Case Study
Transition Coaching

Back from the Brink: How Understanding Role Expectations Helped Shape Success

Blunt. Intimidating. Inflexible. Unflattering terminology to have associated with your work style, especially when you're the new executive on the block.

Such was the case for the newest regional vice president at a specialty pharmaceutical company. Identified through succession planning and promoted from a district sales manager position, this high-potential executive was very driven and unyieldingly focused on total accountability. Only three months into his new job, his team demanded a meeting with the company's human resource department and several even went directly to his boss to complain. Team feedback included that his unrelenting task orientation was abrasive to the painful exclusion of relationships, and that he frequently made decisions rashly without seeking proper information or team input. And now he was on the brink of losing his job.

In contrast, his predecessor was a hands-off, relationship-driven collaborator, who didn't drive the necessary business results. Producing tangible results - especially in this under performing region - was the company's mandate and this new executive's mission. But, shortly after transitioning into his new role, he had a full-blown staff mutiny on his hands, limited support from his peers, and a frustrated and anxious boss who had hired him.

HR wanted to give the executive the opportunity to succeed. They were cautious about losing someone who had previously been so promising. Bearing in mind the values of the company in terms of fair treatment of employees, HR tapped the assessment and transition coaching experts from Applied Research Corporation. The company's instruction to Applied Research was straightforward: make him successful.

Applied Research started the process by conducting a comprehensive assessment, which included an in-depth background interview, a personality inventory, and interviews with his boss, key peers and direct reports. A formal assessment report was compiled and presented to him - and the results included straightforward observations, such as low sensitivity traits, a directive management style, and a hypercritical nature. This step was important because it served to help him understand the situations, the depth of their impact, and provided feedback from an objective outsider.

Having the framework and strategies to effectively transition new executives - whether first entering the organization or moving from another position within the company - are critical to the overall health of a company. The pressure on this executive to perform was immense, yet he felt he didn't have a clear roadmap for change.

Applied Research started his program by reviewing the assessment data in a face-to-face meeting. Initially, his reaction was positive. He seemed fully engaged in the coaching process, especially since he feared termination. Over his head to begin with, he embraced the possibilities that coaching presented. However, upon further reflection, he pulled back and became resentful, blaming others for his situation.

The Applied Research coach "peeled back the layers of the onion," working with him to identify the company's expectations as well as the team's expectations. In doing so, the coach rapidly learned that he really didn't understand the scope of his new responsibilities and role expectations. Because his manager found interactions with him to be uncomfortable and his management style problematic, he wasn't getting this information from his boss. And, because he wasn't connecting with his team and peers, he wasn't getting the insights he needed to fully understand the business and its objectives.

Applied Research's transition coaching program, which included face-to-face coaching sessions that took place every three weeks, established a transition road map with well-defined boundaries and achievable objectives that were designed to drive results. After the initial meeting, he understood he couldn't change the past and the situations he created during his first three months. Instead, he was taught to back up and review those situations, as well as take the time to understand his business and role expectations. After breaking down his tendency to complain and resist change, his coach worked with him to clarify his role and drive the behaviors needed to build a strong team. He developed collaborative behaviors through tutorials, skills practice role-plays, on-the-job actions, and continuous feedback.

Within the first six months of the program, this executive moved from the "in danger of being terminated" list back to the high performer list. He started networking and building solid peer relationships. His seven direct reports and managers started commenting on his two-way work style, willingness to ask for feedback, and increased delegation. His overall ratings on six key behavioral metrics increased from 2.5 to 3.75. Soon, his region was making their numbers (for the first time in years), moving from last place to the top 20%. After floundering in his role, he actually became a role model. Having cultivated the skills to advise others for internal development, he enabled several of his team members to become eligible for promotions.

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