Your Problem Solving is Killing Your Growth

April 8, 2014

Leadership and growth strategy expert Kirk Dando shares three steps to transition from reactive problem solving to proactive problem predicting.

When leaders and managers look to hire good problem-solvers, they unknowingly destroy the future growth and success of their company.
Here’s why: Problem-solvers make companies work, problem-predictors make companies grow.
I rarely see a company start to miss its projections, slow down, or even fail due to lack of opportunity, a lot of smart people, or enough money. It is most often because leadership does not know how to hire problem predictors — people who know how to grow a concept into a company that changes the world.

The Importance of Hiring Proactive, Not Reactive People

Growing companies must put just the right person in the right role, and pulling that off is tough, even for huge companies that have plenty of resources to get it right. Peter Drucker said, and I agree, that when it comes to hiring or promoting we get it right about 1/3 of the time, just okay 1/3 of the time, and it is a complete disaster 1/3 of the time. There is no other area in business where we would tolerate such poor performance, and screwing up here makes growth exponentially harder.
I’m not saying problem solving is always bad. But if you are going to solve problems, you are much better off working to innovate products that solve your customers’ problems — not the company’s problems — and there is a BIG difference!
When you hire a customer problem solver, you get bold ideas and strong forward motion. When you hire a company problem solver, you often get someone who will work in the business but not make huge steps to grow it. If you get this wrong in the hiring or promoting process, you will unknowingly spends a lot of resources (time, talent, and money) reacting to issues rather than dealing with them in advance — before they show up in the results.

Remember, You Get What You Reward

Of course, even if you hire a great team member, it can all deteriorate if their rewards aren’t tied to what’s truly important in the business. When you reward employees for solving internal problems, you’re actually encouraging them to go and look for more problems — or worse — passively wait for problems to occur. You’re taking smart people away from doing what you really need them to do — using their IQ points to innovate new products and services that generate more revenue and growth.

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No one in their right mind would admit they sit around and wait for problems to arise, but roll the tape and review what is really happening. I have seen this dynamic destroy many successful companies’ culture and performance. Ultimately when the problems showed up in the results, leaders asked the wrong questions, causing them to misdiagnose the core issue.  Instead of asking if the problem could have been avoided, they end up rewarding the person who came up with the solution, stayed late, worked ridiculous hours or was hired to fix someone else’s mess. Meanwhile, they unknowingly strengthened their problem-solving muscles and subtly deteriorated their ability to innovate and grow.
Problem-predicting is not some new-agey or mystical concept; it is grounded in logic and data. The best companies have made mistakes but learned to avoid common issues that every company faces when growing. Why should your company reinvent the wheel? Yes, each fast-moving, high-growth organization is very unique in many ways, but the issues growth and success cause are all the same. Thousands of companies been have been expanding, growing and imploding for years — just look at the recent executive turnover in the Fortune 500.
I have studied the patterns of what causes high-growth organizations to slow or even stop growing. Much to my surprise, the most common mistakes that derail growth-hungry companies are overly obvious and embarrassingly simple. I identified the 12 Warning Signs of Success in a previous OpenView Lab article.

3 Steps to Stop Problem Solving and Start Problem Predicting

So, how do you stop problem-solving and start problem predicting?

Step 1: Adapt

Leaders need to change their thinking about problem solving, and it takes a real paradigm shift for leaders honestly see what’s being rewarded and thus encouraged. When big problems arise and our best people’s priorities and resources have to shift, ask this question: “Could this have been avoided with proper leadership, planning and prioritization? Or is this solving a customer/market place problem that is going to cause growth and improvement?”

Great leaders don’t solve problems; they predict and avoid them entirely.

True leadership and growth can only efficiently happen when you stop rewarding problem-solving and start requiring problem-predicting.

Step 2: Adjust

Leaders need to adjust their focus and change the language of the business from problem solver to problem predictor. This helps change the conversation and gets teams thinking in a whole new way. Predictive Leadership positively transforms how leaders lead and how companies grow, so you must take action to change how people are hired and incentivized.
When you consciously raise your organization out of problem-solving mode, you must build a whole new set of muscles. This subtle difference makes a significant impact on how you hire team members and how efficiently your organization works.

Step 3: Assess

Leaders need to asses if any of the 12 Warning Signs of Success exist in their organization – spinning off symptoms, encouraging a problem-solving culture and building the muscles that will not scale.
Ask yourself: How much brainpower do you and your team spend on internal problem-solving today? Do you solve for future problems, or do you just believe problems are innately inevitable and unpredictable? By realizing you’re not the first organization to deal with a specific problem, you’ll be open to how others successfully avoid these problems and expedite growth.
Image by Akash Malhotra

CEO/Founder, Author, Speaker & Coach

<strong>Kirk Dando</strong> is a highly sought-after and well-respected leader and growth expert who has been called “The Company Whisperer.” Author of the book, <a href="">Predictive Leadership: Avoiding the 12 Critical Mistakes that Derail Growth-Hungry Companies</a>, he has coached over 5,000 growth-hungry leaders, including the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winners and several “Best CEO” winners. He is also an advisor, coach and board member.