7 Stages of Growth: Stage 6

Strategic: 96 – 160 Employees

What does a Stage 6 company look like?

There’s a rhythm now. Patterns of behavior have been established, processes are in place, and the morning walk through the company has an air of familiarity that feels good. It feels comfortable. The CEO’s confidence in his/her staff is strong. If the CEO has captured the imagination of the managers, they now provide the stability of making good decisions, connecting with their direct reports and providing sound input that keeps the leader updated on critical issues.

This level of engagement is critical in Stage 6 because it’s time for the leader to, once again, shift his/her view, attention and energy. The company must pay strong attention to its strategic orientation in the marketplace. With 96 – 160 employees, it’s time to look beyond the arena the leader has built and prepare to take the company into a more challenging competitive environment. The leader must set in motion the longer view, move from an annual planning perspective into a multi-year strategic perspective and drive the organizational culture as a visible leader.

Emphasis is once again on people as the top gate with profit second. A leader of a Stage 6 company must engage a unique blend of Manager and Visionary modalities. Orchestrating a company’s move into Stage 6 requires a leader who believes strongly in the power of effective and consistent communication. His/her leadership style must help create synergy by connecting people to each other, be able to heal rifts in a team, and motivate during stressful times. It’s also time to revisit some areas that he/she might assume are okay:

  • How’s the vision? Is it still clear? The leader should revisit this with the management team to make sure there has not been any erosion. This doesn’t happen because people don’t believe in the stated vision, it happens because the leader has trained and developed a strong-minded staff — they will be testing and questioning the direction of the company.
  • Are values still driving behavior? Again, the leader should check in frequently with how these are being adhered to in the company. Are the values still a part of determining who gets hired? Are people making decisions based on those values?

If the vision and values have survived the complexity level the business has grown to, then the culture should be well defined. Any erosion of the culture the leader wanted to create will manifest itself clearly at this stage of the company’s growth.

Is there a powerful strategic plan in place? More critical than ever is the leader’s ability to put a strategic plan in place that focuses the company’s resources on opening up new markets, refreshing products and/or services and directing the company’s future growth. At this stage of growth there can be an overwhelming feeling that a shift was needed in the CEO’s thinking, in his/her planning, and the ability to look ahead and plan for the future. This is a perfect time to bring on a board of directors, perhaps additional outside resources to help evaluate and challenge current thinking.

As leaders navigate through Stage 6, their primary goal is to undergo the transformation from an operational senior executive into a strategic senior executive. Leaders must broaden their focus from a one-year horizon to a two-to-five-year horizon. The primary focus is no longer driving the business (as a day-to-day operational executive), instead it is navigating for the future (as a future-oriented strategic executive). How do leaders do this?

  • Develop a powerful strategic plan of how the company will capture opportunities in the future.
  • Help staff understand, embrace and move toward the envisioned future.

In Stage 6, it’s critical to strategically rethink the company’s positioning in the market. It is no longer a big fish in a small pond, but a small fish in the ocean, and its ability to survive just took on a different focus. But, there are also new opportunities available because of the size of the business. Challenging all assumptions as they relate to the vision, mission, customer needs and products/services is crucial. Don’t allow managers to simply rehash old issues.

On the market front, the company is becoming more and more visible to the outside world. The competition is now very aware of the business and is increasing their attempts to steal market share. It’s a whole new business environment. The CEO must become strategic about the future – strategizing and planning out two to five years. Consider how to keep and expand the company’s competitive advantage and opportunities. The leader should be considering: (a) Where is the market headed? (b) Where are the customers headed? (c) What technological changes can be expected?

In Stage 6, the CEO will want to move from an annual planning perspective to a multi-year strategic perspective. One of the key objectives will be to bring on a board of directors to help identify new market opportunities and provide accountability to help the business stay on target.  Without some outside objective perspective, leaders risk not seeing the larger strategic picture, which is called the ‘too little, too late’ syndrome.  During Stage 6, leaders need to work especially hard at helping their management team see the bigger picture and how they fit into it. A strategic focus will not work without the buy-in of the leadership team and the entire staff.

Required Leadership Skill Base:

  • The awareness to set into motion the bigger picture.
  • The ability to personally develop a strategic orientation.
  • The willingness to discover the vision of the company.
  • The ability to see the large picture in the marketplace.
  • The ability to help others find their place in an organization.

Seize the opportunity to tune into the perspectives of the management team. An emotionally connected leader who will listen and learn will be rewarded with strong growth, targeted planning and engaged employees. It is also about improving the quality of the staff from hiring, to assimilating, to making them an important part of the company’s success and to unifying them as a team.

The top five challenges for Stage 6:

  1. Staff Buy In
  2. Staff Satisfaction
  3. New Staff Orientation
  4. Weak Profit Design
  5. Hiring Quality Staff

Businesses enter Stage 6 in a Flood Zone as the level of activity is exceeding its systems’ capacity. Leaders will be tempted to throw more employees at the activity. Resist that temptation by focusing on making systems more effective and efficient.

The challenge of the leader is to become the senior strategic executive, while still maintaining the teamwork and collaboration that are crucial to lead the team into the future. As leaders evolve into strategic executives, the leadership modality (how to lead the whole company) should be Dominant. This is important as the CEO develops a strategic plan and begins to help his/her team understand and embrace the strategy. Having spent the time and energy to build a great team, look to them for guidance and advice in their areas of expertise.

While managing this dynamic organization is the CEO’s number one priority (50% of the time), there should be a shift toward a significant Visionary role (45% of the time). Managers should be running the day-to-day operations, while the leader focuses his/her attention on developing strategies to maintain and capture new opportunities. The Specialist role is diminished to insignificance (5% of the time), but the leader must continue to understand how well the product/service is meeting the needs of the ever-changing market and customers.

The Builder/Protector Ratio (BPR) is a measurement of “confidence vs. caution.” It is a critical tool to gauge the business’ ability to accept change, respond with confidence to change and successfully navigate the change.


  1. Thrive on risk
  2. Are always looking for new opportunities
  3. Don’t back down from the everyday challenges


  1. Thrive on caution
  2. prefer to apply the brakes (and should be encouraged to do so when appropriate)

For Stage 6, the Builder/Protector Ratio is 3:1 — three builders to one protector. This is a very aggressive BPR. It is aggressive because leaders need to start finding new opportunities that are now available due to the size of their business. And leaders need to begin pursuing those opportunities. However, there needs to be some caution to avoid overconfidence or carelessness, which could give competitors an opening to attack.

The CEO’s role as the company moves into this stage of growth has to be on creating a strategic vision that moves business farther into the future. The distribution of authority and accountability also becomes a major challenge and the leader needs to establish:

  • A very clear vision for the organization.
  • A strong set of core values.
  • A clearly defined dominant company culture.
  • A powerful strategic plan that reaches out over two to five years.

Foundation Building Blocks for Stage 6:

Strategic Plan

Develop a sophisticated strategic plan addressing how to create competitive advantages. The plan should address markets, products, resources, operational systems, management systems and company culture.

The most critical building block company’s need to develop in Stage 6 is the strategic plan. In light of the ever-increasing rapid change in the marketplace, without a strategic plan the entire business will be in jeopardy of being left behind if it doesn’t see the changes coming and prepare to capitalize on them. Leaders should be considering: (a) Where is the market headed? (b) Where are the customers headed? (c) What technological changes can be expected?

Board of Directors

Develop a board of directors that can help develop strategy and grow the business.

Management Systems

Utilize a performance management system that address objectives, goals, measurement, feedback, evaluation, and rewards. There should also be a project management system and templates.

Financial System

The financial system should include a three-year profit plan, financial modeling, cash flow forecast and dashboard.


Utilize a well-defined sales and marketing system that salespeople are using. Use a customer intelligence system to stay abreast of customers and market data.

Work Community

Implement a hiring system that helps identify the skills that are needed and that finds, recruits, selects and hires great employees.  Have a plan for each employee describing expectations, performance measurements and actions that will be taken to help him/her succeed.

The Non-Negotiable Leadership Rules for a Stage 6 Company:

  • Without fail, establish a two-to-three day new staff orientation program.
  • Generate a three-year living business plan (should address strategic, operational, and people considerations) with detailed budgets for each department and revenue group.
  • Implement an organizational health survey once a year and establish two company-wide one-day unifying events a year.
  • Push financial reporting to another level throughout the company.
  • Without fail, secure regular one-on-one manager/employee meetings.


What does a Stage 7 company look like?