Everybody is looking for skilled experts, but struggle to give them a good career path. Former McKinsey partner and DataIQ Link headline speaker, Thomas Barta, offers some tips. Expertise was never more important. The world is complex. The data world is more complex. Yet many experts feel undervalued in their companies. New research confirms their feeling - experts are undervalued. It’s a paradox. But there’s a way out.
You love data. Perhaps you know all about customer needs. You may see what’s happening in the market. Or perhaps you know how to make your company’s data more accessible or secure. As an expert in the digital age, your expertise is critical. People should ask for your opinion. They should listen to what you have to say. Your position in the organisation should be exalted. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
Korn Ferry, an HR firm, has found that organisations struggle to develop expert careers. Most companies reward general management tracks - the closer to the revenue line, the better. General management stuff is prestigious. Yet many experts don’t enjoy it. “Rising through the ranks” often means giving up expertise in favour of generalist skills. But, as an expert, you may love going deep. You may enjoy building expertise. You may be happy in a small team (rather than worrying about leading a big crowd). So what do you do?
There’s good news. In researching over 1,200 senior marketers, we found a very important career success factor for experts - ensure people understand why your work matters. Tell people how your work helps the company achieve the big issues.
Here’s an example. The story goes that, during a visit to NASA by President Kennedy, a cleaner told him, “my job is to put a man on the moon, sir”. Asked about his job, he could have said, “I’m cleaning the house”. Instead, he referred to the big picture. Invented or not, this story makes a great point - help people to understand why your work matters.
We found proof in our large global study that tackling big issues (and telling people about it) is a big driver of expert influence. Here are some tips for how you can up your own expert value and influence:
Get behind the big issues
What’s the priority list of an average CEO? Good bets are revenue, costs or sustainability (eg, skills, regulation). It’s important for you to know the big issues your CEO is grappling with. The Head of Digital for a consumer goods company, for example, has made it routine to read the weekly sales reports. He also asked to attend the monthly budget meetings as they give him a great overview of what’s currently going on in the C-suite. He told us during a workshop: “Being in the flow helps me to set the right digital priorities. It’s the most important thing I do.”
Make the link between you and business success
“Do good work and the success will come” is a recipe for guaranteed failure as an expert. It’s the other way around - helping people understand how your work benefits business success is a core part of your job. One of the most respected leadership experts, Professor Manfred Kets de Vries, is a very active publisher. He’s always done unique research. But he spends at least as much time explaining to the world why it matters. And that’s how he has influenced the way thousands of executives lead.
Talk big issue
Make sure you link your communication to the big issue in emails, meetings and so on. Be sure to spread the word. As an expert, you can be very influential. Make sure you tackle a big issue - and talk about it.
So - what’s the big issue you are tackling?
Thomas Barta is a speaker, writer and consultant to senior leaders on raising and achieving their organisational aspirations. A former McKinsey partner, he has conducted the world’s largest leadership study involving over 50,000 executives on what makes for an impactful marketer.
* To see Thomas Barta speak at this year’s DataIQ Link, book your ticket at www.dataiq.co.uk/link2015