I get calls, texts, and emails on a weekly basis from business owners looking for reassurance on a decision they are about to make. In the days of my past I would offer my two-cents only to encounter one of two responses: “Okay great, thanks for agreeing with me.” or “Apparently you did not understand me.” I have since realized that most business owners don’t want me to tell then what to do, they want direction and reassurance on what they are going to do.

With the drop of the ball in Times Square each year I find myself more humble and wiser then the year before. I have learned to do less telling and more asking. So now after I hear the question; What do you think? I give a canned response; What do you hope to achieve? They tell me, and then I ask more questions and make some comments that will either lead them to scrap the idea or build such a great argument of why they should proceed that I respond, That sounds like a good idea. How will you know when you have succeeded or failed? This last question is crucial.

Most of the time these ideas require a “temporary” increase in overhead. Done right, an increase in sales will counter the costs. Not paid attention to, the “temporary” increase becomes a fixed cost. Let me give you an example. Your call taker/dispatcher/receivables person is complaining that the work load is too much to handle. So, you decide that you are going to hire another person to answer the phones. I often advocate this but with a caveat. I believe phones and dispatch are revenue generators. If this is what they become, perfect. You made a great decision. But most of the time, the best person for the phones is the person you took off of the phones. And worse, because you have done nothing to make the phones ring, you assign other non-revenue generating tasks to the call taker. Now after a few months of lower profitability, you decide to make cuts. Only now, you find great resistance from the people who will have to handle the extra work you created to keep the call taker busy.

Had the question been asked, What do you hope to achieve? You would have likely identified that you should not hire the person, or that to do so you will need to increase you marketing, hire another outside sales person or put another production team in place.

Knowing in advance the answer to the question How will you know when you have succeeded or failed? forces you to place a time line to what you hope to achieve and a way to measure its progress. In the case of hiring a call taker, you would have already had the plan in place to let the person go if revenue did not increase. You would not have found other things for them to do.

We owners and managers often get to where we are from managing by our gut instincts. This is a gift that should not be underestimated. Instead nurture your gut by placing measurable parameters what your gut is telling you. Go with your gut only after you have answering these two important questions.

What do you hope to achieve?

How will you know when you have succeeded or failed?

If you can’t come up with answers that lead to more profits, it might be because you misinterpreted your gut. Maybe you’re just hungry.