[Viewpoint] Learning to take outside advice

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[Viewpoint] Learning to take outside advice

A tip from an idle player can add fun to a game of Korean checkers (janggi) or go (baduk). One opportune pointer on a crucial move can turn the game around or even finish it with an upset. The adviser doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert. It’s just that it’s easier to read the game from the side or after taking a step back.

It’s no different in life. A chief executive needs to seek other people’s advice in a crisis or at a pivotal moment in corporate management. Such a need gave rise to the novel vocation of consultant in modern society.

Consultants are not a group of extraordinary people. They just see better and more objectively from the outside, using their experience to deal with various problems and helping to produce a solution. When the country was awash in the unprecedented financial crisis of the late 1990s, the government, financial institutions and companies all knocked on the doors of consulting firms.

Until then few were aware of their existence. These consultants came to be regarded as a breed of wizards who with a wave of their magic wands could produce answers to all their problems. Some probably still do.

But anyone who has hired consultants often has been disappointed by their run-of-the-mill, textbook-like, uncreative and unrealistic prescriptions.

Of course there are success stories. The advice could hit the nail on the head and help to turn the company around. The attitude of the client can often determine whether the consultation will end in benefit or harm.

From my experience as a client, you need to remember three things to make most of advice from consulting companies.

You must first of all have an open mind. First-timers often make the mistake of demanding a fast and immediate cure. Some even want answers to their problems without providing their corporate information. But no doctors are gods. They must know every detail of the patient’s symptoms in order to get an idea of the illness and its treatment. Consultants are the same. We must bare all the problematic areas and symptoms as well as presenting the necessary files so that the consultants can reach the right diagnosis and cure. The chief executive must provide as much backup as possible in human and information resources and be ready to listen intently when they speak.

Secondly, listen to them, but you make the decision. A consultant is like your car navigation system. When asked to find the way, the navigation system searches through many routes and chooses what it believes is best.

But that way doesn’t always prove to be the fastest or easiest. It could even take to you to a dead end. So a wise driver will find the way by taking the guide as a reference. The same goes for taking suggestions from outside experts. However, the corporate manager must have a deep comprehension of the suggestions to determine whether they are workable and how best to apply them.

Thirdly, once you have made a decision, you must act. Too often companies tout how wonderful the set of ideas their consultants have put forward are and then shove them in the closet. Some attempt to apply the changes, but in the end, put them aside due to protests from within. No advice will do any good unless it is applied.

An athlete can succeed when diligently following a coach’s training. Kim Yu-na might not have won the crown as the world’s finest figure skater if she had not cooperated fully and worked closely with her coach, Brian Orser.

Consultants can offer you two things. They teach and show you things you didn’t know, such as case studies from overseas that you can benchmark. They also use their outsiders’ eyes to help open yours to problems you had been unaware of.

Unlike the game of baduk, a corporate client seeking the help of a consultant should not let the mentor just sit idly by, but work shoulder-to-shoulder to make the right move.

Consultancy is not the only way to solve problems. But in a time of crisis, you are likely to get help if your mind is open and you are ready to change and act. Our problems, whether they lie in the government, industry, education or other parts of society, fail to go away maybe because we lack the ear for good advice.

*The writer is the chairman of the board of directors at the Chung-Ang University Foundation. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Yong-sung
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