by guest blogger Serena Palmer

Probably yes. If you have a SME not an EIR (stay with me).

I’ve been running Leadership Development and Talent in various shapes and sizes for many years, and in all kinds of industries, from the Natural History Museum, to McDonald’s, and working in this field of HR I have had many a challenging conversation with Leaders when it comes to measuring performance.

So often I have heard a type of Expert described as the highest performer or top talent. This is the kind of thing I hear:

  • “There’s nothing they don’t know about the role they do.”
  • “She’s been here years; she’s got all the knowledge about all the systems.”
  • “He just gets on with it; he doesn’t need or want any development; he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
  • “They really have loads of experience and they don’t need supervising.”

Hello_I_Am_An_ExpertHowever often I hear add-ons to this such as “Oh they’ve always been a bit difficult”, “She is just cynical but she doesn’t mean anything by it”, “Oh, we just leave him to get on with it; he wants to be left alone or he gets quite rude”. These types of comments come up when I ask the leaders about how they go about the role, the behaviours for example. As we all know, performance is a measurement of what you have achieved and how you achieved it. Somehow this becomes a grey area when a leader feels that they have an expert on the team.

And to some degree this is true; however what they have is an SME a Subject Matter Expert. What they don’t have is an EIR Expert in Role.

 

Subject matter expert

An SME is what I have described above: someone who has huge knowledge in the work that they do and plenty of experience and there is nothing about the subject that they don’t know, but the way in which they go about it is not what you would want. They can be difficult, rude, cynical, or just disengaged, but because they really know their stuff they are rated at the top of the performance scale.

 

Expert in role

Compare that with an EIR. An expert in role is someone who is at the top of their game in knowledge about the role (just as above) there is nothing that they don’t know about getting the job done to the best standard, AND they inspire others to be just like them. Their behaviour and the way in which they go about their role are inspiring and positive and they bring people along with them. New starters would look up to them, and they are regarded as the “bench mark” for doing the role right. Simply speaking they are at the top of the performance scale in the “what” and the “how”.

 

A rare breed

But the EIR is a rare breed, an endangered species in the work place. So what often happens is we accept just half – the “what”, and still use the term expert, still rate them at the top of the scale? We excuse poor behaviour because of the work that they produce. But would you want a brand new starter to your team buddied up with a SME? Would you want the enthusiastic newbie trained on how to do the job by the SME? If the answer is “no” then you have to question what do you want the SME for? If you feel that they would knock the enthusiasm out of your newbie in a week, or role model the type of behaviour you don’t want in the team – then why are they in the team, or even worse, in the team at the top of the pay scale and top of the performance scale?

 

An example

OK, let’s go back a step – how did Bob end up as a SME and not an EIR? Bob has the ability to be either; what makes a difference is the line management that Bob has had. Bob got the job because he was good. He trained and refined his skills, and he grew his network and understood the systems. He worked hard, put in the hours and showed loyalty. But when he had a bad day he let everyone know. He caused problems in the team, and had difficult relationships with his peers. His line manager never pointed this out, coached him through the behaviour issues, or managed him effectively. Bob may have had several line managers but each one never got around to having a “chat” with him. After years of reinforced behavioural issues Bob is now a SME. If the right coaching and guidance and pick up from the line manager had been there earlier, Bob may well now be an EIR.

How is a SME bad for your team? Well by simply having them there suggests something about you as a leader. You have one rule for them and another for the rest of the team. You excuse the poor behaviour with the quality or level of work done – this means you value this more than how it got done, doesn’t it? The behaviours exhibited by your SME are role-modelled and new team members will fall in line to fit in or get out of your team at the earliest opportunity.

 

So what can you do?

Can you turn a SME into an EIR – Yes you can!

But this will involve you not rewarding them at APR with the high performance score that they have been given previously. You need to get the message through that they are in fact just doing half the job and that you value how something is achieved as much as what is achieved. You will need to give evidence and examples of specific behaviour that has had a negative effect and what you would prefer to see. And this conversation will not be easy! How can you mark them down now after all this time? Well the cost of an SME on the team can be massive. Recruitment turnover, team morale, output and sickness and reputational damage for you as a leader and for the team. Can you afford not to address this and reset the scale? This may well involve team performance shifts. Also, if your SME was rated highest, then you might have been too generous with the rest of the team also. The boat will have to be rocked!

The way in which all of this can be avoided is to have a clear set of performance indicators and a behaviour framework that you use at APR time and throughout the year. Clarity and simplicity is everything. Rewarding great positive behaviour with as much or more importance than the work output and setting the standards will help you move your team towards EIRs.


The definition of ‘Expert’ – a person with special knowledge or ability who performs skilfully.

How skilfully do yours perform?

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