When an X-Ray is a Bad Idea

As business advisors, it’s easy for us to get so bought in to the services and products we provide that we can have a tendency to have tunnel vision (the reluctance to consider alternatives to one’s preferred line of thought) when we are talking to a prospect.

Case in point from my own experience.

I presented to a group of CEOs recently and won the attention of a CEO of a fast-growing Stage 7 company who was completely bought into the concept of the 7 Stages of Growth and asked me to conduct an X-Ray for him and his senior leaders.

We had a phone conversation where he focused on their challenges and the history of the company. He explained that the owners were still involved, he valued their insights, and saw great potential for growth. Two of his managers had also attended the presentation I gave and he and I talked about their roles and how excited they were to learn more about the model and they were totally engaged in working with me and going through the X-Ray process. As is the case with many ‘leads’, we exchanged a couple of emails and he indicated they were so busy that they would need to push out the X-Ray till Spring or Summer. I had occasion to visit their location and we met for dinner. It was at this dinner that I knew the X-Ray would be a bad idea. Here’s why.

I learned that the HR director was a toxic manager. He had mentioned her as we talked about his team and hadn’t raised any red flags about her in our previous discussions. Yes, she had been there a long time. Yes, she was a bit difficult to work with, but he felt he was working through those issues. However, at dinner he opened up and shared with me that he was at a point where he knew she would have to go. The problem was that the owners, who had hired her years before, weren’t willing to let her go. Because those owners weren’t involved in the day-to-day operations, they didn’t experience her toxic nature. She presented a different profile when she was talking with them. He was frustrated and at that time, unwilling to force the issue.

It was then I told him until he had resolved that issue, conducting an X-Ray would be a mistake. Since others on his team experienced her toxic nature, the conversations would be guarded. People would be reluctant to open up in that environment. I told him until he had resolved the issue, I could not in good conscious recommend going forward with the X-Ray.

Several years back, one of my growth curve specialists, had me co-lead an X-Ray with him. I had not been privy to the conversations up front nor did I know the team. What I learned as we were in the middle of the X-Ray was that the CFO was in complete disagreement with how the CEO ran the company. That disagreement reared its head in the middle of the facilitation of the Builder/Protector when the CFO stood up during one of our discussions and said to the CEO “I’ve been telling you this for years! If you don’t pay attention to what is being said, I’m quitting!”

We were able to complete the X-Ray, but in hindsight, this is another good example of where a better understanding of the key players would have been helpful and perhaps, the X-Ray wasn’t the best option. The CFO did leave that company and the company struggled because the CEO was not willing to listen to his team.

It’s in your best interests to understand what the ‘state of the company’ is when thinking about if the X-Ray is a good solution.

Here are some examples of when an X-Ray is a bad idea:

  1. The CEO seems totally disengaged from his/her team. In the case of the CFO who quit right after the X-Ray. The GCS knew that was an issue. As we discussed afterwards, he felt he could have facilitated a meeting with the CEO and the CFO in advance to identify and uncover their issues. His enthusiasm for the X-Ray wasn’t misplaced. But the circumstances weren’t ideal and he learned a valuable lesson.
  2. There is evidence of discord in the management team. I’ve conducted many X-Rays where the management team wasn’t aligned, wasn’t functioning well together. The X-Ray is a great tool in both of those situations. If, however, there is a toxic manager in the group, you have to reconsider the X-Ray until that toxic situation is resolved.
  3. Roles and responsibilities of the Executive Team is unclear. A recent situation had several owners running a Stage 3 company. There was confusion among these owners as to their roles and responsibilities which caused confusion throughout that company. During the X-Ray, these owners were reluctant to ‘come clean’, to really talk about the ‘elephant in the room’. The GCS was challenged to generate conversations that helped identify initiatives. He ultimately had to identify initiatives for them that provided clarity as to what each person should be doing. While the outcome was good, a meeting to talk about roles and responsibilities might have been more effective before expending the effort to deliver the X-Ray.

You know I am a huge proponent of the value the X-Ray process delivers, time and time again. The message here is to simply be aware of certain red flags that show up that could alert you that your first step may not be the X-Ray.

Your success. My passion.
Laurie Taylor, FlashPoint!