Spring 2007

Volume XIII Number  1 



After the Job Is Won


One key feature of The Five O’Clock Club outplacement program is that our service is available for one year, allowing clients to continue to see their coach at no charge to them even after they have been placed.  While many self-paying clients will recognize issues with the “on-boarding” process, the majority feel that, since they have had a successful career, they know how to “do the job” once they land it.


The first challenge is to assess the situation.  There are many things to look at -- everything from who is copied on emails and who routinely eats lunch with whom, to the layout of the offices. Almost inevitably, this is where you will find out information no one told you in the interview process. In my case, for example, I learned from my secretary that my predecessor had died only three weeks before I was hired.  Clients, customers, and co-workers were still grieving and I had to tread lightly during my first months in implementing changes.


Part of that assessment must be to look at how financial, physical, and human resources are allocated--and potentials for their reallocation.  Ken was hired as CEO for a $20MM firm providing professional software. He quickly found that the customer service department was staffed by two people placed there because they were technically incapable of doing the more complex jobs, for which they had been hired. This was affecting add-on sales, because customers were unhappy with support. 


Ken and I discussed potential solutions, and he went to his board with a proposal, which they then funded –- quickly solving the problem.  Although the board knew there were concerns,   they did not really know exactly what they were.  They were forthright enough to tell Ken that, and confident enough in his assessment.


In managing others, it is important to assess their strengths and weaknesses.  When Pam became SVP-Strategic Planning of a major publisher, she had three direct reports. In individual meetings, she found that two of them had wanted her job.  Together, we discussed how to handle a volatile situation and then set  expectations and timelines that led to functionality and integration for the group. 


Individual meetings also frequently uncover the “real” reasons for dysfunctional behaviors.  For example, Ron, the new CFO of a major not-for-profit, had difficulty understanding the resentment of his direct reports until one told him that they didn’t like working for “a younger guy.”   Ron, who could pass for early thirties, is actually 43. When he pointed that out, his employee smiled, saying his predecessor was 42.  The ice was broken, and it became an office joke instead of a resentment.


We often strategize around what will give early credibility and reposition a job more favorably to increase leverage.  Ann was a new school principal, replacing a man who had retired for health reasons.  He had stayed in his office, and the school had become chaotic, with an increase in student rowdiness, resulting in several incidents at sports events, with students being  arrested and negative media coverage.  Ann simply attended the basketball games, walking the floor and quieting the rowdy students herself.  She took a risk, but everyone responded positively to her request to show their best, and all stakeholders -- students, teachers, parents, and the larger community -- noticed.


Usually, the new boss has made the hiring decision and has expressed his or her expectations.  Many times, however, peers or “dotted-line” relationships will be critical to success, and they need to be consulted.  I helped  Joe, who was starting his new job as an engagement manager for a $100MM software company, identify the sales director and three project managers as key to his success at increasing penetration and revenues. 


Finally, in coaching, we look at the existing culture, especially if it is different from the last job.  Accepting a promotion to the Manhattan headquarters of a financial services firm, Tim was overwhelmed by the office politics. In his nine years with the firm, all in divisions, he had focused only on doing an excellent technical job.  We met weekly to strategize on what he could do to get appropriately noticed. We developed tactics that led to his becoming a manager of two other groups and then to a managing director a year later.  I attribute this not to any “kissing up” but to the targeted sharing of his successes.


Developing a plan for successful “on-boarding” is perhaps even more important for career development than landing the job, and it is crucial for long-term success.


Executive Coaching


In the last month, I have been involved in four corporate coaching situations, two involving women, two men, all from very different employers: a foreign bank, a major medical institution, a large insurance company, and a publisher. The common denominator: all were excellent technically, but they did not listen or  give credit to others, and they all had to be right in any interaction.


The first step coaches must take, following the preliminary discussion with Human Resources, is a clear acceptance of a behavioral problem.  I have found that while there is some buy-in, the best way to demonstrate value is to ask for an upcoming situation where the potential for some conflict is present, and then to discuss alternate behavior and how the “coachee” could positively influence the outcome for all.


Coaching has made large strides toward becoming accepted in corporate America. I believe strongly in having outcome criteria that can be measured in terms of business contribution.  Without that, we risk becoming another “feel-good” fad for both the “coachee’ and the employer.


Books I’d Recommend


Why Business People Speak Like Idiots -- A Bullfighter’s Guide, by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky, New York, Free Press, 2005, $22.00.


Three Deloitte consultants wrote this book, which a client recommended. The authors state, “This is your wake-up call. Personality, humanity, and candor are being sucked out of the workplace.  Let the wonks send their empty messages. Yours are going to connect.” 


They then quote an annual report: “Performance in 2000 was a success by any measure, as we continued to outdistance the competition and solidify our leadership in each of our major businesses. … We have metamorphosed to a marketing and logistics company whose biggest asset is its well-established business approach.”   Did the reader guess?  It was Enron.


The authors take on acronyms, jargon, long copy, and evasive speeches. They advocate  honesty, humor, phones over email, admitting mistakes, and having fun meetings. It is an easy read, but a serious look at a real problem.