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Your Company Needs Non-Partisan In-House Experts to Succeed (Features a True Story)

The following memo excerpt was written by a company’s in-house experts, to top management, about THE telephone:

“(It) has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us”. – Western Union Internal Memo, 1876.

The gross inaccuracy of that “expert” assessment is today obvious to anyone, based on hindsight. Back then it probably wasn’t – and those chaps may even have been commended for saving the company from wasting it’s funds!

Which is why I argue, that decision makers need to set up systems to help in-house experts better serve the interest of the organisation at all times.

Who Is An “In-House Expert”? (My Definition )

Here’s my “definition”: ANYONE – whether temporary, contract or permanent employee – whose opinion – based on his/her area of recognised expertise will be sought and used to decide what the company should do in a given situation with respect to a particular line of action being considered.

THEY(in-house experts) are often persons employed/authorised with the responsibility of providing related support to other employees using THEIR knowledge expertise to evaluate possible strategies, technologies or solutions that the company could adopt to IMPROVE her ability to achieve valued corporate goals.

Common examples include IT managers and their lieutenants.

Sometimes companies outsource their needs in technical fields such as IT, keeping a skeletal structure in-house.

Other times they engage consultants on a contract basis. And of course some companies feel more comfortable having a full fledged IT department in some cases with emphasis on development of in-house software solutions.

Other types of in-house experts are the Project Managers, HR managers, PR managers, Marketing Managers, Business Development Managers, People /Organisational Development Managers, Engineering Managers etc.

These individuals would usually be depended upon by various categories of decision makers(including their fellow in-house experts) in the company to EVALUATE – for instance – any new idea or initiative/concept being considered for adoption.

And more often than not, it is whatever they say that get’s taken as the “final word”, so to say. But that’s not bad in itself – so long as the in-house expert maintains a dispassionate and professional(UN-BIASED) disposition in giving his/her advice or recommendations.

The Problem: In-House Experts’ Can Sometimes Be Afflicted With “Experts’ Blindness”!

Do you have in-house experts whose word you take as gospel truth?

If you know them well, that would be safe to do.

But in life, nothing stays exactly the same. Much as you may trust and like your “expert”, s/he may not always be able to deliver to the same high standards.

Why? Because s/he – like the rest of us – is only human!

But again as a human being, when you get used to being “the expert”, in a situation where people often readily accept what you say/think, it can get quite intoxicating. Which CAN make you get just a little “too carried away” sometimes.

Only few people can resist feeling this way every now and then.

So, in my opinion, when someone functions as an “expert” to others around him/her, s/he becomes a little more prone to his/her human nature/weaknesses – making him/her more likely to make mistakes.

Chances are if/when s/he does slip up, it will be inadvertent rather than deliberate. Whatever may be the cause, the potential damage to you/your organisation in the event that this does happen (and it CAN!) is the most crucial thing to consider,.

What if the advice/tip given you by your “in-house expert” turns out to be based on statistics s/he checked two weeks earlier?

What if those statistics had changed since then without him/her knowing e.g because s/he assumed they wouldstay the same for at least 30 days, as had been his/her experience over that past five years?

The implication of the above is that your plans based on the advice of that “expert” may end up failing!

Just think for a moment what it could mean, if this were to happen to you.

The point I’m making is ANYONE of us can use past experience to take intelligent decisions.

But the key to our continuous successs will be diligent monitoring of changes that MAY occur, with implications for decisions we take.

Without staying alert to unexpected changes or new developments (some previously unknown to even the most experienced among us) that could occur, we stand little chance of achieving success with any degree of consistency.

And that’s why we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to our environment.

Anybody/anything can help us in this process.

The problem with some in-house experts is that they let their egos get in the way – AND block their view.

Whenever this happens, the organisations that depend on them often lose out as a result.

Help Your In-House Experts Remember To Act In Line With The Organisation’s Best Interests

When organisational decision makers engage an in-house expert, they are hoping s/he will justify the faith they place in him/her – by making decisions and taking actions with the BEST interests of the company in his/her mind.

They would NOT expect that s/he would allow personal egotistical selfish interests, concerns or biases to “sway” him/her.

Especially not when taking decisions that affect the company’s future well being in terms of competitiveness, growth, profitability etc.

The reality however, from repeatedly disappointing news of corporate scandals across the globe, is that NOT ALL corporate “leaders” are able to meet expectations in this regard.

In some cases, that has led to the collapse of the organisation concerned. Or the loss of valuable market leadership to “underdog” competition.

This would have been due to misplaced priorities, and lack of foresight arising from poor THINKING, on the part of some “blind” in-house experts.

Why do in-house experts behave this way at times?

As I said earlier, the truth is they are only human. It is possible – for instance – that some may inadvertently hold give recommendations based LESS on objectivity, and more on how they “perceive” an idea/concept/initiative “THREATENS” their status as “experts”.

The person “selling” the new idea/concept/initiative, if s/he is to make headway, must therefore find a way make the in-house expert sees how s/he can end up looking GOOD by endorsing it.

However the above can be difficult to pull off, if the “seller” is an outsider, like a consultant offering his/her services in a unique area.

Which is why I suggest that companies and their decision makers setup internal checks and balances, to help their in-house experts do what is best for the company at all times.

I offer some ideas for consideration in the rest of this article…starting with a true story.

The In-House Expert’s Ideal Role: To Add Tangible Value With His/Her Unique Expertise (True Story)

A manufacturing multinational company once had a challenge finding a commercial off-the-shelf software application. It needed one that could comprehensively handle routine data handling and report generation needs of its factory production processes.

Despite repeated efforts to use some of the more popular commercial software, peculiarities in their production process could not be efficiently catered for via customisation of the purchased software.

There was – among other things- a requirement for whatever software they used, to be able to generate reports conforming to an already existing “house format”.

Following some discussions, it was agreed that an in-house solution be developed.

The alternative adopted was a custom automated Lotus 1-2-3 based application, built from scratch by a young expatriate middle level manager over a period of some months.

Basically, he went around with a laptop speaking with those involved in data generation, analysis and reporting. From the Corporate Headquarters to the factories, Purchasing departments, Production Planning, Engineering Utilities etc.

Using the information he gathered, in conjunction with various recording/reporting formats he saw being used in the different units, he built an application, that did what the decision makers wanted.

To succeed, he applied his knowledge as an insider with experience in most of the key operations. The resulting application allowed entry of raw factory performance data, which were then used to automatically compute the company’s Standard Key Performance Indicators(KPIs).

The application also automatically produced a one-page report that identified TEN(10) specific areas in which the company had OVER spent and UNDER spent respectively, on materials usage.

This was displayed in an automatically generated comparison table, expressing the amounts SAVED or LOST in usage units (e.g. Kgs per litre of product) and monetary unit (e.g. Dollars per litre of product).

On the same page was also an auto-generated Variable Cost Analysis chart, as well as four process charts showing the progressive trend in key waste control parameters over a 12 month period.

The best part was that this nifty program was built using an already familiar spreadsheet application, in a way that a reasonably skilled user could easily make needed changes as the need arose over time.

Following reviews, the application was immediately put to use in preparing reports sent monthly from the factories to Headquarters, and also for the Monthly Review meetings held with Directors.

The In-House Expert’s Ideal Mental Attitude: Objective & Results-Focussed

I have narrated the above true story, with names etc removed “to protect the innocent” :-)

It illustrates the fact that decision makers in the technical function of the company (who were a group of in-house experts) adopted an objective outlook being to SOLVE the data handling and reporting problem being experienced.

They liased with the IT department (ANOTHER group of in-house experts) to consider and test possible solutions. Over time, they settled for a customised, simple, yet highly effective/flexible solution ,which they then found someone to develop and implement on the inside.

Those senior technical managers – as well as the IT managers – functioned PROPERLY and successfully as the In-House Experts they were EXPECTED to be.

They knew they had the final say in terms of recommending what COULD be done to the company.

They could have INSISTED that the company improvise with the less flexible commercial off-the-shelf applications. Top management would probably have gone along with their “expert opinion”.

But a lot of things would have suffered, and the main problem of poor data handling/standardisation and reporting would have persisted.

Instead, they wisely remained objective and open minded enough to see that the unique problem in the technical function required a unique solution.

They must have left their minds “open” long enough, for someone (possibly the young expatriate Training Coordinator himself) to “sell” them the idea of using an automated spreadsheet application to solve the problem.

And that’s how in-house experts can justify their presence in, and earnings from the company: By adding REAL value to the company in such a way that it becomes better equipped to achieve its business goals more successfully.

If they act this way often, the company they represent is unlikely to miss valuable OPPORTUNITIES to get – and STAY – ahead of the competition.

This is because it would be fully equipped to seize those opportunities as/when they appear using the INSIGHT of its results-oriented in-house experts.

Note: The young expatriate developer of the above mentioned program, was not an IT person. He was a manager in the technical function, who happened to have a flair for numbers and had also developed his spreadsheet programming skills quite extensively.

Your Company Needs “Non-Partisan” In-House Experts

To help you realise how NOT addressing the issues I have raised here can make your company MISS great opportunities to advance in quantum leaps, that I shared the Wester Union Internal Memo excerpt above.

These experts confidently gave that misguided assessment of a new invention that would go on to CHANGE the world!

Can you imagine just how STUPID anyone who took the advice of the guys who wrote the above mentioned memo MUST have felt AFTER seeing demand for the telephone in business and society skyrocket?!

That’s the price one can end up paying for FAILING to remember that EXPERTS will always be human.

Which makes it necessary to constantly check and ensure their human weaknesses do not prevent them from delivering EXPERT quality results as often as possible – in the BEST interests of the organisation!

Summary – Set Up Systems To Help Your In-House Experts KEEP Doing Their Jobs Properly

So what’s going to happen when next some UNKNOWN, inconsequential looking individual walks into your company lobby, and says s/he has a product or service or IDEA s/he believes your company will find useful?

What will you want your gatekeepers from reception, to your personal assistant(s) and of course the “in-house” experts to DO before they send him/her on his/her way?

In my opinion, it would not hurt to arrange for certain members of your team to give formal appointments to – and meet for a limited time – with individuals who come in sounding coherent, purposeful and convincing enough to the gatekeepers.

The fact that your company is BIG does not mean a seemingly “small” person cannot have a BIG idea that can make your company bigger!

And THAT is the classic mistake many people make – especially when they feel they are “successful” or more successful than the person who approaches them!

I would advise setting up a system for documentation, collation and careful REVIEW of EVERY idea, suggestion or proposal you get. Be they on paper or verbal. From employees or outsiders. Formal or informal.

Your aim should be to thoroughly review every new ideas, for its potential uses and applications!

Sometimes the solution you seek to a challenge being faced by your company can reveal itself to you, when you keep an open mind. And that may require paying conscious attention to IDEA(S) or SUGGESTION(S) from a junior employee – or unknown outsider service provider.

It will only be a matter of time before doing so begins to yield positive benefits. Some of which CAN lead to significant improvements in your company’s productivity, market leadership, profitability etc.

PS: This article is based on exceprts from the original write up first published online on 7th September 2007 via www.spontaneousdevelopment.com – my former 9 year old primary domain.

[IMPORTANT: This blog's contents are being updated following the transfer to www.tayosolagbade.com from my former domain - Spontaneousdevelopment.com. As a result, some parts of it may not work properly for now. Quick Tip: If a link contains "spontaneousdevelopment.com", simply change it to "tayosolagbade.com" - and it should work. This applies to article links as well as image links. Work continues to update the links(in over 500 articles). Tayo K. Solagbade.]

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