at first sound generally valid, but that I would at least attempt to argue is only somewhat so.

• Excellent communications skills are obvious essential for any employee, but they become more so when only some single employee holds a particular high value set of skills that is unique for that business,
• And when a communications failure on their part creates a significant bottleneck or even an overt single point of failure, for at least their part of the business.
• The more employees who have and use essentially the same skills, the easier it is to work around any problems coming from any one of them.

This set of points can be quite valid as a matter of prediction and observation, and certainly where every one of a group of same skills employees of that third bullet point are essentially interchangeable and none of them hold special-context knowledge or unique value of any sort in what they do. But that “special context knowledge or value” exception can arise in multiple ways and often in unexpected contexts.

An innovator who is the only person at a business who has some crucial specific knowledge concerning a new product under development, obviously fits that pattern, as their incapacity to make shared use of their knowledge overtly creates the type of bottleneck that I cited in the second bullet point, above. And if this communications failure expresses itself in ways that stymie this new product’s timely and cost-effective development, this becomes a true single point of failure challenge for that business as a whole too.

That employee and their issues represent a situation where the above preconceptions do apply and certainly for their first two bullet points. But consider an accounts receivable clerk who works as member of a large team of similarly skilled and tasked accountants. If one of them has excellent and even expert-level accounting skills per se, leading to their being kept on as an employee, but they do not communicate very effectively, their manager and the business they work for can readily and even easily work around that, and certainly until this work performance challenge can be resolved and a longer-term course of action decided upon. Not necessarily.

Many businesses assign specific groups of clients and their business accounts to single specific accountants, who are expected to become expertly familiar at working with them. And these accountants are expected to communicate effectively with their clients, and with specific employees at those businesses who they get to know from directly doing business with them on a recurring basis. These accountants become the people to turn to if their own management has any questions about any of “their” accounts, and they are the people who those client businesses would directly turn to if they have questions or problems too. So if an accounts receivable accountant miscommunicates an important change taking place at a client business that they work with, that would for example significantly impact upon their accounts due payments or on their orders that they would be receiving, or if they fail to share information from their own business that their client businesses would need to know, that can create very significant problems for all concerned.

A janitor who knows which office doors should be kept locked and which would normally be left open can hold significant and even unique knowledge and certainly for their work group – here relevant to business security if nothing else. Effective communications skills are always important, and when they break down or fail at the wrong time and place this can become crucially important for the entire business as a whole, and particularly when this type of failure comes from unconsidered, blind spot directions and from less communicative employees who are simply taken for granted as being “interchangeable.”

I am going to continue this overall discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to the issues of active engagement and interpersonal skills. Then after that, I will more specifically address managers, and particularly how they would seek to display and use their own hands-on expertise when working with non-managerial members of their team who have explicit hands-on responsibilities. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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