Case Studies

  • Executive Acceleration: From Technical Expert to Leader


    Eric had intellectual firepower to spare. With a PhD in electrical engineering and more than 50 scholarly articles to his credit, he was an acknowledged expert in his field.  He also had a successful track record as the team leader of a $10 million international project. Due to the sudden retirement of the Executive Director for health reasons, Eric was promoted to the top position on the basis of his past project successes and his technical reputation. His responsibilities now included oversight of the organization’s 1,500 employees and spearheading an acquisition of their largest competitor.

    As a newly minted leader, Eric was acutely aware of what he did not know. He was also passionate and committed to succeeding in his new position.  When the retiring Executive Director suggested that he work with an executive coach to scale up quickly, Eric seized the suggestion enthusiastically as a just-in-time service to support his successful transition.


    Eric’s executive acceleration program included a custom assessment or fact-finding phase. His coach conducted one-on-one interviews with all key stakeholders, including board directors and his senior management team of direct reports. Some of his direct reports had been his superiors formerly.  He also undertook a comprehensive behavioral battery, his first ever, which shed light on his thinking, communication, and interpersonal styles.

    Eric’s program focused on his immediate needs:

    • Elevate his executive presence
    • Raise his strategic focus to enterprise-wide issues and opportunities
    • Enhance his interpersonal communications with key constituencies inside and outside the organization.


    His coach’s initial fact-finding confirmed Eric’s thinking about appointing a chief operating officer to handle the day-to-day aspects of the business acquisition.

    Eighteen months later, Eric became the organization’s first chief executive officer in recognition of solid post-acquisition business results and the retention of key talent.

    That’s brilliant execution!

  • 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.

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  • 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.
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