Warning: this post is a bit of a rant (but does have a story and some practical advice). Does it seem like every day there’s a new pile of “experts” cropping up on every subject imaginable? Social media expert. Blogging expert. Communications expert. Strategy expert. Wingdings font expert. It’s enough to make me gag. Sorry but having a bunch of twitter followers or being at the top of the twitter elite for a podunk little town doesn’t make you a “social media expert.”
Even worse than the seemingly-viral proliferation of these “experts” are the egregious rates they expect for their services. Just because you call yourself an “expert” it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the fee levels “real experts” charge (then again, if you’re the individual hiring an “expert” and paying them ridiculous fees, I can’t save you from your own insipidness).
Lastly, the worst aspect of these “experts” is the damage they can do to your organization. In some cases I’d love to sue some of these folks for malpractice of the trade they proclaim they’re an expert in.
So how can you as a leader of your organization protect yourself from the damage false experts can cause and how can you find the real experts among that mess? How can you ensure the expert isn’t like the false tailor and you end up like an emperor with no clothes?
It all boils down to asking the right questions.
First, let’s define expert: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field. SPECIAL. Special meaning very few have this ability and said ability has and can generate value. SPECIAL. Meaning a level of expertise well beyond the capabilities of others. A quote that infuriates me exemplifies this point: “You only have to know 10% more than those you’re teaching before you can call yourself an expert.” 10%? Really? Are our performance expectations really that low? Hogwash I say! All of you reading know what your expectations of an “expert” are but too many times we let that standard slip as we’re interviewing potential expert service providers.
I recently heard a story about an “expert” that was pitching his services to a senior executive. After the “expert’s” pitch, the senior exec said “I’m sorry but your resume indicates nothing that makes you even remotely qualified to advise us on these topics. Beyond that, the fee structure you’re requesting is nowhere near commensurate with the value I believe you can provide, which, incidentally, given your lack of real experience in this field, is very little. I suggest you get some real-world practical experience in this field and demonstrate some tangible results before you hock your services as an ‘expert’ in this field.”
Oh. My. God. I love this guy. As my son would say, his response was an uber pwn in the world of business rejections. While the story is hilarious and you’re probably cheering for this guy, he’s also provided a valuable lesson you shouldn’t lose during your applause and cheering.
Ask for examples of relevant experience
Any “expert” should be able to readily and easily provide a laundry list of real-world experiences where they’ve utilized the skills they profess to have. Make your expert cough up the stories about how they’ve used what they’re teaching during previous job assignments or consulting assignments. If they can’t, your warning siren should be warming up.
Ask for evidence of impact they’ve had
I’ve said this a million times – I don’t care about activities. I care about impact. An expert must be able to link the provision of their expertise to real tangible results. Your organization must improve as a result of your investment in this person’s services. The likelihood of that happening if the “expert” has never before demonstrated bottom line impact is pretty low. If the expert is unable to provide direct evidence of the results they generate (either in the form of numbers for “hard” impact services or testimonials and survey results for “softer” skill services) the warning siren should begin emitting its wail.
Ask how they’ll transfer or apply their expertise
Experts can be like a street drug. Once you get hooked on their services, you might need to keep having them back to provide those skills. That gets expensive over time. The best kinds of experts are those who put clients first and try to render their services obsolete. Yes, I know you once again think I’ve lost it but that approach benefits both the expert and the client.
An expert who can build the skills of the people in your organization gives you leverage for your investment in their services. You now have a more capable team because the expert built their skills and those skills can now be applied more broadly in your organization. It’s beneficial to the expert because such an approach builds their reputation as someone who puts client first which should result in more work coming their way.
Ask your “expert” how they’re going to build your team’s skills and how they feel about rendering themselves obsolete by doing so. If they hem and haw, the warning siren should be at full wail.
Compare their rate to their value
Payments you make to an expert are an investment in your organization. You should expect a healthy return on that investment. “Good” experts will be able to articulate how their fees compare to the market as well as how their expertise will drive value to your bottom line. “Great” experts will actually shoot for a target of value to fees. A reasonable expectation is 5:1. A high expectation is 10:1 (said differently, if an expert charges $1 for services, they should drive between $5-10 in real, tangible value).
If your “expert” can’t articulate the investment return on their fees, the warning siren’s full wail should by now lead to an evacuation of the building. And to clarify – the only person who should be “evacuated” is the so-called expert who really isn’t.
Do you have any “experts” running around your organization? Are you considering hiring any? Ask them these questions and see what happens. It should make for an interesting conversation. You might just learn the “expert” is the tailor who believes you’re simply a foolish emperor and he’s willing to sell you invisible clothes. And if you’re touting yourself as an “expert” and you’re not, stop, go get some experience and figure out how to deliver value because eventually the market will decide whether you’re an expert or not. And when the market does make that judgment, it won’t be too kind if you’re not able to deliver on your so-called “expertise.”
How do you evaluate “experts?” What has your experience been? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.