A manager writes:
I lead a section of my organization that has very successfully met its goals over the past three years. I have now been asked to take on additional responsibilities in a new area of function in which I don’t have expertise. I need to hire someone with the right skills for and knowledge of this new service. As a young manager, I am very nervous about whether I can supervise someone who has more expertise than I do. I fear that he or she won’t respect me and will take advantage of the situation, maybe even go after my job at some point. Should I be concerned?
In your previous manager role, you had expertise in an area of service. So, I expect that you had no concerns that someone could ‘pull the wool over your eyes.’ And your team members could always count on you to provide answers when they encountered difficulty in the technical side of their work. However, realize that with this promotion you are being valued for your skills and success as a manager and leader; both technical and leadership expertise are essential factors in successful organizations.
Other leaders in the organization will understand and have experienced the type of situation you are describing; most organizations have senior team leaders of functional areas such as finance, information technology, and specialized service areas. No Chief Executive Officer could be an expert across all those functions. They seek to hire other executive leaders who are properly credentialed and have credibility through documented experience. Additional essential assets of the hire ideally include healthy levels of emotional intelligence and organization awareness so that they can appropriately adapt to the work of the organization.
As managers are promoted to higher levels of responsibility in an organization, they often move away from their comfort zone of expertise into areas where others are the experts. Yet, a manager’s responsibility remains to support these experts as they contribute their best to help the organization meet its goals.
Here are the Dos and Don’ts of hiring and managing people with more expertise than you have:
Do the research and find an expert in the field who can advise you on the way the new functional area works.
You need to have a basic level of understanding about how the new area works. Let’s say, for example, that you are hiring someone to develop and maintain a new internet platform for client relations. Read and talk to others about what types of skills are required, what the realistic expectations are for the pace of work, and what kinds of mistakes can be expected. The people you consult with can help guide your research into the indicators and measures of success. Don’t hesitate to reach out for advice from the authoritative authors of the articles you read.
One benefit of working collaboratively with other organizations is the opportunity to join or build a community of interest in the area that you now oversee. If that’s not possible because you work in a competitive situation, you could seek a resource person who comes from a sector that doesn’t directly ‘compete’ with your service but who has transferable expertise.
Do clearly describe in the job posting the vision, the strategic direction, and all the qualities you are seeking in the position
In your hiring process, you’re looking for someone who sees themselves as your partner in achieving the organization’s success, yet who still recognizes your role as a leader in the organization. Look for someone who takes initiative, has problem solving and interpersonal communication skills, and whose career goals align with the opportunity.
- If you used an external resource person, invite them to be on your hiring team and help you draft the job description and performance expectations. You can go back to that person in the future and ask them to provide peer support and review for the individual. Put an expense line in your program budget for this kind of support.
- Use the job description to state your expectations around the level of autonomy your new employee will have and the types of matters on which they will need to consult.
While these suggestions are simple and reassuring, they can be difficult to apply. In hiring, for example, you may get a candidate who is very strong in technical expertise but leaves you with a lack of confidence in how he describes his understanding of the work of the organization; you fear he may create havoc and cause tension for you and others. In that case, you may want to negotiate a short term contract to assess the individual’s adaptability to work in your setting. At least, clearly outline the expectations through a probationary period.
Do get the support and resources the person needs to do the job
One of your roles as a manager is to ensure that you champion the project and build the support of the organization for the new venture and the resources your staff needs to do the work. Through your research, find out the types of resources required, including training, and compare this list with what the candidate says they need at the time of the interview. Before you start the search process, talk with your boss about the budget you need and get their support for it. You don’t want your new hire to be frustrated by bureaucratic slowdowns when you are trying to launch a new service.
Don’t let your ego or irrational fears limit the quality of the people you hire
Managers often need to manage their own insecurities in order to provide the support their staff needs. Keep your focus on the vision and desired outcomes and inspire that the person you hire to do the same. Most important of all, remember that the confidence your boss has shown in you does not mean that he or she expects you to take on new responsibilities without support. Talk with your boss at the outset about your learning curve and approach to developing the new service, and schedule check-in points. Continue to view any lingering doubts you have in yourself as feedback to identify gaps in your knowledge and consult with others.
Don’t use a cookie cutter approach to fit the new service and individual into the organization
Be aware of how the new service may require a different way to function to be successful. Your new area may require different policies, speed of decision-making, assessment of risk, compensation plans, and risk mitigation strategies. Your job as manager is to set up the operational system to support that function and to communicate the rationale to get the support of organization leaders and other teams.
In summary, stay excited about this new opportunity, visualize the outcome of success, and go looking for the best person you can find to help you get there.
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