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I have doubts about my husband’s pricey consultant. Should I speak up?

THE QUESTION

My husband operates a business with 15 employees. For the past decade, I have been encouraging him to have the staff write descriptions of their positions in case of personnel changes. I want the business to be more reliant on systems, rather than on him. I have given him a manual on office policies that I developed for a small business, and an employee handbook. Both could be adapted to his business but he hasn't done that.

My husband keeps bringing in expensive consultants who promise to make him more money through a reorganization, writing new protocols and position descriptions, and implementing better systems. I run my own business but for the past three months, I have been helping to answer his phones, check clients in and out, and deal with payments.

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Because the office is short-staffed my husband has asked the consultant to pitch in, which she is doing at her high hourly rate. Staff members have fixing her mistakes, which makes me question her background. In addition, she conducted a job interview with a potential employee in the open office, and her questioning technique and body language were appalling. She has been here three months but I see little progress – no office manual has appeared and there have been a few crises which could have been averted if key procedures were in place.

I am just sick that it appears that this consultant is going to make more than $30,000 and leave the business no better than it was. Should I stay out of it or what?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Billy Anderson

Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

What's really eating at you? Is it the inefficiency of the company, feeling "taken" by a useless consultant, or feeling that your hubby doesn't respect your advice?

Your peace of mind is at stake, as is your professional respect for your husband, and your financial future. I have a hunch that staying out of this might drive you nuts.

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Is there a chance he thinks you're questioning his abilities? That can upset a lot of spouses and affect his willingness to listen to you. Does he typically allow you to help him in other areas of his life? People have to want to be helped. Does he even see a problem? What challenges does he see in his business right now? Does he even agree with the need for policies and procedures?

Have an honest discussion with him. Explain your concerns in terms of the company's benefit, thereby removing you and him from the equation. Let him do most of the talking, as it might force him to think it through in more detail than he has before. Don't accuse him of anything, simply state your opinion. Feel free to say "I'm not here to tell you how to run your business, I just have a few concerns and I'd like to get your thoughts on them."

THE SECOND ANSWER

Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

I see this scene unfolding quite often. Someone operates a business and their spouse/friend/parent takes issue with the way it is run. Problems invariably arise since mixing family life with business life is tricky.

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You no doubt view yourself as simply trying to make your husband's enterprise better run and thus more profitable. The problem is that you are not just someone. This is your husband, so emotions are at play that may be affecting your ability to give impartial advice. At the same time, he sees you first as a wife and second as an adviser, and his "business ego" may have difficulty accepting your arm-chair quarterbacking. (It is likely that some employees and the consultant view your involvement as an outside intrusion.)

It is clear that your advice is not being accepted, but it is equally clear that your husband continues to have deficiencies in managing his office. I suggest finding a reputable business adviser, not a paid consultant, who is truly independent and has a range of proven organizational, accounting and taxation skills. Have that adviser sit down with your husband to map out a long-term plan and implementation strategy for the business.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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About the Author
Nine to Five contributor for Globe Careers

"When you know who you really are, what you’re great at, and what you stand for, you want to jump out of bed and dance to the radio every morning,” says Billy Anderson.  He has been an advertising manager, a non-profit executive, and an instructor for Outward Bound Canada. More

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