According to the dictionary, a guru is an “Hindu spiritual leader; an influential or revered teacher.” This doesn’t sound like most of the ‘gurus’ I know.
When I was young, I remember watching the cartoon version of Fantastic Voyage. Each week the characters were miniaturised and placed inside an ailing human body. Each episode, a rampant microbe of some nature attacked them.
One character, called Guru, waved his hand and these seemingly enormous problems were magically, and somewhat mysteriously, fixed.
This sounds more like the gurus I’ve met.
Who’s the guru in your office?
Now, I’m not saying that there are no gurus of spiritual persuasion out there.
What I am saying is that many computer people believe in little other than technology, and belief systems generally include a hierarchy of worship.
This is where the Guru fits in.
The mysterious, weird guy planted at the end of the office hallway may not arrest you with his personality, but that hand-waving thing is his stock-in-trade. He is the light at the end of the tunnel, and you don’t have to die (or cough up a handful of rupees) to see him.
Gurus are valuable, smart and a great source of information. But they can also be trouble.
Here’s the juju with gurus
Yes, they do provide quick solutions to problems, they do possess a great deal of domain knowledge and they do provide a continuum in highly technical and complex environments.
Gurus have a lot to offer. The trick is extracting it from them before they are gone.
Because gurus have a knack of vanishing.
And even worse, because information is their key to survival, you may find that most gurus tend to hoard it. The question has to be asked, are they doing this for the greater good or some ulterior motive?
It is not uncommon for gurus to depart a company only to return as highly paid contractors.
Good for them, not so good for you.
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Just because you now see gurus for what they really are, it does not mean that you should levitate them out the door.
One strategy that can help you mitigate the risk of losing your guru is establishing a mentor program. This gives you the opportunity to spread the knowledge of your gurus and fast track the development of your junior team members.
Having your gurus provide training is another way of spreading the knowledge about.
The options are almost endless but all of them are dependent on capturing what the guru does in some way. Document what they do in your company process, put it on the intranet for all to see, get them to write white papers and perhaps present them at conferences.
Whatever you do, your ultimate goal should be a useable well-documented company process. Call it the Guru File, if you will. Just get that stuff out of their heads and onto paper. Think of it as a backup for your intellectual property.
Whenever I hear someone referred to as a “guru”, a little alarm goes off in my head. This person is going to need special attention and they are going to be important to the success of any process improvement.
They’ll be your best resource. Don’t let them become your worst nightmare.
Make a note of it – and jot it down in your dictionary if it isn’t there.