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Expertise vs. Experience

I remember when I picked up on something an Executive Housekeeper wasn't doing that caused guests to complain. I told him that not checking occupied rooms was his problem, to which he replied, "Don't tell me what to do. I have been doing this job for 20 years." I replied, "Great, and you still don't know how to do it. Score!"


Experience is often mistaken for expertise, giving us a false sense of competence. You can see that during recruitment when people talk about themselves (I have been in the industry for...) or when their quality of work is being questioned. Make no mistake, you can do the job for 50 years and still be bad at it. 


Workplaces are full of people who were trained by people with "great experience" but not necessarily by experts or people who know how to do the job correctly. HR is the perfect example of that. We can find ten generations of HR people trained not by pros but by somebody put there 25 years ago to do HR. So they learn the wrong way of doing things and spend decades doing the job badly. However, their CV shows they "have what it takes" the experience to progress. This is the same thing as promoting based on tenure. Recruiters fall for this every single time! You can see job descriptions: "We require 15 years of experience". Don't require experience, require expertise. Of course, you cannot be an expert in something without experience however, there is way too much emphasis on it. I know people with 5 years experience doing a way better job than those with 25 years.


I would even risk this statement: Those who have been doing the same job for a long period of time are the worst for environments that require change, innovation, or flexibility. In such a case, I would hire people with some experience but a high level of knowledge about the field and a high level of openness (personality trait) who are open to trying different ways of doing things. 

The worst combination to me is when somebody is in their role for a long period of time within the same company. There is no learning there, I guarantee you that. I have seen that first-hand. All you find is a bunch of incompetent people whose skill sets are 20 years behind, and when new people come in to change something, the gap between what they know and what should be is so wide that it becomes incomprehensible to them. As a result, they push back and reject everything you want to do. I am always highly sceptical about people with comfortable career paths (same place/role for a long time), and I would be hesitant to hire them. 


I like people who have been through the trenches, exposed to new things, different systems, management styles, processes, and ways of doing things. If you only know one way of doing things (same company), then your years of experience actually goes against you. And if you know only one role, you better be an expert; otherwise, your years of experience are not so useful for anyone. 


PS: The greatest mistake in using "experience" is when we assign people who have been doing the job for years to train new people. Sometimes, it results in the trainee leaving because they can see that the job can be done faster, better or easier, but Steven, with his 50 years of experience, says, "No, here we do this because...." Just listen, Steven, just listen. You were not open to going and exposing yourself to the outside world, so now the outside world has come to you, and you are still rejecting it. Come on, Steven!



Here is some exciting news! My second book, "Blind Leading the Disengaged - From Kindergarten to Employee Experience," is dropping in May! It's a treasure trove of solutions and cool ideas to shake up your people management game. But before we get there, let's chat about where we're at now—The Corporate Kindergarten, as I spilt the beans in my first book. Check it out, and let's transform your workplace from a daycare to an awesome employee experience hub!:





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