John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,
"Advice on Receiving Advice "
For a couple of years I have had the honor of serving as an FLC National Advisor under the Chairmanship of Dr. David Swanson from NIST, and now under Dr. Jag Mathur from Tracor for next year. On the agenda has been the enhancement of value and effectiveness of advisors at the national, regional and laboratory levels.
In my professional experience, I've been an advisor for individuals, companies and organizations; and, I've also been on the other side of the equation and hired advisors. I believe there are common threads for any successful arrangement between the parties: common goals and expectations, along with appropriate results and compensation.
Let's explore these threads. We all need advice. It might be to help determine long term strategies, or short term tactics. Advisors also serve as entries to marketplaces, with knowledge of a particular industry or technical area. Sometimes, having a "sounding board" for presenting conflicting ideas or exploring some far-out concepts can be extremely worthwhile. A committee of advisors can be used to put a "stamp of approval" on a controversial decision (if they agree). They also serve just for a "sanity check" so we don't do something really dumb.
Management (the side hiring the advisor) should not expect advisors to make decisions. If they want decisions, the first one should be to change management. But, management should respect the role of the advisor and determine the level of importance to encompass the common threads.
GOALS: Do you know what your long term goals are? Are they in stockholder profits, maximum utilization of technical resources, preserving employment levels, getting products to market as fast as possible, community outreachÑ or just to satisfy the boss?
EXPECTATIONS: Management should expect the advisors to know their subjects and be prepared to actively participate. However, management must provide the tools for the advisor to adequately prepare. Define the issues.
RESULTS: The first result that any advisor desires is that the advice is wanted. I've never really cared whether my advice was followed or not, just considered. Many circumstances surround decisions, and the person (or persons) with the responsibility must be free to decide at that level of responsibility. The advisor should get out of the way of the decision. However, the advisory role should be also set at the level for which results of the advice can be appreciated. If one wants the best advice, then recruit the best advisors and provide them with the best tools and background information availableÑ in sufficient advance time for the best preparation.
COMPENSATION: This tends to be a touchy subject for some people. Remember, the equations should balance. If you expect, you should pay. If you have no expectations, you don't need to pay and you won't get any results. But, compensation takes many characteristics. Truly there can be psychic rewards by "being involved". Making contacts or receiving promotion in the business arena of importance can also be very substantial compensation. However, management should really summarize their side of this equation to real dollars. If you want a $2,000 per day consultant, then either pay $2,000 per day or figure how to equate at such a level. I assure you that, in the long run, you get no more than what you pay for.
Set lofty goals, so you can raise your level of expectations and get results that are worthy of high compensation.
I would appreciate comments; contact me at Technology Transfer Business magazine: phone: 703-848-2800, ext. 151; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; internet: www.johnsanders.com.
prepared for the October, 1996 Issue of the FLC NewsLink