This is Challenge #23 and it shows up in Stage 4.

This challenge is what separates a GCS from all the other business advisors/consultants/coaches out there.

Our Stages of Growth X-Ray™ has the ability to solve this challenge all day long – literally with one hand tied behind its back!

Simply understanding the 7 Stages of Growth concepts does not get clients engaged in this discussion. As a standalone challenge, one has to ask:  How can a CEO possibly diagnose problem areas before they surface? The answer is they need to be able to uncover the root cause of those problem areas in order to diagnose them and there is no better way to do that than using our proprietary process, the Stages of Growth X-Ray.

The company I helped run was a marketing communications company. In our early years of growing the business, we primarily hired people with marketing talent and skills. We kept having issues. Those issues had everything to do with a lack of defined processes. People were tripping over each other due to the lack of defined roles and responsibilities. On the surface, it appeared to be a problem with people. Either we weren’t providing the right training or they were the wrong people. Our fixes didn’t solve the problem. Here’s why.

We weren’t diagnosing the right problem. We were addressing surface issues, not the root cause of the problem. The real issue was we weren’t hiring people with project management experience. We thought we needed to hire people with marketing experience. We assumed they would simply be able to figure out the project management side of the business. And we were wrong. On any given day, we were managing 180 projects.

Once we had our “ah ha” moment and figured out that we needed to hire people who were good project managers, things changed. Our Account Managers (our first line communicators to the client who needed to have very good marketing skills) got support from Project Managers who became the glue that kept all of the parts to each project functioning well.

When I conduct a Stages of Growth X-Ray™ program with CEOs and their management teams, the challenge of diagnosing problems is addressed. The program is designed to:

  • Uncover the root cause of issues quickly (two days; not two months)
  • Give everyone a chance to put words to their concerns (a series of online assessments help each person identify their issues by name)
  • Create immediate buy-in from a facilitated session where we take the mystery out of running a company (too many assumptions that need to be addressed)
  • End up with the top five initiatives that address immediate concerns, who owns those initiatives and the outcomes that can be expected when those initiatives are completed.

The reality is it’s hard for executives to understand what their problems are. As the COO of that marketing communications company, I knew something wasn’t right. I just couldn’t put my finger on it so I guessed. I tried one solution and when that didn’t work, I tried another. A lot of time, energy and money was wasted, not to mention the increasing frustration level and burnout felt by all employees. Sound familiar?

This challenge is directly tied to a company’s leadership. CEOs often assume they know what their problems are. If employees raise issues that don’t align with the CEO’s assumptions, those issues are often discounted. In this type of environment, employees simply won’t speak up about problems. They don’t want to be perceived as a whiner, a complainer, or someone who always sees the negative. I refer to this dynamic as the CEO Disease. I used to suffer from it myself. I recall listening to an employee’s concerns about how we did something and what wasn’t working. What I heard was complaining. I remember thinking, “It’s always worked in the past. What is this person’s problem?”

CEOs need employees to feel comfortable to speak up, tell the truth about what’s going on and raise their hand when there are issues. Creating an environment of trust is hard for some leaders but it can be done. Help your CEOs understand the CEO Disease. Some suggestions on how to do so are:

  1. Look and be approachable. When you walk into the office every day, engage in morning conversation with everyone you can. Make it a goal to talk to every single employee each week. With 35 – 57 employees, it’s a reasonable mission. Smile. Engage. Ask questions. Make it a positive interaction. If you do this consistently, people will see you as a regular human being who just happens to run the company.
  2. Create opportunities to meet with teams on a regular basis. If your managers have division meetings each week, attend and listen. Learn. Share your ideas. Don’t solve. Ask questions. Be engaged. Show the team you respect and value the opinion and the work of their manager. The value of this exercise is it shows your managers and their teams that you care about what’s going on in their world; that you are relaxed and comfortable hanging out with them.
  3. Create social opportunities where the entire company can relax together. Make sure you are a part of that planning process. You don’t have to manage it, but you have to be engaged and committed so people take these outings seriously. If you take them seriously, others will also. Make sure you are clear about the “why” of these events. Don’t be afraid to talk about the value of people getting to know each other outside of the work setting.

Rarely are CEOs able to see the entire picture. Employees are guarded in how they deal with their managers. They observe their manager’s behaviors when issues or problems are brought to the table and assumptions are made all over the place.

If managers are experienced and confident in their roles, those issues are embraced and an open dialogue ensues. If managers view issues brought to their attention as a direct affront to how well they are managing, their demeanor can shut down a conversation. Employees will stop bringing issues to the table because they don’t want to deal with their manager’s anger or impatience.

A critical step in uncovering obstacles to growth is to off er a discovery process. This is an opportunity for employees and managers to flush out ideas and issues and people are given a language to identify the problems they face.

In delivering the Stages of Growth X-Ray™ program to CEOs and management teams, the most revealing outcome is the ability to put words to their pain.

Starting on page 141 in my Stage 4 book, Managing the Managers: How to Accelerate Growth Through People and Processes with 35 – 57 Employees, you’ll find Three Exercises that will help your CEOs address Challenge #23: Difficulty Diagnosing the Real Problem Areas Before They Surface. You can get your Stage 4 book at

Your Success. My Passion.

Laurie Taylor, FlashPoint!