At times, everyone in business and in life needs a second opinion, a sounding board or an unbiased expert to help work through a problem, strategy or opportunity. Consultants, as third-party hired guns, are also effective at providing heavy lifting in implementing systems, processes and the like.
However, I've learned that good managers, executives and owners run their businesses with their head, heart and gut.
On a good day, all three come into play. On a really bad day, any one will get you through.
Doing one's job is much like working out -- no pain, no gain. Most people don't spend enough time thinking and spend too much time just doing for the sake of doing. Perhaps it's because thinking up a solid solution can be painful.
The lazy way out is to say, "Let's call in the consultants and have them figure it out." While it's good for the consultants, it's not necessarily good for the company.
Early in my career, I had a boss who said, "Mind your own troubles." You need to take ownership and work through the issues before teeing up a project for outsiders. Bringing in consultants is much like making friends with the toughest guy on the playground, then talking trash with someone bigger than you -- you count on the tough guy to bail you out.
This is how many companies use consultants. They dump a load of garbage at their feet and tell them to make it work. The consultants like it because it results in good money, but the company loses because it should be minding its own troubles and better controlling the process.
There may be a better way.
Start with a legal pad -- not because I used to sell them for a living but because it's a tool for a simple process to flesh out issues. In the middle of a page, draw a vertical line from top to bottom. On the left, list the issues at hand. On the right, write top-of-the-mind thoughts about possible solutions.
Use your head by writing solutions that are close to being intellectually sound, fact based, learned or tested. For the heart portion, list those that you hope, pray or fantasize that, by some miraculous act, even divine intervention, might work.
And think with your gut. We've all had situations where the answer that worked best came from some mysterious source within.
Next, remove ideas that have no chance of working, are ridiculous or that you would be embarrassed to show a colleague.
Finally, hide the legal pad where no one will find it for a pre-determined period of time -- an hour, a day, a week, a month. Some call this a cooling off period; I call it a sanity check.
At the self-appointed time for redemption, take out the legal pad and give it a fresh read to see if your list passes the probability smell test. If it doesn't, flush the pages down the john, knowing that you'll have total immunity from future embarrassment. However, if the list does make sense and the solutions might work, start fine-tuning, tailoring and tweaking.
When you're finished, you'll have a plan. At this point, you can bring in your associates to help further flesh out the idea. And, if you're so inclined, look at that timepiece on your wrist, knowing that you've reached the bewitching hour to bring in the consultants and hand over your watch with a big, smug smile.
Michael Feuer is co-founder of the mega office products retail chain OfficeMax, which he started in 1988 with one store and $20,000 of his own money, along with a then-partner and group of private investors. Over 16 years as CEO, he grew the company to almost 1,000 stores with sales approximating $5 billion before selling it for almost $1.5 billion in 2003. In 2004, Feuer launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a venture capital operating firm. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.