Arun Maira | How can organisations benefit with external assistance?

Organisations can benefit greatly with external assistance, provided they know when they should ask for it, and obtain the right type of assistance.We look into a mirror every morning when we groom ourselves, because we need to see what we look like and we need a view of ourselves from the outside. We sometimes expose ourselves to x-rays or to MRI scans because we need to see what is going on inside ourselves for which we need the assistance of appropriate techniques.

Similarly organisations, even the best, can benefit from a competent outsider’s view of themselves. Indeed, obtaining such a view even when one is doing very well can be a healthy practice. It can prevent complacency creeping in and it can save great organisations from resting too long on their laurels when they could even be ‘rusting’ on their laurels without realising it.Of course, when an organisation is already feeling some pain due to its falling market share or slowing growth rates of its revenues and profits, it would behove it to have an ‘x-ray’ or ‘MRI’ and obtain the best advice it can get for remedial action.

At these times, external assistance may be indispensable.The turn-around moments , a very special case is the ‘turn-around’ moment in an organisation’s life. No organisation can be turning around repeatedly. It may have to every fifteen or twenty years or never at all if it can remain very well adjusted to its changing environment and be able to anticipate and respond to new and unusual competition. Therefore, CEOs do not encounter turn-around situations very often. Whereas, some consultants, by assisting many CEOs, acquire considerable expertise in guiding turn-arounds. A good and responsible CEO will take the best outside assistance she or he can obtain should such a moment arise for their organisation. When a cardiac operation seems necessary, it is best to take the help of an experienced cardiac surgeon rather than trying to operate on oneself!Competency deficit, another reason to take external assistance is that organisations do not have all the competencies within themselves that they may need in exigencies. It is expensive and bad management to keep in-house specialists who may be required only occasionally. For example, when an examination of new markets is required to plan a strategic move, which organisations do not do every year, a specialist in those areas, which the organisation is not familiar with, can provide very valuable advice. Or when the organisation wishes to develop an internal capability that it does not have so far, but realises it must have, an external coach is required. Such a capability could be the improvement of an organisation’s system for quality management. Indeed, many companies have improved their competitiveness and their profits with the help of quality management consultants who helped them to improve their internal systems.Sometimes organisations have a ‘surge’ in their requirement of resources when they have to do a lot more of something that they may have an internal competence to do, but do not have the quantum of resources required for the surge. Then, supplementary resources may be required.

There is no shame in taking external assistance, it is no reflection on one’s own ability if one does. On the other hand, it could be the responsible thing to do. However, the organisation taking the assistance should be clear about what is at stake, why it is taking the assistance, and obtain the expertise that is required. Just as all medical practitioners with an MD on their name cards do not have the same competencies, all ‘consultants’ do not have the same competencies. If one goes to the wrong doctor, one may end up having to visit many other doctors later until one gets better, at great cost and inconvenience. Similarly, the advice of a wrong consultant, even though well intentioned, may prove to be very costly in the long run.

Arun Maira

  • Chairman, HelpAge International | Former Member, Planning Commission of India | Former India Chairman, Boston Consulting Group

Any discussion on policy and the future of India is incomplete without Arun Maira’s views, and not just because he has been a member of the Planning Commission of India. Arun is one of those rare and eminent people who have held leadership positions in both the private as well as the public sector, bringing a unique perspective on how the two can work together to foster growth for India.

In his career spanning five decades, Arun has led several organisations, including the Boston Consulting Group in India. In the early part of his career, he spent 25 years in the Tata Group, in various important positions. He was also a member of the Board of Tata Motors (then called TELCO). After leaving the Tatas, Arun joined Arthur D Little Inc (ADL), the international management consultancy, in the US, where he advised companies across sectors and geographies on their growth strategies and handling transformational change.

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