Have you considered bringing in a consultant to evaluate your business? The idea is that input from an outsider can uncover gaps in your training, processes, and procedures. A new problem-solving perspective can open your eyes to aspects of your operation that haven’t been on your radar. Unfortunately for most small business owners and operators, great consultants can be expensive. If you’re thinking you’d never have the budget for that sort of thing, you’re not alone. And you’re also not out of luck.
Your business is already full of expert consultants, and you’re already paying them. Your employees — from your brand new hire to your go-to mentor — have insight into your operation that no consultant could ever have. While a completely external view can sometimes be helpful, save that for financial audits and tax forms. For operational problem-solving, avoid the learning curve and go straight to the source. Follow these guidelines to get the most out of your employees as consultants:
Be specific. If you have already recognized a problem that you’re trying to fix, ask a variety of employees very targeted questions to help pinpoint the issue. Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions, and follow-up questions that require employees to really think about their answers. Use effective communication techniques to truly listen to your employees.
Reserve judgement and listen carefully. Your employees have a wealth of information to give, but you won’t get anything but spare change if you don’t create a positive environment where employees feel like they can say what’s really on their minds without fear of repercussions.
Stay focused on solutions. A problem-solving conversation can easily turn into a complaint session if you’re not careful. Guide employees in a dialogue that is focused on finding solutions, rather than just identifying problems. Ask employees this question: “What’s your suggestion?” Accept and consider all answers, even if they seem far-fetched at first.
Think big picture. The idea of using your employees as expert consultants might redefine your relationship with the employees you put in this role. That’s okay. When employees see themselves as trusted advisers rather than just another staff member punching a clock, they’ll be more invested in their position. You’ll soon find them bringing issues to your attention with a solution already in mind.