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StartSmart Blog: Functional & Technical Expertise

StartSmart is an Associate Resource Group (ARG) at PetSmart that works to provide early-career PetSmart associates with the resources and opportunities to grow and advance their careers. Check out the below from the StartSmart Leadership team! Let’s start the New Year off right by learning about one of our key competencies: Functional and Technical Expertise! With over 65,000 associates we have many different talented people working together here at PetSmart. From Finance to HR, Product Design to Transportation, it takes many focused and skilled associates to operate a business of this scale. This month we are going to focus on our competency of Functional and Technical expertise. Aside from the corporate talking points, our functional and technical expertise is what makes us special! In our roles here we have an opportunity to grow and develop our experience in a way that adds value to our team and organization. During my nearly 10 years with the company, I’ve designed and developed 1000’s of products, been awarded over 80 patents and launched over 5 new brands. During that time, I have had to constantly learn new things and apply them. New manufacturing techniques, animal behaviors, design trends, and package engineering, just to name a few. I didn’t start out knowing everything I needed to be successful and developing my functional/technical expertise was, and still is, core my success. Networking with peers, going to trade shows, and visiting our vendors are all great ways to develop this competency early in your career. One of the most critical things we can do in developing our careers is to further strengthen our technical expertise. A great starting place is to understand how we compare to others in our field both in and outside of PetSmart. Talking to people with more experience and asking for feedback is a great way to understand where you’re excelling and where you have an opportunity to develop or learn more. Finding a mentor with more time in-role or depth of knowledge is a good step to work on your opportunities. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to work with other people that are better than me in one area or another. I could have looked at those people as threats to my success, maybe they have been doing it longer, know more people, or understand something more deeply than I do. Whatever the situation, it has always been helpful to see these people as potential mentors, teachers, and resources versus threats. By coming to these people with an eagerness to learn, a curiosity about their understanding, and an appreciation for their time and wisdom I would always come away from those interactions more informed and usually with a new friend and resource to help me develop. During my time at PetSmart, I have noticed the people that have mastered their functional/technical expertise have a few things in common:

  1. Humility is key, despite decades of experience not being arrogant and being open to new suggestions is a hallmark of an associate that has developed this competency.

  2. Curiosity, “what’s got you here might not get you there” is a great quote and one that applies to this competency as well. Be open to learning new things and ways of working. Never stop learning or developing or one day you’ll look around and find your methods are outdated and obsolete.

  3. Great communicators, experts in their functional or technical area know when and when not to use technical terms and jargon. You might think you're coming across knowledgeable and smart, but when you have an audience that isn’t in your field all your doing is confusing your subject and making it harder for them to ask questions.

  4. Know your value: Make sure you have done your homework when you speak up. We are all in our roles for a reason, to be the expert! Ensure that you have a well-researched answer ready or be honest enough to say when you don’t know something. Saying that you need to do more investigation and get back to someone is infinitely better than making something up on the spot.

If you leverage these behaviors, you will be able to find and develop weak points in your expertise, gain a network of experts to learn from, and be seen as someone that adds value to your team and the organization.

Written by Jeff Watson - Director of Product & Package Engineering at PetSmart


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