Proving yourself in a new role: the “quick wins” paradox


New leaders must prove themselves quickly, but the quest for rapid results is inherently dangerous. Through a survey of 5,400 new leaders and their managers, Learning & Development Roundtable identified the five traps or problematic behaviours for new leaders to avoid on the way to a “Quick Win”, and discovered how focusing on Collective Quick Wins—not individual ones—can drive the performance of both new leaders and their direct reports.

An overview: in brief

“The Quick Wins Paradox” is a short, three minute, video from the Corporate Executive Board. It introduces the ideas explained in more detail in the article below.

The idea in more detail

Many leaders taking on new roles try to prove themselves early on by going after quick wins – fresh, visible contributions to the business. But in the pursuit of early results, those leaders often fall into traps that prevent them from benefiting from their achievements. To succeed in their new positions, leaders must realize that the teams they have inherited are also experiencing change. Instead of focusing on an individual accomplishment, leaders need to work with team members on a collective quick win.

In a study of more than 5,400 new leaders, the authors found that those who were struggling tended to exhibit five behaviors characteristic of people overly intent on securing a quick win. They a) focused too much on details, b) reacted negatively to criticism, c) intimidated others, d) jumped to conclusions and e) micromanaged their direct reports. Some managed to eke out a win anyway, but the fallout was often toxic.

The leaders who were thriving in their new roles, by contrast, shared not only a strong focus on results–necessary for early successes–but also excellent change-management skills. They a) communicated a clear vision, b) developed constructive relationships, and c) built team capabilities. They seemed to realize that the lasting value of their accomplishment would be the way they managed their teams through the transition. Collective quick wins established credibility and prepared them to lead their teams to harder-won victories. The authors provide a diagnostic tool for identifying opportunities for collective quick wins, and they share some advice for organizations: When grooming new leaders, don’t just shore up their domain knowledge and technical skills; help them develop the change-management skills they will need as they settle in with their new teams.

Resources for transition planning

In this third article on the theme of transition planning we recommend some resources for the newly appointed leader/executive and for organisations reviewing their support for the later stages of executive on-boarding and transition support. (Articles one and two are linked).

Career Transitions

  • “Navigating major career transitions” is a recommended short interview with Michael Watkins. The video is available here
  • “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins. Publication Date: 1 Oct 2003. ISBN-10: 1591391105. ISBN-13: 978-1591391104

Since its original release, “The First 90 Days”  has become the bestselling globally acknowledged bible of leadership and career transitions. In this updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition, internationally known leadership transition expert Michael D. Watkins gives you the keys to successfully negotiating your next move—whether you’re onboarding into a new company, being promoted internally, or embarking on an international assignment.

In “The First 90 Days”, Watkins outlines proven strategies that will dramatically shorten the time it takes to reach what he calls the “breakeven point” when your organisation needs you as much as you need the job. This new edition includes a substantial new preface by the author on the new definition of a career as a series of transitions; and notes the growing need for effective and repeatable skills for moving through these changes. As well, updated statistics and new tools make this book more reader-friendly and useful than ever.

This book contains five fundamental propositions:

  1. Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.
  2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure, and ensure that they reach the breakeven point faster.
  3. The over-riding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility, and avoid getting caught in the vicious cycles that damage credibility As a vicious cycle takes hold, the organisation’s immune system gets activated and the new leader is attacked by clumps of ‘killer cells’, encapsulated, and finally expelled; it’s not nice, and it can get messy.
  4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly. They are an indispensable development experience for every company’s high-potential leaders.
  5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organisations.

CEO Succession

  • “The Successors Dilemma” by Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins. Harvard Business Publishing. PDF.  Available online here.

This article is focused on CEO succession. Botched leadership transitions occur with alarming frequency. Dan Ciampa and Michael Watkins, who have counselled senior executives and successors through more than 100 leadership transitions in the past 25 years, point to the successor’s dilemma as the dominant cause of failed leadership transitions. The dilemma is an emotionally charged power struggle played out between the CEO and his/her would-be heir. Ciampa and Watkins describe the way the problem builds on both sides of the desk–the CEO’s fear of giving up control versus the designated successor’s need to enact the changes expected of him/her and prove himself / herself to the board. They cite anecdotal evidence and their own research to suggest that this complex psychological dynamic leads CEO-successor relations astray and can block the successor’s path to the top spot. But the authors also offer four ways for the would-be heir to overcome the successor’s dilemma. These include gauging the CEO’s readiness to leave before accepting the number two spot, maintaining regular communication with the CEO despite ever-present obstacles such as travel and business schedules, and developing and using a balanced personal advice network to help navigate the shift in power. The authors stress that defusing the problem is the responsibility of the successor, not the CEO. The reason is simple: the successor has the most to lose.

  • “Blessings or curses? Succession in organisational existence”

Available on-line here.

A reflective, Grubb Institute paper examining the relationship between individualism and corporate life partly through the lens provided by the Biblical narrative of Jacob and Esau.


Key players in role transitions


This is article number two in our series for leaders and executives making role transitions and working through their first 100 days. (Click here for the first article in the series). In this article we are looking at the key people that should be involved in your transition.

Your new manager

Research shows that the new leader’s performance is greatly impacted by a number of key people – notably the new leader’s manager.

It is vital that the new leader’s manager (or, in a matrix, managers) is (or are) fully engaged in the on-boarding and transition process. They have a key role in managing the entire on boarding process to hold the new hire (or newly promoted leader/executive) accountable for their learning. They also need to clarify specific job expectations so they are customised to the newcomer’s needs.

Wherever a new leader has both a direct and dotted line reporting relationship – implying accountability and responsibility – they must know how the relationship between the two “bosses” actually works. This can, and should be explained, but it needs to be experienced as well and that reality can take a while to understand and respond to.

Your human resources business partner/adviser

This guide can helpfully represent a “wide lens” view of the entire enterprise to ensure that learning aligns with wider business needs. They should be in a position to recommend and support transition interventions that are based upon deep knowledge of the business and available learning resources.

A buddy or peer guide

A trustworthy buddy or peer guide should be able to offer credible insight into the political landscape of the team and the department members. As a new manager you will want to form a trust-based relationship that enables them to feel secure about providing a synopsis of how your new role will interact with accompanying lines of business. You will want to use your own judgement to decide what weight to attach to their perspectives but you will certainly be the poorer without their points of view.

Your direct reports

As their new leader you will want to establish open lines of communication within which to discover how performance has been managed in the past and to set new expectations as you listen and learn. Where trust abounds they will be amenable to suggesting high-level mission and goals for the group based on their past experiences and future hopes.

In the next article in this series we will be reviewing and recommending some key resources for transition support and 100 day planning.

Congratulations on your new role!


This article is the first in a series written for leaders and executives who have been appointed to a new role, perhaps within a new organisation and possibly in a new field of work. It is designed to help with making a successful transition and the focus is on the first 100 days in the new role.

Five Main Goals

In planning your transition to the new role and your first three months (100 days) in the new job you will probably be wanting to achieve five main goals.

Goal 1. To gain a deeper knowledge of the new job – most especially to obtain a realistic appreciation of any present ‘gap’ between the stated strategies of the new team(s) you will be responsible for and the current operational realities or de facto strategies. This will involve you in getting to grips with both initial perceptions and the underlying realities. And these, as you know, are usually more complex and subtle than they appear initially!

At the end of your first one hundred days in the new role, you will want to be able to answer the following types of questions:

    • What are the long and the short term goals, plans and budgets associated with your new job?
    • What are the current performance levels relative to plans?
    • Why are the timeframes for achievement set in the way they are?
    • What are relationships with clients and partners like? Are relationships improving or going downhill? How do we know?
    • How are strategies and individual manager’s goals aligned?

Goal 2. To accept and deal with the real capabilities of the organisation and the people. People’s capabilities do, indeed, vary – even when they are supposed to be doing the same job and have had the same guidance and training! If your role is to bring about change then you will certainly find that some of your managers may relish shaping, communicating, creating and managing change – but this, of course, is not universally true. You may develop an agenda for change and perceive that the platform for change is on fire: others may yet have felt the heat.

At the end of your first one hundred days, you will want to be able to answer at least the following questions with some confidence:

    • What are the key success factors for all operations in my new portfolio?
      How much time will I need to understand critical processes, situations and relationships before I make change plans?
    • What are the stated and un-stated processes, accountabilities and systems here?
    • What ‘landmines’ were built into prior decisions – and why?
    • What is the true depth of difficulty in (any underperforming) group? What are the reasons for underperformance?
    • What individuals hold the real power?
    • What are the real lines of authority?
    • What is the actual role of high profile leadership teams?
    • What is the actual experience and professionalism of my people and people over whom I now have influence?
    • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership and/or management team? Are both known and acknowledged by the members?
    • Do formal job responsibilities exist? Why? Why not?
    • What are the management philosophies here?
    • Is there real or imagined alignment between these philosophies and the way that leaders/managers are rewarded?
    • How much emphasis is placed on managerial consensus? Why? Why not?
    • What resources are there outside the formal networks that are contributing to the goals? How can they be brought into the network?
    • How will I strengthen and secure the leadership of my team to achieve agreed goals, given my expanded/changed portfolio?

Goal 3. To discover and prioritise multiple expectations. Deep investigation of many organisations tends to convey an impression that they are not adept at prioritising and often appear to wear out their key resources (not just people) because the difficult choices have not been made. Newcomers appointed to lead an expanded or changed portfolio often perceives this vividly. It is a valuable “newcomer’s insight” but it can negatively impact your morale if you are not prepared for this experience. This is an area where a competent coach, mentor or buddy can make a real difference to your experience.

Goal 4. To navigate political waters and establish alliances with the right people. This is often the most difficult challenge. Pretences about power are not particularly helpful. An experienced mentor or buddy could help you to make sense of the subtle power plays that really are at work, often just under the surface.

Goal 5. To set an agenda for action that has buy in and generates a sense of urgency.In this area you need to first make use of your excellent people skills. Your transition plan should enable you to make substantial connections with key people and from there to begin building out your network. Sources within this network will provide the data, information and commentary that you need to begin constructing your agenda for action.

In the next article in this series we will be looking at the various roles the key players involved with any leadership or executive transition should, and do, play. 

Lockdown & The Search For Meaningful Work

Recent research in the UK appears to show that “meaningful” work is going to become more important post-coronavirus. This research chimes with my own experience as a coach, which strongly suggests to me that many people are taking the opportunity provided by lockdown to consider the contribution that work makes to their lives and the lives of others.

The research found that many people have taken the opportunity of lockdown to re-evaluate their work-life balance, to question whether they have made the right career choices and to reconsider what work means to them.

These findings seem to be completely aligned with earlier, smaller scale research, undertaken by Professor Catherine Bailey, of the University of Sussex and Adrian Madden, of the University of Greenwich in 2016 .

They found that our sense of the “meaningfulness” of our work is intensely personal and individual. The work we believe to have meaning seems to arise from personal reflection and to be connected with the contribution it makes to society. It may be associated with fulfilled potential and our finding the work creative and absorbing. It doesn’t, however, necessarily arise from a positive or happy experience: people find meaning in their work during times of sadness, such as when helping someone through a bereavement, an all too common experience today.

I am not surprised to find that a period of lockdown should have encouraged many people to considerable personal introspection.

The coronavirus crisis, the research in 2020 finds, has drawn many people to think more about the role work plays in their lives, including its usefulness to society and its importance to the economy. The opportunity for extended reflection on these concerns is perhaps rarely given to an entire generation – but 2020 has provided it in spades.

Whether the re-evaluations of career direction will result in real change only time will tell but the scope and radical nature of people’s thinking is notable. The extended lockdown seems to have created a “COVID 19 life crisis” for many British people with nearly half (41 per cent) considering quitting their jobs for more fulfilling work when the pandemic is over. Inspired by the many heroic efforts shown by individuals during the crisis, one in five of those surveyed are looking for a career change, and have set their sights on joining the medical front line.

Evidence about how employers will respond to the individual musings of their staff after lockdown ends is not yet available. However, the related debate about how the economy “builds back” is growing. The growth in the public’s perception of the need to build back more sustainably could well become associated with employer’s concerns about staff engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. One thing is certain: employee’s evaluation of the value and the meaning of their work can have a significant impact on their productivity and wellbeing.

As the “build back better” movement gains pace and the case for redeveloping the British economy on a foundation of green sustainability grows, it is not surprising to find that recent research discovered that one in five people are predicting an end to commuting five days a week and the idea that you must be seen at your desk to be working (24 per cent).

The 2020 research, commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon, surveyed 2,000 working Brits and also revealed that the COVID 19 pandemic has prompted many to question the traditional office-based 9-5 culture and the reality of their work-life balance. It found that a third (34 per cent) of those surveyed experienced and were moved to combat a feeling of helplessness during the crisis (34 per cent) or a desire to be a more valuable member of the community (47 per cent), with 22 per cent labelling their current role as pointless.

As lockdown measures have forced working from home, nearly half of workers (48 per cent) plan to request some remote working once the restrictions on movement are reduced. If only a minority of these requests were to be agreed the impact upon office planning, travel to and from work patterns and family life would be considerable.

Sources:, accessed 10 May 2020., accessed 10 May 2020

Passion – and Mid-Career Changes

In my role as a coach it is a special privilege to work with people, typically in mid-career, who have been highly successful in establishing and developing their professional standing in the private sector and who now are seeking ways to apply their skills in the development field. People in this situation typically find it very helpful to explore what it takes to make the transition: to evaluate and sometimes re-express their transferable skills before considering at what level they might change sectors; to become acquainted with the variety of routes in and the common strategies that are used to secure the development sector role they are seeking.

I have had a career spanning public and private sector education, financial services and organisational and leadership consultancy before becoming a coach in a global talent leadership role within the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development organisation. I find I can readily empathise with motivations for mid-career change.

I particularly appreciate the importance that passion plays in mid-career change. A growing conviction about the need to make a difference through their career is a common motivation for those seeking entry to the development sector in their thirties and later. Passion is, of course, not enough to make the change that some of my clients seek. Occasionally, to illustrate this point I might suggest that a client watch Larry Smith’s sobering TED talk entitled “Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career”. Professor Smith teaches economics at University of Waterloo. He is a well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership and has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk tends to centre on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

It’s challenging and – possibly – motivating too. At the heart of Smith’s talk and central to some of the work I do with mid-career changers is an assessment of the part passion plays in career decision making. If you are searching for your calling in life or what you most care about – here are five digested, and up to the minute, research findings worth thinking through:

  1. Types of passion A career path or a goal that fires you up is likely to lead to success and happiness. That much the research confirms. However, Robert Vallerandet al found, in 2003, that there is a real difference between a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. An out of control passion that upsets your mood and shapes your self-esteem can be referred to as an obsessive passion. Vallerand found that such obsessions, whilst energising, are also associated with burnout and anxiety. By contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, and these are associated with positive outcomes such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.
  2. An unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. Recent research at the University of South Florida surveyed hundreds of people  found that work engagement, career commitment, life satisfaction, health and stress were all negatively impacted by having a calling that had not been responded to. The researchers concluded: “having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not as compared to having no calling at all.”
  3. Invest enough effort and you may find that your work becomes your passion It’s all very well reading about the benefits of having a passion or calling in life, but if you haven’t got one, where can you find it? Duckworth says that it’s a mistake to think that in a moment of revelation one will land in your lap, or simply occur to you through quiet contemplation, what’s needed is to explore different activities and pursuits, and expose yourself to the different challenges and needs confronting society. This is where organisations like 80000 Hours can be helpful to the really talented individual. This Oxford, UK, based group conducts research on which careers have the largest positive social impact and provide career information based on that research. Many clients have found their website invaluable.
  1. Reverse the flow, perhaps It is also worth considering the advice of those who say that it is not always the case that energy and determination flow from finding your passion: sometimes it can be the other way around. Consider, for example, an eight-week repeated survey of German entrepreneurs published a few years ago. This found a clear pattern – their passion for their ventures increased after they had invested more effort into the ventures the week before. A follow-up study qualified this, suggesting the energising effect of investing effort only arises when the project is freely chosen and there is a sense of progress. “Entrepreneurs increase their passion when they make significant progress in their venture and when they invest effort out of their own free choice,” the researchers found.
  1. If you think passion comes from doing a job you enjoy, you’re likely to be disappointed
    Another issue to consider is where you think passion comes from. In a paper released as a preprint at PsyArXiv, Jon Jachimowicz and his team draw a distinction between people who believe that passion comes from doing what you enjoy, and those who see it as arising from doing what you believe in or value in life. The researchers found that people believing that passion comes from pleasurable work were less likely to feel like they had found their passion as compared with people who believe that passion comes from doing what you feel matters. This may be because there is a superficiality to working for sheer pleasure – which may not last in any case – whereas working towards what you care about is timeless and likely to stretch and sustain you indefinitely.

Introducing Vitas Consult Ltd

Managing Two Careers At Once

Why do organisations manage their talent in ways that fail to take account of spousal careers? What happens as a result? What additional thinking and practices could assist organisations to manage talent located within a dual career relationship better? What do findings about what is valued in mid-life career counselling have to say to those involved in career coaching?

Spousal Careers

Writing in the May – June 2018 edition of The Harvard Business Review (“Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple”) Jennifer Petriglieri, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, shows how companies invest significantly in grooming their star talent — but then fail to take account of marital situations and responsibilities.

This failure, which involves seeing the high performing employee “one dimensionally”and not appreciating their familial context is surprisingly common. Many corporations with relatively enlightened talent management programmes haven’t, according to Petriglieri, “figured out how to manage the growing population of employees who care deeply about their partners’ or spouses’ careers at the same time that they want to advance their own. As a result, many high potentials are heading for the nearest exit.”

Outdated Ideas About Career Progression

Jennifer Petriglieri has seen this happen time and again across a range of sectors and says the crux of the problem is that companies “tend to have fixed paths to leadership roles, with set tours of duty and rigid ideas about what ambition looks like. That creates flexibility and mobility challenges for employees—and recruitment and retention headaches for employers.”

In referring to these “fixed paths to leadership roles” Petriglieri signals that the companies concerned are likely to be practicing that, rather exclusive, form of talent management that Victoria Campbell and Wendy Hirsh (in their Institute of Employment Studies report “Talent Management: A Four-Step Approach”, 2013) dubbed “accelerated skill development for high potentials” (type A). An alternative, and more inclusive, form of talent management, based upon the conviction that every employee has talent, usually drives anemphasis onorganisational capability building throughout the workforce” (type B).   

That some corporations still use models for talent development that are based on fixed paths, set tours of duty and rigid ideas about what ambition looks like might be thought remarkable. That they often struggle with last minute realisations about the importance of spousal careers is perhaps predictable. It does not need to be so.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

As Global Practice Leader for Integrated Talent Management at World Vision International I was constantly reminded that talent management is but “one side of a coin”. The coin’s “two faces” are talent management and the individual’s career. Talent management is that side of the coin seen from the corporation’s perspective. The other side of the coin is built progressively through the career – and other – decisions made by individual employees. Where they are in a relationship with another person also managing career decisions the two people will characteristically, and increasingly, take these decisions together.

Campbell and Hirsh found, through their case studies of 23 organisations, drawn almost equally from the private and the public sector, that between the “type A” and the “type B” approaches to talent management, there was “a more career‐oriented definition of talent management.”This “places more emphasis on establishing career direction (relating to individuals’ interests and ambitions), as well as deploying and mobilising talent across the organisation, by offering different career experiences and using talent populations to fill key roles.” I will call this approach “type C”. It is important to our current discussion because it has the potential to allow talent managers to understand “the other side of the coin”.

Understanding this important symbiotic relationship between the two sides of the coin has taken some organisations a while. If type C practices were more commonly used this might not be true but experience in the disparate financial services and humanitarian development sectors suggests this is not the case: the type A approach predominates. Predictably, organisations are in a comfortable place, for them, when it is clear that their decisions have impact on individual’s careers. It is less comfortable when the organisation becomes aware that individual’s career decisions can – and do – have organisational effects. When the conditions are right these organisational effects can be very significant indeed. Two examples from my financial services sector experience illustrate this point.

Example 1: In the ten years from 2000, there was considerable actuarial and insurance consulting firm consolidation resulting in the emergence of a smaller number of global organisations with considerably enlarged headcounts. This led to some professionals in this sector becoming more and more specialist and, consequently, their roles being ever more narrowly conceived. For the organisations concerned the opportunity was created to build teams of dedicated experts with niche consulting expertise. By the end of the decade however, employers and specialist recruiters were recognising that the individual career decisions of these business critical experts were having a determinant and sometimes limiting impact on organisation’s business strategy.

Example 2: Merger or acquisition based growth also created opportunities for individuals and teams that employers may not initially have anticipated. A range of firms lost talented specialists to their rivals as the result of a legal loophole meaning they were technically unemployed at the point of M&A transaction. In some cases, individuals or even intact teams were changing jobs and being recruited without serving their notice periods. Remedies were, of course, found (sometimes known as “golden handcuffs”) but constraining career choice often proved both complicated and expensive.

Petriglieri’s work highlights a further complication for corporations that have not got used to flipping the talent/career coin and appreciating, as we have seen, that in dual career partnerships, career related decisions are commonly made by the couple thinking and acting together. The decisions the couple jointly make address career choices in the wider context of family values and goals and give expression to their views about the overall well-being of the couple and the family. In doing so their decisions, taken for the good of the couple and/or the family, are at least as subtle as those taken by the employing organisations. My experience in talent management and coaching would suggest that these familial decisions are often much more nuanced than corporate talent managers contemplate.

Simply put, when managing their talent, organisations need to match the levels of subtlety found in spousal decision making. Expressed this way, that may appear to be a “corporate nice to have”: unfortunately the associated risks can have big price tags attached. Indeed, failing to recognise the relational aspects of career decision can be as expensive as not considering the talent aspects of a merger or an acquisition. The “golden handcuffs” mentioned above were, for example, sometimes resorted to precisely because the level of corporate talent risk management had earlier been inappropriate.

The challenges associated with having these types of career development conversations are significant. Creating the environment of trust, establishing the agreed ground rules, preparing the agreed summary of the discussions, taking time to plan and hold the conversations at the appropriate frequency all require significant maturity, planfulness, sophisticated data management, excellent communication and commitment to coaching behaviours.

Today’s Dual Career/Talent Management Context

The context for both corporate talent management and individual career choice is shaped by the hugely important ways in which our working lives are changing. These changes are well known: people are living longer, the labour market is shifting as a result of technological change and globalisation, employees may be caring for children and parents simultaneously whilst they manage and evaluate their paid work and consider their own second-half-of-life options.

As a consequence of this, people may see the need to change jobs and retrain; they may be having debates about their own and their partner’s careers; portfolio working lives are now a reality for many and retirement is being experienced as a more flexible reality with less of a ‘cliff edge’ between working and not working.

These changes indicate that organisations should approach the relationship they have with their key talent in much more subtle and responsive ways than in the past. “Indicate” seems the appropriate word here because, of course, employers have choices to make. Enlightened employers that operate talent and succession management processes that respond to these significant technological and socioeconomic changes – and recognise the importance of spousal career decisions – are more likely to retain their high performers. Those that don’t, increasingly will not.

Career Coaching Agendas

Employers may or may not invest in coaching for leadership and emerging talent. The extent to which career development looms large in that relationship will vary. My executive coaching experience suggests that career planning and development are increasingly important issues for coachees. Corporations purchasing developmental executive coaching variously recognise – and often support through other initiatives and programmes within which coaching may be located – the fundamental notion that the coachee is the captain of their own life and learning[1].

This recognition creates the context within which the coachee’s goals “are the foundation of the work, although in executive coaching the line manager’s and organisation’s goals are also fed into the agenda” as Jenny Rogers deftly expresses the situation (in “Coaching skills: The Definitive Guide To Being A Coach”, May 2016). Many coaches, including myself, influenced by the cognitive behavioural coaching school and the work of Carl Rogers, approach this type of development coaching with the belief that the coachee is infinitely resourceful and that their work is necessarily holistic in nature and scope. The individual has choices.

Outside of paid coaching, support for the making of those choices, some of which may relate to what Cadbury has dubbed the individual’s “crazy paving” will vary. In many countries individual adults do not have ready access to advice on what to do to make the most of their opportunities. The results can include premature retirement for some, a lack of fulfilling work for others, and insufficient saving for retirement for many.

However, evidence from a UK study (“Mid Life Career Review”, July 2015) evaluated by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) showed that valuable mid-life career review opportunities helped people take stock of where they were and who they are, and what they wanted to achieve for the rest of their lives. The pilot projects not only helped to determine the variety of possible agendas for such a career review but they also illustrated the range of career-related topics that a coachee may be considering.  The study showed that some or all of the following might feature in a well-regarded review:

  • Understanding life expectancy, and its implications for work, leisure, finance and health: many people underestimate life expectancy.
  • Reviewing changing aspirations for work and life over coming decades.
  • Making informed decisions about retirement timing and phasing (since working longer is likely to improve the quality of life of most people, as well as being good for employers and the economy).
  • Undertaking training likely to sustain the individual longer in rewarding activity, including paid work.
  • Reviewing the implications of working longer for personal health.
  • Reviewing the individual’s long-term financial situation including saving for retirement.
  • Developing strategies for overcoming age discrimination.
  • Understanding rights in relation to retirement timing, flexible working, and caring responsibilities, and developing strategies for negotiating adjustments to the individual’s and the working patterns of any spouse.
  • Realistically assessing options for job change and self-employment.

This NIACE research points to the level of sophistication that an informed mid-career review may need to achieve. Looking “around” and “behind” the bullet points above it is also possible to see the work/life considerations that dual-career couples are, increasingly, managing. This provides an indicator of what excellence in career coaching will increasingly look like and it should act as a wake up call and a compass to organisations whose talent management is as sadly one-dimensional as Jennifer Petriglieri found. Talent management should be aiming at least to understand the questions that are being asked by “the growing population of employees who care deeply about their partners’ or spouses’ careers at the same time that they want to advance their own.” This understanding can help to minimise something that talent managers are often said to want to avoid: unpleasant surprises.

[1]Sir Nicholas Cadbury expressed this well: “There is no such thing as a career path.  It is like crazy paving and you have to lay it yourself.”


Petriglieri, J. (May – June, 2018), ‘Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple’, in Harvard Business Review, pp.106–113. Harvard University Press, USA.

Watts, J. et al. (July 2015), ‘Mid Life Career Review Pilot Project Outcomes: Phases 1, 2, and 3 (2013 – 2015): Final report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’. National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, Leicester, UK.

Rogers, J. (May 2106), ‘Coaching skills: The Definitive Guide To Being A Coach.’ Open University Press, Milton Keynes, UK.

Campbell, V. and Hirsh, W. (2013), ‘Talent Management: A Four Step Approach.’ Institute of Employment Studies, Brighton, UK.

Investing In Transitions

Any bar room discussion where the word “transition” recurs is likely to be focused on the UK’s transition period due to kick in as the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. There are other, and we would say, equally complicated and life determining transitions that need to be made. As a former global talent leader with experience managing talent in over one hundred countries I consider that the education to work and training transition experiences offered to young people in the UK are letting down a generation. I am not alone in this.

A House of Lords select committee found, in February, that the apprenticeship system was “woefully inadequate”. The levy system, designed to ensure that three million people start an apprenticeship by 2020, is – on the evidence of new starts – actively repelling rather than encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeships.

Ofsted inspects the support system for apprenticeships: the colleges and training providers that offer the vocational training. They have concluded that 51% are either inadequate or needing improvement. Meantime, a January 2018 CIPD survey found that employers were actively engaged in “rebadging” training for existing employees as an apprenticeship in order to recoup the costs of the levy. The need for some agreed “red lines” here is clear.

Ethical trade addresses the ethical aspects of organisations including worker welfare. Many multinational organisations have adopted ethical trade policies that are policed by auditors monitoring the conditions of workers in their supply chains. Coherent with this good practice you might expect to find that, within the UK, there are no unpaid internships: you would be wrong. Between 70,000 and 100,000 unpaid internships are estimated to take place in the UK every year. Many of these young people work in London and certain industries have now established career entry routes that customarily rely on “serving an internship” as part of a threshold experience. Curious that, in years past, the commonplace phrase would have been “serving an apprenticeship” and yet today the legal status and, therefore, the remuneration – if any – due to an intern is a matter for the courts. When is an intern not an employee? Perhaps when they are a volunteer? Are they entitled to the National Minimum Wage: it depends.

Given all of this complexity, the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility report “Overlooked and left behind” (April 2016) was surely correct in concluding that: “Every young person should have access to independent, impartial careers advice.” Careers education and guidance are important for social mobility. This is because knowing about the options available, and the skills needed to navigate those options, are a key part of a successful transition to work. The Education Act 2011, which made schools responsible for providing independent and impartial careers advice and guidance, also defined “independent” as “provided other than by a teacher employed or engaged at the school, or any other person employed at the school”. Impartial was defined as “showing no bias towards any education or work option”. Whilst these definitions are helpful, schools could be forgiven for being confused given that the same Act also removed their statutory duty to provide careers education!

Realistically, the funding and performance table system does not incentivise schools to give independent careers advice. It is hardly surprising that the House of Lords heard repeated testimony confirming what The Prince’s Trust told Peers, that: “schools have become increasingly focused on preparing for exams and less focused on preparing young people for the world of work.”

On the evidence so far cited, I would contend that the need for excellent, independent career advice based on a strong foundation of careers education is now more important than it has been for decades. For economic, social, mobility, skills, health and moral reasons we should be investing in helping young people make their transition from school to work because the dilemmas they face are huge.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 2

The world of job analysis was overturned in the 1970s when McClelland began using a competency focus to understand the requirements of a particular role or job. It wasn’t McClelland’s intention to generalise but the publication of a 1982 book by his colleague, Richard Boyatzis, led to an explosion of interest in managerial competency frameworks. In the UK, particularly, this facilitated the growth of the Management Charter Initiative and competency-based learning and development. Over decades these approaches have progressively influenced practice in, particularly, Australia, New Zealand and the development of craft, technical, apprenticeship and managerial development internationally.

In the management domain, a strong argument can be made that most competency frameworks have identified four clusters of capability. The first of these is concerned with intrapersonal skills and includes growing awareness of and the application of emotional intelligence, as we now know it. The second focus is on the interpersonal skills of relationship building and the third is concerned with business skills. Finally, it has become widely accepted that there is a fourth leadership skillset that concerns vision, strategy (both allied to and using the business skills mentioned earlier) and building and motivating an engaged, high-performing team of people. It is helpful to consider that this four-stage model is developmental. The development of intrapersonal skills typically takes place during the pre-teen years and may be followed by the application of these capabilities interpersonally in the late teens and beyond. Business understanding and competency may be more amenable to formal teaching and coaching, action learning and other experiential methods of development can be used, powerfully, to enable the association of the first, second and third focus areas. Finally, leadership skills may or may not be added to the individual’s toolkit. It has generally become accepted that this developmental model also represents a trainability continuum. The first cluster of intrapersonal capabilities is not highly trainable – their very nature often warrants highly individualised approaches to learning. The second cluster is also less easily trained and may require considerable investment in experiential learning, feedback and coaching. The third cluster certainly includes a body of knowledge that can be relatively easily defined and may include core professional understanding plus organisational and wider business expertise that can be sector-specific or related to the maturity, complexity, type and/or scale of the business. Here we see the curriculum of the typical MBA. Applied leadership skills frequently develop later and the design of appropriately engaging developmental experiences provides the opportunity for great innovation and creativity.

Organisations may apply important nuances to the four clusters. One recent global client wanted to highlight the importance of leaders demonstrating, in their early careers, that they are ‘personally well-functioning’ and able to ‘operate effectively and to adapt to challenge, ambiguity and change’. The second cluster may be expressed in terms of the individual’s ability to make things happen through others by applying their interpersonal capabilities: outcomes rather than latent behavioural skills may be most evident in the descriptions of these competences.

Business skills need to be expressed in terms that are easily understood in the leader’s sector and, whilst there is some ongoing public and private sector business practice convergence, these two organisational spheres are clearly not the same in every respect. Similarities and differences need to be captured in descriptions of competences that resonate with the users of any framework of competences.

The extent to which the fourth cluster will have a strong future orientation will depend upon a number of factors including the maturity of the sector and the various changing and challenging opportunities and constraints the organisation faces.

Whilst the nuances are important, there is little evidence to suggest that the fourfold taxonomy of competences is less than comprehensive or has been superseded. When,  in 2001, Jim Collins published his groundbreaking book, “Good To Great”, a rare example of a business book based on actual research, Collins –  and his team – were able to conclude that leaders that took charge and improved organisational performance scored well on the four competences outlined above and had two other qualities. First, they were modest and humble, as opposed to self-dramatizing and self-promoting and, second, they were phenomenally persistent.

A question arises concerning the way in which leaders influence organisational performance. (They certainly do so: Joyce, Nohria and Roberson (2003) showed that CEOs account for about 14% of the variance in firm performance.) Leaders appear, through their personality, to influence the culture and the dynamics of their senior teams.

It was long thought that managerial incompetence was largely about managers not having the “right stuff”. Recent research shows that it is more to do with managers having the “wrong stuff”: some kind of “personality defect”. Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) summarised the results of reputable research and found that failed managers typically had poor interpersonal skills (they were insensitive, arrogant, cold, aloof and overly ambitious); they were unable to get work done (because they betrayed trust or didn’t follow through, for example); they were unable to build a team and they were unable to make a transition following a promotion. The associations with the four clusters are very clear.


Boyatzis, Richard E., “The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance” Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-471-09031-1

Collins, Jim C, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”, William Collins, October 2001, ISBN: 978-0-06-662099-2

Nohria, Nitin, William F. Joyce, and Bruce Roberson. “What Really Works.” Harvard Business Review 81, no. 7 (July 2003).

Leslie, J.B. and Van Velsor, E. (1996). A look at derailment today: North America and Europe. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 1

The British General Election campaign in May 2017 was dominated by discussion about the character of the leadership ‘offer’ being made by party leaders May and Corbyn. May’s commitment was to provide “strong and stable leadership”, whilst Corbyn was widely associated with a more collegiate style of leadership. This projection of a promised brand of leadership is not uncommon in election campaigns but it tends to beg the question: “what exactly do we know about leadership?

The reality is that, despite the importance of the subject, we securely know relatively little about it and many opposing positions can be honestly taken on leadership effectiveness. This is problematic for at least two reasons. First, because leadership is the key to organisational effectiveness, with good leadership, organisations effectively and efficiently deliver what is needed and those within them enjoy well being and a sense of aligned engagement. Second, and more importantly from a moral and ethical perspective, bad leaders create havoc and misery that sometimes blights generations and entire countries for years.

The complexity of the relationship between leaders and their followers is certainly one reason for our general lack of secure knowledge. It is also true that mountains of paper have been piled up and many writers have drained deep wells of ink with scant regard for evidence and, sometimes, an overwhelming  desire to sell yet another “airport book”. Even where evidence-based studies have been completed with rigour, over a period that warrants our attention, it has often been perfectly possible to draw divergent conclusions about what was really happening in the research!

Leadership does not, of course, occur in a vacuum. There are those who would argue that leadership in society generally is of less consequence than other forces of greater magnitude and influence than human control. Opposing this view would be those who would argue that, at important junctures in history, human leadership emerges and does indeed result in critical change.

Taking this second view as a starting point we can begin to understand the likely importance of two aspects of human personality. The first concerns how the individual sees themselves (their ‘identity’) and the second how others see the individual. Various tools commonly used in leadership development have these twin perceptions at their heart. 360° feedback, done well, effectively brings together these perceptions; a well managed Development Centre achieves more with greater reliability and the Johari window is a tool that brings together these twin perceptions.

A person’s ‘identity’ is hard to identify and work with. Recent reports suggest that the analysis of social media data combined with other aspects of the ‘electronic fingerprint’ being left by many people can provide clues to how a person sees themselves. The potential misuse of accumulated data of this type is clearly evident.

Reputation, on the other hand, can be examined in a range of ways. Generally, assessments will distinguish between impressions created when an individual is at their best and an alternative and related impression created when that same individual is at their worst. Leaders with well-developed social skills will frequently be adept at masking the dark side impressions. However, the ability to keep the mask on over a sustained period is rare and our ‘dark side’ tendencies typically emerge over time. Trust is often eroded in line with the mask slipping and people becoming more aware of the darker side of an individual. The gateway to many opportunities in life is reputation, as many leaders explicitly or implicitly recognise.

Simple frequency analysis has gradually allowed us to understand which leadership characteristics (we might dub them ‘leadership virtues’) are most important to the led. In order of importance they are: integrity, decisiveness, competence and vision. Because integrity is the most important virtue it follows that the single most important question we can ask of potential leaders is this: “Can we trust you not to abuse the privilege of authority?”

A significant meta-analysis shows that from trust in leadership there springs improved job performance; job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002).

As a counterweight to the focus on the individual leader and their personality, we also need to be aware of the context within which leadership is exercised. Those people that rise to the top of a university are likely to be characterised by a different cluster of talents, capabilities and personality traits than those that are in charge of a major league football club, for example. They may or may not have a talent for leadership. However, whilst leadership is circumstantial, Alberto Silva (2014) has asserted that “… groups choose as leaders only those people who they believe to have leadership skills, and people that do not possess leadership qualities will not be considered as leaders by any group in any circumstance.” It seems to be true that the characteristics associated with effective leadership are actually surprisingly similar across industries and cultures.

Hogan and Kaiser noted, in 2005, that leadership has tended to be defined in terms of influence exerted or in relation to the ratings given by more senior leaders. Hogan and Kaiser take the view that the litmus test of leadership should be this: does this person demonstrate that they build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition?

So, two key leadership questions emerging are these:

Can we trust this person not to abuse the privilege of authority?

Has this this person demonstrated that they will build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition? Alternatively*: Do we have enough evidence to show that they will build and maintain a group that will perform well relative to its competition?

*The second alternative question above may appear difficult to use. If this is the case, and the person being considered has no evident track record in this area, a good replacement question is this: “Does this person have basic knowledge about how to take a group of people and turn them into a high performing team?” Surprisingly, perhaps, this turns out to be a very effective differentiator!

Does talent management and leadership development where you are pay attention to these key questions?



Dirks KT, Ferrin DL., ” Trust in leadership: meta-analytic findings and implications for research and practice”. Journal of Appl Psychol. August 2002, 87(4): 611-28.

Hogan, Robert; Kaiser, Robert B. “What We Know About Leadership”, Review of General Psychology, Vol 9(2), Jun 2005, 169-180.

Silva A, “What Do We Really Know About Leadership?”. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly 2014, Volume 5, Number 4.

What Should Leaders Do To Build Talent Quality & Depth?

Why do some companies always seem to have more than their fair share of talent? Why do these same companies seem to build better talent faster?

Recently Marc Effron, President of The Talent Strategy Group and Jim Shanley, President of The Shanley Group wrote up their* answers to these two critical questions.

Their combined experience, research and interview data tells them that companies stumble in this effort because they haven’t answered the fundamental question: What should leaders do to build talent quality and depth? Their answer is to emphasise six critical roles that leaders can play …

  • Drawing from “The war for talent” research (by Michaels, Ed, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod published by Harvard Business Press in 2001) Effron and Shanley note that high performing companies have a shared talent mindset: “They have a consistent company approach to managing talent and managers are clearly accountable to execute that approach”. At the individual manager level this means that managers make finding and growing great talent the core of their business agenda: they are “talent evangelists”. These “managers make finding and growing great talent the core of their business agenda. They speak up, down and across the organization about talent and the importance of having superior talent.”
  • An “active investor” approach to talent involves the manager reviewing his portfolio frequently and making choices about where to increase and decrease investment – just as he would with every other asset in the company. “They don’t keep production equipment because it’s been around for 20 years and they have warm feelings towards it. They don’t allocate their marketing budget evenly across all campaigns to be “fair.””
  • Effron and Shanley know that the “talent accelerating manager” “builds better talent faster than other leaders inside and outside your company. She understands that talent grows fastest using big, challenging assignments and meaningful experiences. Because of this, her highest potential talent are in roles where their capabilities are tested and stretched on a daily basis.”
  • The “performance driver”, according to Effron and Shanley, “ensure[s] that their direct reports are performing at the “top quintile” of performance for their compensation level as compared to their peers globally. He is not shy about communicating that 80th percentile performance is the expected performance standard.”
  • The “talent scout” is characterised by constantly scanning their “own organisations and others for superior talent. They meet with the company’s highest potential leaders across departments and geographies to get to know them and to calibrate them against their current team.” As a result “talent scouts” have a pipeline of talent available internally and externally and they seldom have “empty seats”.
  • The “transparent coach” is blunt, direct or candid. They know that in the moment, accurate and honest feedback accelerates development by reducing the cycle time for learning. They may use feedforward** or feedback but they ensure that the messages are received.

Effron and Shanley recognise that these capabilities may seem aspirational. Two or three of these roles can, however,  be learned by every leader in any company.

Vitas Consult can provide tailored development through which your leaders and managers can learn, role play and develop the two or three roles they feel most comfortable with. Together with suitable accountability arrangements this can enable your organisation to build better talent faster than your competitors.

* Formerly Global Practice Leader, Leadership Consulting at Hewitt Associates, Marc now consults using his “One Page Talent Management” approach, which emphasises science-based simplicity, transparency and accountability. Jim Shanley was formerly lead executive for talent and learning at the Bank of America.
** Feedforward as a management term has been used by Avraham Kluger since 2006 and by Marshall Goldsmith in one of his prominent management articles.


Planning Your First Three Months In A New Role

Congratulations on the new role!

This posting outlines our criteria for a quality new role transition plan. (We draw from “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins: a recommended read).

In this book Michael Watkins sets out five fundamental propositions:

1. Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.
2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure, and to ensure that they reach the break-even point faster.
3. The over-riding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility, and avoid getting caught in the vicious cycles that damage credibility. As a vicious cycle takes hold, the organisation’s immune system gets activated and the new leader is attacked by clumps of ‘killer cells’, encapsulated, and finally expelled; it’s not nice, and it can get messy.
4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly. They are an indispensable development experience for every company’s high-potential leaders.
5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organisations.

In planning your transition and your first three months (100 days or so) in role the aim is to avoid the “triple dip effect” where the appointment of a new leader results in a decline in direct report’s performance, engagement and intention to stay. Corporate Leadership Council research dating back a number of years shows that, where a new appointee is transitioned smoothly into their new role this can be avoided and that where this does not happen the negative impacts on staff performance, engagement and intention to stay are both clear and damaging.

A well balanced transition plan should assist you in five main areas:

1. To gain deeper knowledge of the new portfolio – most especially to gain a realistic and informed appreciation about any present gap between the stated strategies of the new teams you will be responsible for and the current operational realities or de facto strategies. This will involve you in getting to grips with both initial perceptions and the underlying reality – which is, as you know, usually more complex and subtle than you might at first imagine!

At the end of your first one hundred days or three months, you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the long and the short term goals, plans and budgets associated with your new role?
  • How are business goals and strategies and individual manager’s goals aligned?
  • How do current performance levels compare against these plans? (Pay particular attention to who knows and who does not know the answer to this type of question).
  • Why are the time-frames for achievement set in the way they are? Who set them?
  • What are the relationships with internal clients and external partners like? How do we know?

2. To accept and deal with the real capabilities of the organisation and the people. Like all organisations, your new people’s capabilities will, indeed, vary. As a leader you have probably been brought in to change something. Some of your managers may relish change – but this is not universally true.

Within those first three months you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the key success factors for all the operations in my new role?
  • How much time will I need to understand [fill in the gap here] before I make change plans?
  • What are the stated and un-stated processes, accountabilities and systems?
  • Were there any “landmines” built into prior decisions and why?
  • What is the true depth of difficulty in [any under-performing] group?
  • What individuals hold real power?
  • What are the real lines of authority?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership and/or management team? Are both acknowledged by the members?
  • What is the actual role of [high profile leadership teams]?
  • What is the actual experience and professionalism of my people and people over whom I now have influence?
  • Do formal job responsibilities exist? Why? Why not?
  • What are the management philosophies here?
  • Is there real (or simply imagined!) alignment between these philosophies and the way that leaders/managers are rewarded?
  • How much emphasis is placed on managerial consensus? Why? Why not?
  • What resources are there outside the formal network that are contributing to the goals? How can they be brought into the network?
  • How will I strengthen and secure the leadership of my team to achieve agreed goals?

3. To discover and prioritise multiple expectations. Deeper investigation of many complex organisations tends to leave the impression that they are not adept at prioritising and often appear to wear out their key resources – often including, but not just, people – because the difficult choices have not been made. New-in-post leaders frequently “see” this very clearly. It is a very valuable “newcomer’s insight” but it can negatively impact your morale if you are not prepared for this experience. This is an area where a competent coach, mentor or buddy can make a real difference to your experience.

4. To navigate political waters and establish alliances with the right people. This is often seen as the most difficult challenge. An experienced mentor can help you to make sense of the subtle power plays that really are at work, often just under the surface. A key question for you may be: Do I have enough of the support I need?

5. To set an agenda for action that has buy in and generates a sense of urgency. In this area you need to first make use of your people skills. Your transition plan should enable you to make substantial connections with key people and from there to begin building out your network. Sources within this network will provide the data, information and commentary that you need to begin constructing an agenda for action.

Stakeholders In Your Transition (or “behind every successful transition lies an effective support network”)
The individuals surrounding you can serve as powerful sources of support and development during the transition process (and beyond). HR, with the support of your manager/s and, sometimes, the outgoing leader have an enormous opportunity to get even greater leverage out of these often overlooked existing assets.

From Flexible, Reactive Guidance to Intense, Focused Assistance
Many leaders succeed, in large part, to the extent that their support networks become active participants, rather than passive observers in their transition process. Each group in the leaders’ support networks plays a unique, yet complementary role in ensuring their transitions are as smooth as possible. An implication of this is that HR need to provide stakeholders with the transition support tools and resources that enable them to shift from reactive, passive observers to proactive, focused participants.

Fast Starts Do Not Happen in the Absence of Gentle Exits
High performing new-to-role leaders hit the ground running when their previous managers and their new managers work together to prepare leaders for their new roles and carefully orchestrate a smooth hand-off of responsibilities. This will be critical for you.

Need tailored support to plan your own or another leader’s transition? Contact √itas Consult.

Tools For Talent Assessment

Moon_FotorResearch indicates that the most reliable approaches to the assessment of people use a variety of methods to learn about competences and potential derailers. When you use a range of complementary methods to assess leadership potential (for example), you are  better placed to come to some working hypotheses about potential, how to target development and concerning placement decisions.

The main types of tool available are:

Simulations: Where people are asked to work together or alone on the resolution of challenges that relate to the known demands of the future role. Simulations can include simple “in box” exercises where people have to assess email/mail and make a succession of decisions about how they will prioritise their time, delegate responsibility and deal with risks. There are more complex and extended simulations which evolve over a period and may attempt to replicate the challenge of a particular role or a team in the organisation.

360 Degree or Multi-Rater Assessments: These provide comparisons of an individual’s self perception with the perceptions of their behaviour that are held by “significant others” – invariably including the individual’s manager(s); their peers; their team members and possibly people they supply services to/partner with or have contractual relationships with. Results are provided on an anonymous basis. These assessments are normally conducted on-line.

360 (or 180) Degree Interviews: These are standardised interviews that may be undertaken by the individual or their coach or mentor and which provide data not dissimilar to the on-line multi-rater assessments but are usually conducted face to face or, sometimes, “virtually” using the telephone/Skype, etc.

Personality Inventories: These provide objective measurements of underlying personality characteristics – usually based on a self report basis. Access to these tools (and often to the more sophisticated and reliable forms of simulation) is usually restricted to those who have been thoroughly trained in their use.

Cognitive Ability Tests: These measure intelligence – a component part of some competencies.

Behavioural Event Interviews: Though strongly associated with job selection these can also be used to investigate how a person’s work experience relates to future role requirements.

Development Centres: Typically residential events where a number of the methods above are used to gather information that is then discussed in considerable detail with the individual in a feedback meeting or meetings.

Performance Assessments: Manager’s assessments of performance are useful particularly where a number of years of assessment data exists and that data has been “moderated” (or calibrated) to ensure that the ratings given by different managers carry the same value.

Need advice about assessment? Contact √itas Consult.

Talent Assessment

The objective of a talent assessment process is to reach a conclusion about each potential member of the talent pool in the following terms. Are they:

  • Ready Now for their next role
  • Will they be Ready Soon for their next role, typically meaning in two/three years
  • Will they be Ready in the Future, typically in around five years time
  • A Key Contributor – someone whom the organisation would find great difficulty replacing if they resigned
  • A person that should be included in the pool for Developmental purposes

(The words in italics are usually employed as the category heading in talent pools).

Notice that this approach sorts on the basis of time to readiness. However, the mere passing of time does not necessarily result in any person becoming better qualified for a given target role! More focused approaches to accelerating talent development have, therefore, begun to consider the critical experiences and learning support services that need to be made available to people in the talent pool.

Critical experiences

Art_FotorThe critical experiences may be particular postings, secondments or job moves that are known to be highly correlated with success in a given, future role. These experiences might be broadly defined (“living and working in a francophone country”) and be quite specific (“has managed a revenue account and grown income by a factor of x over a period of y”). Where this approach is taken the emphasis on “time to readiness” is often progressively overtaken and more attention is paid to “paving the way” to a given, future role (or roles) with suitable experiences.

Learning support services

It is well known that two people can experience what appears to be the same occurrence and one will learn a tremendous amount from the experience whilst another very little. It is also evident that people learn in different ways and may be more or less active, pragmatic, and reflective or articulate about what they have learnt. Given this variety of approaches to learning it not surprising that a range of learning support services are now used to accelerate development. These services include mentoring, coaching, good management practices, journaling, action learning (for groups in a talent pool), assignments and so on.

Assessment for what?

Assessment serves three fundamental purposes in talent and succession management:

  • It helps to confirm potential by indicating what kind of talent has been nominated into the pool.
  • It helps target development by allowing you to understand the relationship between individual capabilities and business objectives. This enables you to select highly targeted development solutions for each individual and for them to be captured in a motivational (leadership) development plan.
  • It helps in making placement decisions. This facilitates the selection of just the right experiences, job challenges and assignments and in providing the most appropriate support to the individual.

Need advice about any aspect of talent and succession management? Contact √itas Consult.

Flight Risk In Changing Times

During times of significant organisational change the group of staff that employers most fear losing are the highest performing, high potentials that have been earmarked for accelerated succession. (The research evidence supporting this is available and reliable but I will not repeat it here).

Organisations that are sensitive to the dangers of arriving at the new and much heralded destination without the “right people on the bus” typically make use of what I will describe as differential communication with the “hate to lose” target group. This communication, typically one on one, needs to be very carefully managed, of course. Arriving at the new destination with very little of the needed outstanding human capital on the bus and having to recruit that capability (at significant expense) is not an attractive prospect.

Periods of transformational change invariably result in some redundancies as roles no longer needed are deleted. Throughout the workforce there may arise a sense of “survivor guilt”. “Why have I been retained and others, trusted colleagues, have been let go?”

To retain and re-engage survivors it is important to have the best quality conversations with each of the, now smaller, team. Trusted managers may be able to hold these or the business leader may feel it appropriate to step in. With the most able and talented a good deal of the focus will be on rebuilding trust in the organisation and seeking to gauge, understand and respond to perceptions of flight risk. Clearly, how the leader responds will be tempered according to your estimation of the performance and potential of the individual concerned and the needs of the organisation.

Out of these conversations – especially in respect to the senior leadership team – can emerge the beginnings of a realistic forward capabilities plan. This will naturally need to take into account the developing business road-map and, obviously, the new capabilities needed for success in the planned business future.

Need to manage flight risk during a major change programme? Contact √itas Consult.


Avoiding the “Contribution Deficit”

Succession management has always belonged on the Board’s agenda. Today’s leader shoulders a great responsibility for identifying and raising successors. Yet succession planning can appear, because it shapes the organisation’s mid-term future, to be a little ethereal. Just how wrong that view really is can be underscored by a rapid scan of the four year period from 2012 to 2015. In that span of years, 74 percent of the new CEOs appointed to Standard & Poor’s 500 companies were promoted from within. No surprise there because, since Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras published “Built to Last”, it has become widely (though not universally) accepted that there is absolutely no inconsistency between promoting from within and stimulating significant change. What might be surprising is that the 74 percent of internally promoted CEOs represents an increase from 63 percent during the 2004-2007 period. And 91 percent of those internally promoted CEOs had no prior CEO experience.

Succession planning is vital and must be done well. The risks of doing it badly are too well known to discuss: let’s take an overview, realistically, of a major challenge and a related calculated risk that organisations need to contemplate today.

Avoiding the “Contribution Deficit”

Over promotion is a well-known phenomenon with its own dangers but promoting a functional specialist into a senior leadership role before they are ready can create different risks. Many of these risks are directly connected to the “contribution deficit”. This is often seen in the new leader’s lack of confidence when engaging in debate about critical issues or their inability to hold competing options in dynamic tension. The results: significant limitations on the newly promoted leader’s ability to be a compelling adviser to the Board, CEO and wider leadership teams. Frequently, what’s missing is a combination of sufficiently broad knowledge about business drivers, understanding the actual and potential contributions of other functional areas, limited influencing skills or a failure to build and empower a strong team.

Taking Early Action: Whilst the Window’s Open

cropped-Window.pngThose organisations most skilled at developing succession-ready leaders identify high potentials early, so they have the most options for crafting developmentally focused assignments across the business. A failure to do so delivers problems that are often compounded by other features of organisational life.

A progressive narrowing of the window of opportunity typically plays an increasing part. The time to qualification and establishment in many professions has progressively lengthened as the need for a first degree plus a professional qualification has frequently been replaced by the requirement for a postgraduate qualification, plus a professional accreditation and, possibly, an MBA. Naturally, the accredited professional then needs time to soundly establish their performance within their function. Significant life choices are made at about this time, creating future responsibilities that will factor into mobility decisions later. Reduced employee willingness to accept global movements at the invitation of their employer also serve to restrict the organisation’s scope for manoeuvre, whilst familial senior care responsibilities can limit options in the last decade of working life.

Taken together, these – and related – pressures conspire to quite narrowly define the individual’s and the organisation’s opportunity to identify, assess and work with together to prepare for future organisational leadership. The calculated risk is critical, the quality of the evidence base available frequently needs to be significantly enhanced, but doing nothing is usually the worst possible option.

Need to plan, implement or evaluate succession planning and talent management? Contact √itas Consult.

The Risks of Not Managing Talent

Bronze Face_FotorThe unwanted loss of even one leader can be costly, given that 46% of replacements fail within 18 months (according to a study by Leadership IQ) and, among senior ranks, the cost of this failure to the organisation can exceed twenty times salary.

Imagine that cost being multiplied by your annual churn rate for managers. The truth is that managing this risk is complex – for it isn’t technical skills that result in new hires failing – it’s most commonly down to poor interpersonal skills.

Coach-ability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament – sometimes still collectively referred to as “character” – are much more predictive of a new hire’s success or failure than technical competence. Understanding technical competence remains a popular subject amongst interviewers simply because it’s easy to assess – yet it doesn’t contribute significantly to reducing the critical leadership appointment risk. So do some selection interviewing methods (e.g., behavioural, chronological, case study, etc.) reduce the risks of new hire failures?

Apparently not, according to the Leadership IQ study. No significant difference in failure rates was found across a range of different interviewing approaches. However, 812 managers experienced significantly more hiring success than their peers. What differentiated their job interviewing approach was their emphasis on interpersonal and motivational issues and their willingness to back their insights. Those managers that asked about and looked/listened for evidence of candidates coach-ability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament, saw vast improvements in their hiring success rates.

The three-year study by Leadership IQ, a global leadership training and research company, compiled these results after studying 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organizations. Collectively these managers hired more than 20,000 employees during the study period.