If you are in a management position, the following information might be extremely valuable to you and your team. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, organizations are increasingly depending on independent, temporary workers, even for mission-critical work. The author calls this subset of freelancers who do strategic work in companies or nonprofit organizations agile talent, which is another way of describing external experts. In a well researched and practical book, HBR contributer Jon Younger provides clear guidance for organizations to consider what it will be like to include significantly more external experts working side-by-side with their internal ‘regular’ employees.
External experts bring in the technical expertise that an organization does not already have to a critical project or initiative. By providing temporary support, they make it possible for organizations to resource their critical activities more cost efficiently.
Many of the benefits of agile talent have been widely reported, with firms like Deloitte and Accenture forecasting that external experts may be as much as a third of the workforce now, and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
But a benefit that has received less attention is the contribution that an external expert can make as a mentor to an organization’s full-time staff. Reaching out to outside experts to help in the development of internal employees is a valuable way to address the needs of both. Experts are often looking for ways to help junior people in their profession, and younger employees are hungry for training and development.
A practical framework for mentoring is based on the career stages work of Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson, former professors at HBS, whose research found that high-performing professionals tend to transit through four distinct stages of development:
- Apprentice: Helper and learner; establishes a reputation for trust, teamwork, and cultural congruity.
- Individual contributor: Builds recognized functional expertise; makes a significant independent contribution; demonstrates accountability and ownership for results.
- Mentor/coach: Contributes through others as a formal manager, an idea leader, a project owner, or an informal employee developer.
- Sponsor/strategist: Sets or influences strategic direction and important decisions; exercises power on behalf of the organization; prepares future leaders.
Stages 3 and 4 are developmental stages where mentoring skills are typically developed and sharpened and the external experts in stages 3 and 4 are very often eager to provide coaching and mentorship to junior professionals working with them.
Successful external experts are almost by definition prone to entrepreneurship. They are actively involved in building their business, developing their strategies, growing and maintaining strong customer relationships, and creating a service offering that’s attractive to their market. This type of entrepreneurial mindset is extremely helpful and is very often lacking among full-time employees who don’t have significant market or competitive contact.
So how can an organization encourage the mentoring of employees by their critical outside experts? HBR suggests five steps that leaders can take:
1. Establish Informal Coaching Relationships
Experts are often brought onboard an organization to solve a crisis and in such cases, it may be difficult to arrange for a formal coaching relationship with members of your full-time staff. But if there is support, you will find that outside experts are eager to form coaching relationships and that these are proven to be extremely valuable.
2. Provide Channels for Sharing Knowledge
Managers reach these outside experts for help because of their knowledge and experience. But beyond the project contribution, technical and functional aspects, experts should be asked to share their expertise and educate the team on best practice insights and new innovations in their field of expertise.
3. Involve Experts as Part of the Brain Trust
Smart project managers know that bringing a team together to collaboratively solve tough problems both builds teamwork and improves performance. This is a powerful opportunity for young professionals to work close to agile talent, that will help them see new or alternative approaches to problem solving.
4. Engage Experts in Providing Developmental Feedback
While developmental feedback might be painful to hear, an ambitious professional will always appreciate the power of sincere comments and take them as opportunities to grow. Listening carefully, rather than getting defensive, will help develop resilience and self-awareness, which are critical leadership skills.
5. Connect with Experts’ Networks
External experts are most likely connected to different networks than the internal team members with whom they are working. The author encourages managers and team members to seek the advice of outside experts and to explicitly have the conversation about who is worth getting to know and where interesting or innovative things are happening.
Source and more information on the Harvard Business Review website.