How to Manage Technical and Creative Experts

by Robert Moskowitz on September 27, 2013
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As a small-business owner, you may require the specialized know-how of technical, creative, or subject-matter experts – either as full-time employees, part-timers, or consultants – from time to time. Although these professionals know way more about their specialty than you ever will, you still need to oversee their work. After all, you want to keep them moving in the right direction, coordinate their efforts with those of others, and evaluate their effectiveness and efficiency.

Here’s how to manage specialty experts as effectively as you manage everyone else:

Talk About What You Need, Not How to Achieve It

Most of the time, you probably have a clear idea of how to reach your goals. But asking an expert to follow your less-informed action plan is like buying a racehorse to pull a milk wagon. Instead, focus on communicating the business problem you’re facing and what a satisfactory solution might look like.

Encourage your expert to ask you questions in order to clarify the details of your vision. This encourages her to take ownership of the task and to bring all of her knowledge and abilities to bear on it.

Of course, you’ll still want to provide some guidelines, including a timetable, a budget, and so forth. But when you give an expert the freedom to find his own path to reach a goal, you generally get better, faster, and more effective results.

Make It Clear That You Respect Their Expertise

People with special talents, skills, and expertise have earned the right to call their own shots in many areas of what they do. You wouldn’t tell an ER surgeon which operation to perform, so why would you tell a database programmer how to code?

Instead, give experts their due. Once a project is defined, allow them to explain the choices and possibilities available to you. Be ready to defer to their judgments, as appropriate.

Most of the time, demonstrating your respect for specialists’ abilities is the best way to gain support for your ideas and to push your project forward.

Spend Time Together to Forge a Stronger Bond

Experts tend to have markedly different backgrounds, experiences, and personality types. To integrate them into your larger project team, schedule an off-duty get-together, such as a group lunch, a weekend bowling party or picnic, or even a structured company retreat. These activities will help foster stronger, more trusting connections among colleagues that will facilitate work on the project.

In addition, use these opportunities to share your passion for the project, your concerns about potential problems, and your blue-sky vision for a successful outcome. Be sure to listen to your team, too.

One important caveat: Some experts have little patience for “touchy, feely” encounters and may even feel contempt for any “social” time and effort, which they may consider to be primarily a drain on energies needed for the project at hand. Be aware of this, and if you sense any negativity, wrap up the experience before you create unnecessary turbulence within the project team.

Challenge Experts With New Ideas

You can often get better results by providing experts with opportunities to confront opposing views. To do this, try diversifying your teams, sending your experts to conferences, or bringing in additional consultants.

By pushing experts out of their comfort zones, you may prompt them to reframe a problem, reconsider a discarded approach, juxtapose incongruous elements, or otherwise think more deeply — all of which may lead to more innovative solutions.

Effective management of technical, creative, and subject-matter experts depends on your ability to recognize that they differ from generalists. Use these differences to get optimal results.

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