Envisioning and shaping the future of work and business.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Organizations don't need experts, they need mentors

Most organizations say they want experts, but what they really need is mentors with great knowledge and skills. Let's return to my frequently used quote by Andrew Carnegie:
"The only irreplaceable capital an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of that capital depends on how effectively people share their competence with those who can use it."
People - especially those who possess valuable expertise - that can not, will not or do not share their knowledge and skills with others are worth little to an organization. That is why organizations must recruit and help people develop into experts that are also mentors ("a wise and trusted guide and advisor" - WordNet). They must also make sure that it is as easy as it possible can be for people to share their knowledge and skills with others.

If Andrew Carnegie would have headed a business today, I am pretty sure that he had focused on motivating people and making it as easy as possible for them to share and make their knowledge and skills readily available to others who need their expertise.

Using different kinds of rewards is the most straight-forward approach to motivating people to become mentoring experts. These rewards do not need to be monetary as there is a currency that is much more important to people; social status. The quest for social (such as professional) status is obviously what drives many people who are participating in social media. The best motivator is perhaps a combination of social and monetary rewards.

When it comes to making it as easy as possible for people to share their knowledge and skills with others, organizations obviously have a lot to learn from social media and the social web. Applying the similar kind of principles and technologies for their own purposes is an opportunity organizations cannot afford to miss. The simple reason that I would like to point to is that social media and social software such as social networks, blogs and micro-blogs leverage the power of informal networks. As informal networks have become more and more critical in the everyday life of knowledge workers, they have also become more and more critical to organizations. You should not need a business case to explain and make people in management positions understand that. If you do, then you are probably talking to the wrong person or company.
"Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it."

Steve Jobs, Fortune, Nov. 9, 1998 (Wired)


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