When you have a problem, how long does it take you to start thinking of possible solutions?

a) 2.5 seconds
b) ….never mind, I already know you answered a)

That problem-solving skill—your willingness to dive in, and your drive to find solutions—probably got you where you are today. Entrepreneurs have to be scrappy if they want to survive.

But at some point, quick thinking and rapid decision-making will also get you stuck. 

Here’s why. When you react instantly to a problem, you’re using your past experience to connect the dots. But as your business grows, you’re going to face more challenges that are largely unknown to you. 

Your brain might still connect dots, but they won’t necessarily be the right ones. Which means you’re only looking at the surface-level issues that are presented to you.

Sometimes, though, the problem isn’t the problem. The real problem is something else entirely. And you’re going to have to spend a lot of time thinking—not doing—to identify what’s really going on. 

An example: your project managers are supposed to upsell clients into larger packages, but their efforts are consistently lackluster. You meet with them to find out what’s going on.

First, you learn that they don’t really understand your offerings. Solvable, right? You put together some training and do a debrief to make sure your packages are clear. The team gives you a thumbs up; they’re good to go.

….but upsells don’t increase.

Next, you learn that your project managers aren’t sure how to bring up the larger packages in conversation with their clients. Okay, so it’s a sales training issue. You document “triggers” that should start the conversation and create a sales script they can use. 

….and the needle doesn’t move.

Then, you learn that your team isn’t clear on how important upsells are with respect to their other responsibilities, and what targets are they supposed to be meeting anyway? Uh-oh. That’s a scorecard issue. You set them up with a scorecard and get ready to watch the sales roll in…..

….I think you know where this is going.

This is what we like to call a zombie problem—every time you think it’s dead, it comes staggering back to life. 

(If you’re not keen on horror, you can think of it as a “whack-a-mole” problem, too.)

Zombie problems arise because you haven’t gone deep enough in addressing the root cause. You’re solving a shallow problem, so the solution doesn’t stick.

In this case, the real problem isn’t training or metrics. It’s alignment. 

The company’s business model, and therefore the team’s comp model, aren’t set up to incentivize and reward upsells. So no matter how much structure is in place around them, they just don’t happen. 

Change the model, change the motivation.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that an answer that simple comes easily. Business owners can lose years to zombie problems, coming up with an endless line of solutions that never truly solve anything.

You can’t use your gut instinct to get you out of that kind of situation. You have to step back, sit down, and think. 

The kind of thinking that seems to lead nowhere. And makes your brain hurt. Until all of a sudden (but it isn’t really), the answer becomes clear. 

P.S. What do you need to be able to think clearly? Time. Space. Focus. And those things come from building a leadership team and delegating effectively. We can help you with all of it. Contact us to learn how