Susan Battley

Author Archives

  • 2012 CEO All-Stars – Forbes

    by Susan Battley

    Here are four business all-stars of 2012, leaders who stand out for executing brilliantly or distinguishing themselves in the larger forum of social and civic responsibility. Below them I list four stars who lost luster, leaders who were noteworthy because their stellar performance or reputations took a hit. And finally I suggest some aspiring stars to keep an eye on in 2013.

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  • Outsider or Insider CEO: Different Success Odds – Huffington Post

    It’s a busy time for two of our newest business leaders. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently held her first earnings call. Citigroup’s Michael Corbat has completed his first month on the job. Both CEOs face substantial challenges in transforming their companies and setting them on a profitable path. Both come to their jobs without prior experience as a chief executive. Both replace CEOs who departed precipitously. But here the similarities end.

    Does the route to a company’s top spot — outside hire versus homegrown talent — make any difference to a CEO’s effectiveness and ultimate success? Does one route have advantages over the other? Analyses of CEO succession and company performance suggest these are not trivial questions. Let’s take a closer look.

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  • Zombies on the Job – USA Today

    Zombies are populating the cubicles these days. But be careful, you could become one of them if you don’t fight it.
    by Anita Bruzzese, Gannett

    In the 1968 movie, Night of the Living Dead,” Johnny warns Barbara: “They’re coming to get you!”

    Johnny was speaking of zombies, and he might want to update that warning for the workplace today if he listens to Susan Battley.

    Battley, a leadership and career expert, says that zombies are populating cubicles these days. You might even become one of them if you’re not careful.

    Full Article:

  • An Entrepreneur Scales Up Fast

    “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between
    obstacle and opportunity.”
    – Machiavelli


    Alan, the president of a biotech startup, looked older than his late thirties. Married with two young children, this founder-entrepreneur knew he was in trouble. “I’m burning out fast,” he said, a pained expression on his face.

    “Our revenues are up 40 percent over last year, but work just isn’t fun anymore,” he said. “My blood pressure is too high. My family complains that they never see me. My staff complain that I micromanage. I’m even growling at our bankers.”

    Alan’s was a classic case of “drowning in success.” Having grown his business from scratch, this newbie chief executive was having a hard time relinquishing control and responsibility. Intellectually, he knew what he should be doing, but something was getting in the way – and adding to his frustration and stress levels.


    We worked with Alan and his operations team to optimize the company’s management structure and strategy execution. We also worked one-on-one with Alan to help him:

    • Define his top business goals and strategy for the coming year
    • Identify how his personal strengths and capabilities were promoting – and possibly hindering – his business plan and strategy
    • Modify his attitudes toward delegating responsibility
    • Focus on core business growth activities and stakeholders
    • Carve out dedicated “down” time to achieve work/life balance

    “A year ago I would have taken the money and run, I felt so overwhelmed by the company’s success and mushrooming complexity. But now I not only know a lot more about maximizing its potential, I’ve acquired the skills to maximize my own potential.”

  • Implementing Change at “Alpha Company”

    The Situation

    The Client Services Division of Alpha Company (a pseudonym) was in a tailspin less than a year after a major restructuring. Employee absenteeism and turnover had risen to unprecedented levels in a division that was noted for its productivity and stability.

    Senior management sought help in turning employee morale around, and in assuring success of the change initiative. Initially, the request for assistance was framed in terms of employee training in change adjustment techniques. However, management was agreeable to an exploratory needs analysis to assure accurate problem diagnosis.


    Alpha had hired a firm of business process consultants to review its administrative systems and survey customer satisfaction levels. Redesign of the Client Services Division was one of several recommendations the consultants made. The recommendation involved merging the three division functions–billing, accounting, and records–into a single streamlined unit for “one-stop” counter and call service.

    The consultants’ engagement was for evaluation and recommendation only. Alpha assumed responsibility for implementing proposed modifications.

    Due to the highly technical nature of integrating three information systems, senior management selected the records manager, an information technology specialist, to direct the reorganized division. Formerly, each function had its own manager who reported directly to the vice president of operations. Within a few months, the former billing manager, a popular supervisor and long-time employee of the company, quit.

    BPC was engaged to help ‘s management deal with unexpected consequences of their change program, specifically the departure of key talent, poor morale, and incomplete integration of information systems.

    Our Impressions

    Not surprisingly, interviews revealed that company members had very different perceptions and interpretations of the problems based on their position and job rank. Alpha’s upper management tended to view the morale and retention problems in terms of employee resistance to change.

    By contrast, employees in the affected division cited poor implementation–not the reorganization itself–as the root problem. Their complaints focused on an unrealistic timetable, inadequate cross-training, and the new director’s lack of management skills. Furthermore, the director’s command-and-control style made it impossible for division employees to convey their concerns up the line without fear of reprisal.

    Employees reported feeling de-skilled and unable to influence their work environment positively. There was a collective sense of loss associated with:

    Job competence, as they struggled to cross-learn each other’s jobs while attempting to meet customer needs.

    The unexpected departure of a popular manager. They viewed the new division manager as someone detached and unresponsive, and assumed that his demeanor reflected that of management in general.

    Our Recommendations

    Accelerated cross-training was essential both to the success of the “one-stop” customer service initiative and to improving employee morale. Management acted quickly in this area, and involved the affected workers in identifying exactly what needed to be done and how. These actions helped restore trust levels within Alpha, which had been badly eroded.

    A second recommendation involved replacing the division manager. This proved to be a positive action all around, since the manager himself was relieved to return to the “back room” technical responsibilities he knew and enjoyed.

    Obstacles to Peak Performance

    Alpha’s difficulties in restructuring the division began with poor execution. Additionally, employee skills and traits were not aligned properly with the change initiative. The result was an invalidating work environment where employees felt unheard and unsupported by management.

    Alpha succeeded in merging the three client service units without further loss of personnel. Additionally, by involving employees actively in the initiative, further improvements in information systems integration and customer service were achieved.

    Concluding Observations

    When organizational change initiatives are less than successful, it is all too easy to blame the difficulties on “resistance.” Employee resistance, customer resistance, management resistance, supplier resistance. Some group or person becomes the designated problem, and the inclination to “fix” the designated problem can be very strong. However, such an approach can be overly simplistic and counterproductive.

    Change typically occurs within a system. It is important to appreciate the tendency for systems to maintain equilibrium. “Resistance” is better viewed as a normal–and predictable–response to disequilibrium. To maximize successful execution of change programs, careful attention needs to be paid to the transition phase, and to the natural responses that change can produce. Anticipating and managing these responses properly is integral to short and long-term success.

    Copyrighted material – All rights reserved.

  • An Attorney’s Sideways Success


    Anna, an in-house attorney for a multibillion dollar business division, was not keen on her future. In fact, she was on the verge of quitting. Born in Pacific Asia, educated in the United States, she had moved up the corporate ranks very quickly. The division CEO considered her as his prize protégée . But after facilitating three major acquisitions, she’d grown tired of the constant travel and restructuring activities.

    In her late thirties, she was reassessing her life and career goals with an eye to carving out more time for herself and her family. The CEO urged her to reconsider. In a last-ditch effort to keep her, he suggested that she take a sabbatical and work with a professional coach to clarify her career goals. Her coaching could be “carte blanche,” in other words, it could deal with any topic or issue she chose, including departure from the company. Anna passed on the sabbatical offer but opted for coaching.

    “I’m burned out, and I don’t want to be,” Anna explained. “I’m not the type to become a full-time soccer-Mom. Even my kids tell me this. I’m also not interested in going off and doing the same work I’ve been doing somewhere else. So what do I do with the rest of my life?”

    A tall question and definitely not one that could be answered in a few sessions. Over time and with the benefit of in-depth discussion, goalsetting, and a comprehensive personality assessment, Anna identified entrepreneurial-type activities as those she most enjoyed (and excelled at). However, these were activities that her current role as corporate counsel only allowed at the margins, not at the core. Realistically, there was no way to reengineer the position to make it her “dream job.”


    Anna got up the courage to share her “dream job” description with her boss and mentor, the division CEO. With something tangible to work with, he pulled out all the stops. Even though this meant losing her to another division, he was delighted that she’d be staying with the company. Far better a lateral move than an outright loss. A second-best result, he remarked.

    Anna joined a technology licensing unit where she became part of a highly skilled and creative team. The challenges and people energized her. She gained considerable control over her work schedule, including flextime and telecommuting opportunities that were simply unthinkable in her previous position. She also discovered that she enjoyed teaching, and became an adjunct lecturer at a nearby business school.

    “Even though I’m an ‘outside-the-box’ thinker when it comes to business, I’d never have thought of doing something this different on my own,” Anna said.

    This coaching engagement proved a win-win for all concerned: Anna, her employer, and her family.
    Copyrighted material. All rights reserved.

  • Bill Gates and the Power of Feedback

    Bill Gates observed, “You have to be careful, if you’re good at something, to make sure you don’t think you’re good at other things that you aren’t necessarily so good at.”

    How do you confirm your sense of what you’re good at? Feedback, of course.

    We all feel great when others – colleagues, bosses, friends, and competitors too – remark on our intelligence, skills, or performance. But as Gates noted, therein lies a trap, for we can overestimate or over-generalize our capabilities.

    How do we get honest, balanced feedback about areas where we’re not as good as we think we are? Or where we might need to improve or change?

  • Supercharging Change in Complex Times

    Five Questions Your Direct Reports Have (But May Not Ask)

    By Susan Battley

    The increased complexity that leaders face today means that mastering major change is even more challenging than it was a few years ago.  Whether it’s strategy change, management change, operational change, or product change, or some combination thereof, desired results need to occur faster than ever to maintain business health and competitive advantage.

    How can leaders supercharge their change initiatives?  For starters, they can address up front the questions, fears, and concerns that their people, including their immediate direct reports, have about the change.  If this can be done in advance of the change actions, all the better.  However, in many cases this needs to be done after the fact, as in situations involving management restructuring or workforce reduction.

    In the course of driving major organizational change, leaders can lose sight of the fact that they have to establish a new psychological contract with their people. (The term “psychological contract” refers to expectations of the employment relationship, such as mutual obligations, values, and expectations that operate over and above any formal contract.)

    In the vortex of change, leaders can make erroneous assumptions.  For example, they can overlook – or minimize – the emotional impact that layoffs have on the survivors.  Sadness and anxiety are common reactions.

    Leaders can assume that the messages they send are precisely the messages that are received. They can assume that stating key messages once is enough for motivated people to reconnect and re-engage. They can forget that people one and two levels below them may also be one and two stages behind them in the change process.

    The Five “P” Questions Everyone Has

    Here are five questions leaders should be prepared to address proactively as part of supercharging change in their organizations.  These are questions their direct reports – and everyone else – will undoubtedly have, but may not always ask.  Because they deal with performance, partnership, priorities, politics, and promotion, I often refer to them as the “Five P-Questions of Change.”

    #1 Performance.   How will I be evaluated?

    • Action Step: Describe as specifically as possible what success now looks like for the business, the boss, the team, and the individual employee. Review these metrics frequently to reinforce priorities and targets.

    #2 Partnership.  How can I survive (and thrive) during these turbulent times?

    • Action Step: Leaders must demonstrate strong team and culture-building skills. When leaders are accessible, consistent, transparent, and fair, less second-guessing and in-fighting occur behind office doors. Trust, the essential building block of peak execution, is established or re-established quickly.

    #3 Priorities:  How do I choose between competing options?

    • Action Step: Let team members and staff know which activities or relationships have the greatest value now. Even loyal, hard-working contributors will make subpar decisions if they don’t have all the facts.

    #4 Politics.  Who can make things happen for me, either positively or negatively?

    • Action Step: Help your key people understand the new power structure, both formal and informal. Brief them on protocol and any sensitive issues that could compromise their success. They will be more comfortable with the demands on them once they have the lay of the land.

    #5 Promotion.  How can I gain recognition?

    • Action Step: Model norms for appropriate self-promotion in these tough times. (Yes, they do want to know.)  Given the very real concerns with job security, your best people want guidance on how outstanding work will be recognized. Otherwise, they may have little impetus to take calculated risks or put in extra effort.


    Robust, updated psychological contracts with employees from senior management to the front-line are essential to supercharging results in the midst of major change.

    By addressing these five questions, leaders will get at the issues that those responsible for day-to-day implementation and oversight need to know to quickly re-engage and commit.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Emotions and Effective Leadership: 13 Success Tactics

    When does emotion help a leader transcend to a higher level of effectiveness, and when does it undermine credibility and stature? Now that we’re firmly planted in the second decade of the 21st century, have the rules about leaders showing emotions changed?

    Whether male or female, it’s all about consistently projecting control, compassion and confidence.

    Perceived loss of emotional control erodes a leader’s credibility, as does tentativeness or indecision. Similarly, a perceived lack of compassion is likely to be interpreted negatively as insensitivity. In public situations, the range of emotions expressed needs to be modulated and appropriate to the occasion.

  • The Power of Specificity

    Five Winning Ways to Execute Brilliantly

    By Susan Battley

    If you want winning results, get specific.

    When Terry, a managing partner and client, was looking to hire a new Human Resources director, we reviewed the relative strengths of the three short-list candidates.

    Like many seasoned decision makers, he focused on their relevant work experience, professional accomplishments and personal traits.

    Still, he confessed that he and the search committee were stumped making the final selection. On the basis of their resumes and interviews, the candidates appeared evenly weighted.

    “What makes a senior executive successful here?” I asked him.

    “You know what a cast of characters we have here,” Terry replied, smiling.

    He went on to answer my question thoughtfully and thoroughly. At the end, more to himself than to me, he said, “Well, I know who’s the clear choice now.”

    Two years later, the person Terry hired is now the firm’s Chief Talent Officer and a member of his executive committee.

    Getting very specific up front helped Terry to make the best choice.  And one that has paid dividends ever since for him and his firm.

    Specificity Supercharges Results: A Case Study

    Specificity improves more than decision quality. It can also be a powerful tool for inspiring, motivating, and managing people. In fact, specificity can motivate people to do what they might not otherwise be inclined to do.

    Consider the results of a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research that examined how people respond to differently worded appeals.

    The study involved hotel guests and how they reacted to the plastic cards in their rooms urging them to forgo daily laundering of their towels. Some guests had a room card urging them to “save the environment” by putting their towels back on the rack.

    Other guests had highly customized cards, such as “75 percent of the guests who stayed in this room (room 313) had reused their towels.”

    The results? The towel reuse rate was 49.3 percent in the rooms where the request was highly specific. This compared to a towel reuse rate of 37.2 percent in rooms with the generic card.

    The lesson here for managers? To guide and inspire your people most effectively, opt for specific, “close-to-home” messages over universal, abstract or fuzzy language.

    This is especially important in today’s turbulent business and management environment. When people are anxious, specificity – and repetition of key messages – helps to keep everyone focused on what needs to be done and why.

    Five Winning Ways to Execute Brilliantly

    1. Keep it local. Make your points as targeted and personal as possible to your audience. For example, “Here’s what [fill in the blank] means to you and the team.”

    2. Keep it clear. Provide concrete examples, or metrics, or desired outcomes. A phrase like “Do your best” is not nearly as actionable as “Your division needs to increase revenues by four percent to make your numbers.”

    3. Keep it simple. Distill your message to its essence: no more than three points. And don’t undo the power of specificity with a data-dump of statistics. (Dense PowerPoint presentations are the surest way to lose minds and hearts.)

    4. Keep it real. You want precisely defined targets and goals to inspire and challenge your people, not de-motivate them. So be sure what you ask or describe is actually attainable.

    5. Keep the focus on “what,” not “how.” When you’re specific about the former, you’re an effective leader. When you’re overly specific about the latter, you’re a micro-manager!

    As John Dewey reminded us, “We cannot seek or attain health, wealth, learning, justice or kindness in general. Action is always specific, concrete, individualized, unique.”

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.