Winning the war for Talent - Human Capital_Sept-Oct 2007
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Developing Leadership Pipeline for Succession
Planning through Transition Coaching
by Dr Sattar Bawany
EOs today face a stark dilemma when it comes to retaining
talent: “Do I give high-potential executives the rapid
promotions they expect and risk putting under-prepared
people in over-challenging jobs where they are likely to fail?”
or “Do I encourage them to gather more experience and risk losing them to
a competitor, leaving me struggling to find replacements?”
Today’s high-performers know their talents are in ever-shorter supply.
They also know that as organisations flatten, career paths are contracting.
They expect to reach the top faster than their predecessors, taking fewer jobs
along the way. If their current organisation cannot, or will not, offer frequent
and substantial promotions, they will look elsewhere.
In the hyper-competitive environment of today's global economy,
organisations must constantly adapt to and stay ahead of changing market
needs. Whether it is merger and acquisition, restructuring, promotion,
downsizing, on-boarding, role change or retirement, the transitions that
organisations and individuals go through are major investments and
demand high returns. However, few deliver the desired results. It's the
way these transitions are managed that determines whether the results are
enormous gains or significant losses.
Organisations move their leaders through positions of responsibility
and challenges to develop talent and ensure capability for the future. We
call these transitions “role to role” transitions, that is, a leader who is
successfully performing in one role takes on another role with different
Successfully assuming a new leadership role is almost never easy. It
is more often challenging and daunting – regardless of the amount of
experience a leader may have.
Actions taken in the first few months of a leadership transition directly
impact a leader’s chances of success. Transitions can be times of both great
opportunity and great risk. Transitioning leaders often find the eyes of
superiors, colleagues, direct reports and even shareholders firmly fixed on their
first moves. Expectations are high. So what are the secrets of succeeding and
thriving in times of role transition, with so much at stake?
Why the need for a transition?
Human beings generally thrive on personal achievements. True leaders,
on the other hand, thrive on the achievements of their team members. A
successful transition to leadership means leaders must focus on developing
confidence in others and deriving satisfaction from their achievements.
Role-to-role transitions are critical to company performance. The
company needs leaders to execute to meet objectives and has bet that
internal candidates are better value at less risk. Transitions, whether
planned in conjunction with a succession planning/performance
management process or as business events arise, are also important
for fulfilling career ambitions and leaders’ need for growth; successful
transitions ensure future capability.
What are the challenges leaders in transition faces?
The specific challenges facing new leaders depend on the types of transitions
they are experiencing. Leaders who have been hired from the outside
(on-boarding) confront the need to adapt to new business models and
organisational cultures, and to build supportive networks of relationships. For
those who have been promoted (role-to-role transitions), the challenges lie
in understanding and developing the competencies required to be successful
at the new level. So, it is essential to carefully diagnose the situation and craft
transition strategies accordingly.
What are the major pitfalls?
The biggest trap new leaders fall into is to believe that they will continue
to be successful by doing what has made them successful in the past.
There is an old saying, "To a person who has a hammer, everything looks
like a nail." New leaders should focus first on discovering what it will
take to be successful in the new role, then discipline themselves to do the
things that don't come naturally if the situation demands it.
New leaders are expected to “hit the ground running”. They must
produce results quickly while simultaneously assimilating into the
organisation. The result is that a large number of newly recruited or
promoted managers fail within the first year of starting new jobs.
With over 40 years of experience working with individuals and
organisations in transition, DBM executive coaching experience and
research indicates three areas where role-to-role transitions derail:
(1) The organisation lacks clarity on requirements of the role and what
leadership capabilities and values are best suited.
(2) The executive lacks readiness on one or several leadership dimensions,
such as capabilities to execute, understanding of priorities, ability to
forge alliances, etc.
(3) Individual expectations are not aligned with organisation goals; more
importantly, there is no dialogue to create alignment.
How to make the transition?
In order to successfully transition, leaders must engage in the company’s
corporate strategy and culture to accelerate productivity. Leaders must learn
to re-define their need for power and control. Team members normally value
a certain amount of freedom and autonomy. People want to influence the
events around them and not be controlled by an over-bearing leader. World-
class leaders delegate. They learn to trust, and give up some control. Leaders
Winning the War
september > october 2007 I humanCapital 55
learn to live with the risks and knowledge that someone else may do things a
little differently. When leaders don’t empower and delegate, they can become
ineffective and overwhelmed. In turn, team members feel under-utilised and
therefore less motivated.
Leaders also learn to transition in other critical ways. The challenge
for leaders lies in balancing the needs of many stakeholders: owners,
employees, customers and community. Because of this challenge,
team members can feel alienated when unpopular decisions must be
made. Leadership can be hard. Sometimes a leader should make waves,
champion change and challenge people’s comfort zone. Leaders are guided
by standards, principles and core values. Leaders focus on what is right,
not who is right.
Leaders know they can’t make people happy. People have to take
ownership and control of their own happiness. Leaders concentrate on
shared interests and the team goal. Consequently, the driving force behind
a team is a leader who treats team members with respect, while keeping
the vision in mind.
When we think about leaders in transition, on-boarding and
assimilating leaders new to the organisation immediately comes to mind.
However, there are other situations where transitions coaching apply:
• With the looming talent shortage, many of our clients are focusing
on support for high potential leaders. While many organisations
have classroom-type programmes and action learning initiatives,
real-time post-programme support to ensure early success for these
leaders as they move into challenging new positions is increasingly
• As globalisation, technology innovation and flatter organisational
structures reshape how we work, even experienced leaders can benefit
from transition coaching. The average leader’s tenure in a job is now
shorter – leaders may not be in their previous jobs long enough to
have developed the behavioural skills and effectiveness to take the
• Often during a merger, acquisition or restructuring, leaders may
assume roles in managing the organisation’s transition. Coaching
can help leaders in these situations stay “attuned” to critical
people challenges involved in integration, such as the cultural and
communications needs of employees.
What if there was a proven process to support new leaders in their role
while significantly increasing return on investment and ensuring a positive
economic impact for the organisation?
One such process is Transition Coaching®; a proven, integrated and
systematic process by DBM, which engages new leaders in the company’s
corporate strategy and culture to accelerate productivity.
The Transition Coaching Approach
DBM’s transition coaching solutions typically include four stages (see
First, DBM works with the client organisation to define “mission-
critical” transition roles. This is a critical step in determining priorities for
executive coaching, the focus of coaching assignments and selecting and
matching executive coaches and clients. This review can cover positions
ranging from mid-level leaders to include the C-Suite.
Our engagement team uses a range of tools, including stakeholder
interviews, analysis of HR process and data, focus groups and so forth to:
• Define transition roles.
• Uncover the unique challenges for leaders in transition, specific to the
In addition to mission-critical positions, a client organisation may use
transitions as a means of identifying and nurturing talent early. We
consult with the client on concepts that combine other forms of leadership
development with coaching that support this goal.
Second, we recommend solutions that – if implemented – will
accelerate leadership development and alignment with company objectives.
Our recommendations are targeted at the specific challenges of each type
of transition and level of leader. Along with these recommendations,
DBM provides examples of metrics for evaluating on-boarding outcomes
DBM can also partner with the organisation to implement solutions.
For example, DBM can develop customised action learning events to build
skills necessary for leadership success.
Third, using our extensive network of executive coaches, DBM
provides real-time support to individuals, from C-Suite to mid-level
leaders, as they make the transition. A leader’s preparation for entering
a new role can have significant impact on overall performance. Our
Contracting For Success
DBM Coaching Process
DBM & Stakeholders define:
• The business context
• The client situation
• Coaching objectives and
measures of success
• DBM recommends
• Client interviews
• Client selects coach
• Coach and client contract
• Client satisfaction/
• Coachee satisfaction/
• Evaluation of business
Fig1: DBM Transition Coaching Approach
56 humanCapital I September > october 2007
executive coaching programmes help leaders prepare for the transition
and come up the learning curve faster.
For other leaders, DBM coaching can supplement leadership
development programmes, whether internally developed or by DBM.
This one-to-one coaching facilitates self-awareness and results in
a personal development plan that can be used in conjunction with
Fourth, at the C-Suite and senior levels, executives are usually
undertaking an organisation transition in their new role. Our
executive coaches have deep experience in helping executives develop,
communicate, and implement their vision and organisation change
agenda.Thisexpertiseinchange leadershipenables thecoached executive
to connect and enlist stakeholders in the leader’s business agenda.
In addition, DBM coaching faculty employ tested feedback processes
to ensure senior leaders can continually assess their effectiveness and take
At the mid-level, early feedback has significant impact on success.
DBM works with stakeholders to ensure mid-level executives not only
get receive feedback but have support in developing new skills. For cost-
effective development, DBM can offer additional leadership development
resources to support coaching programmes. These resources include
workshops and online learning.
As a standard practice, DBM conducts evaluations among leaders
who have been coached. These evaluations are designed to pinpoint
the impact of coaching in accelerating individual assimilation and
performance. In addition, DBM can conduct a second organisation
assessment, with the objective of identifying where the organisation has
made measurable improvement in transitioning executives and where
more work can be done.
DBM’s Executive Coaching Methodology
DBM utilises a proven four-step process (See Figure 2) that is firmly
grounded in leadership development best practices:
What are the skills required for leaders in transition?
Leaders must identify the right goals, develop and finetune a supporting
strategy, align the architecture of the organisation, and figure out what
projects to successfully pursue and accelerate productivity.
Leaders at all levels of the organisation must demonstrate a high
degree of emotional intelligence in their leadership role. Emotionally
intelligent leaders create an environment of positive morale and higher
productivity. The critical skills sets for leaders in transition include
possessing skills in relationship management, communication,
negotiation and conflict resolution.
Relationships are great sources of leverage. By building credibility
with influential players, leaders are better able to gain agreement on goals
and commitment to achieving those goals. As a new leader, relationship
management skills are critical as the leader is not the only one going
through a transition. To varying degrees, many different people – both
inside and outside the leader’s direct line of command – are affected by the
way he or she handles the new role.
But it is difficult to make everyone happy. Leaders should concentrate
on shared interests and the team goal. Ultimately, the driving force behind
a team is a leader who treats team members with respect, while keeping
the vision in mind.
The reality for leaders in transition is that relationships are great
sources of leverage. By building credibility with influential players, you
are better able to gain agreement on goals, and commitment to achieving
Put another way, leaders negotiate their way to success in their
Planning for Successful Leadership Transition
Studies have demonstrated that leaders who consistently outperform their
peers not only have the technical skills required, but more importantly,
have mastered most of the aspects of Emotional Intelligence (EI). The four
main areas of EI are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness
and relationship management.
Many of the EI competencies are tightly related to one another,
and improving competency in one area will often positively affect
competency in another. Competence in each of these areas will help
anyone become better at working with people. Proficiency in certain sets
of these competencies will propel a leader and an organisation towards
greater productivity, greater satisfaction and increased profitability.
Leaders who build these relationship competencies find they have a
greater ability to improve their organisation's profitability, growth,
satisfaction, teamwork and vision.
EI involves the control of one’s emotions to fit a particular situation.
This is different from a purely rational or intellectual response to various
that person will react in a proper manner to the individuals in the situation,
as well as the situation itself. A person reacting with their Intelligence
Quotient (IQ) would simply react to the facts of the situation and negate the
“total picture”, which includes the irrationality of human behaviour.
The leadership succession issue doesn’t have to be painful and difficult.
It can be a win-win. How? By preparing for the process of transition. This
involves making a plan for succession, including the incoming and outgoing
Awareness: Through assessment and information gathering, leaders
determine how their performance links to current business goals.
Analysis: Feedback and planning enable executives to determine what to
do to close the gaps in their leadership capability.
Action: Taking well-defined action steps informed by regular feedback
enables leaders to move toward measurable goals.
Achievement: A full evaluation of the coaching process yields objective
measures of business results and professional outcomes.
Our consistent delivery methodology ensures that every one of your
executives receives the same degree of insightful business analysis,
personalised consideration and performance-driven priority.
Fig2: DBM Executive Coaching Steps
september > october 2007 I humanCapital 57
leaders in the process and, most importantly, involving all in how to handle
this potentially emotionally-charged transition.
Themost successful leadershiptransitions result whenthoseinvolved
have improved their EI skills. That begins with just acknowledging that
a multitude of strong emotions are bound to occur in any leadership
transition. Denying that those feelings are there just makes the whole
situation more difficult and more volatile.
The successor also faces a difficult situation. As mentioned earlier,
his desire to be seen as an effective change agent, but not a usurper
requires him to walk a fine line. If he sees the need to move swiftly
with major changes, but doesn’t demonstrate empathy or nurture
relationships with senior team members, he is likely to alienate his
boss and other senior managers. His ideas can easily be interpreted as a
personal criticism of his predecessor and senior team. If he doesn’t use
the information about others’ emotions and their ideas in presenting
his ideas as solutions, he will face resistance. If his boss or the CEO
resists the changes the leader is making, the executive team is likely not
to render support or give their “buy-in”.
Gaining a Positive Outlook
The process of transitioning into a leadership position can be
smoother if leaders monitor and manage their outlook and perspective.
Leadership training, education, tools and systems are very important.
However, without the right outlook, new and even veteran leaders
will experience serious difficulties and unrest. Reflect and examine
your own leadership attitude and perspective. Develop an intentional
plan to work on areas that need improvement. Build your skills and
get a coach or mentor to help you. Be proactive, set goals and track
progress. Notice your behaviour patterns. Don’t take over a task when
someone is just looking for your input. Be patient. Leadership training
is a lifelong development process. Don’t be afraid to share your goals
and vision with your team members. Positive change can occur with
commitment and persistence.
In the end, the benefits of building transition capability go
beyond retention. When people receive transition coaching and
support, they not only master their future transitions more quickly
and profoundly, but their immediate performance and commitment
to the organisation improves dramatically. All employees – not just
ambitious high-potential ones – want to succeed and contribute to
the business. They will repay with commitment and innovation those
employers who help them do this.
Dr Sattar Bawany is the Head of Transition Coaching
Practice with DBM Asia Pacific. Dr Bawany has over 25
years’ international business management experience,
including 15 years in senior leadership position with
global management consulting firms in the area of
business development, strategic HR, organisation
development, organisation effectiveness and executive
coaching. In addition to his business and consulting
career, Dr Sattar has over 10 years of concurrent
academic experience as an Adjunct Professor and Senior Faculty teaching senior
managers and professionals business strategies, international business and HR
courses at various leading universities.