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 / Fall 2004 / Issue 36(originally published by Booz & Company)


Leadership Is a Contact Sport: The "Follow-up Factor" in Management Development

• A financial-services organization: At GE Capital, 178 high-potential managers received training that lasted five days. Each leader was assigned a personal human resources coach from inside the company. Each coach had one-on-one sessions with his or her client on an ongoing basis (either in person or by phone).

• An electronics manufacturer: 258 upper-level managers received in-person coaching from an external coach. They did not attend an offsite training program. They were then each assigned an internal coach who had been trained in effective coaching skills. This coach followed up with the managers every three to four months.

• A diversified services company: 6,748 managers (ranging from midlevel to the CEO and his team) received one-on-one feedback from an external coach during two training programs, each two and a half days long, which were conducted 15 months apart. Although there was no formal follow-up provided by the coach, participants knew they were going to be measured on their follow-up efforts.

• A media company: 354 managers (including the CEO and his team) received one-on-one coaching and feedback during a one-day program. An external coach provided follow-up coaching every three to four months.

• A telecommunications company: 281 managers (including the CEO and his team) received training for one day. Each leader was given an external coach, who had continuing one-on-one sessions with his or her client.

• A pharmaceutical/health-care organization: Johnson & Johnson involved 2,060 executives and managers, starting with the CEO and his team, in one and a half days of leadership training. Each person reviewed his or her initial 360-degree feedback with an outside consultant (almost all by phone). Participants received at least three reminder notes to help ensure that they would follow up with their co-workers.

• A high-tech manufacturing company: At Agilent Technologies Inc., 73 high-potential leaders received coaching for one year from an external coach, an effort unconnected to any training program. Each coach had one-on-one sessions with his or her client on an ongoing basis, either in person or by phone.

Personal Touch
The overarching conclusion distilled from the surveys in all the programs was that personal contact mattered — and mattered greatly.

Five of the corporations used the same measurement methodologies, while three used a slightly different approach. All eight companies measured the frequency of managers’ discussions and follow-up with co-workers and compared this measure with the perceived increase in leadership effectiveness, as judged by co-workers in the mini-surveys. The first five firms — the aerospace/defense contractor, GE Capital, the electronics manufacturer, the diversified services company, and the media company — used a seven-point scale, from –3 to +3, to measure perceived change in leadership effectiveness, and a ½ve-point scale to plot the amount of follow-up, ranging from a low of “no follow-up” to a high of “consistent or periodic follow-up.” They then compared the two sets of measurements by plotting the effectiveness scores and the follow-up tallies on charts.

The remaining three firms used slightly different measurement criteria. The telecommunications company used a “percentage improvement” scale to measure perceived increases in leadership effectiveness, as judged by co-workers. It then compared “percentage improvement” on leadership effectiveness with each level of follow-up. Johnson & Johnson and Agilent measured leadership improvement using the same seven-point scale employed by the first five companies, but they did not categorize the degree of follow-up beyond the simple “followed up” vs. “did not follow up.”

As noted earlier, follow-up here refers to efforts that leaders make to solicit continuing and updated ideas for improvement from their co-workers. In the two companies that compared “followed up” with “did not follow up,” participants who followed up were viewed by their colleagues as far more effective than the leaders who did not. In the companies that measured the degree of follow-up, leaders who had “frequent” or “periodic/consistent” interaction with co-workers were reliably seen as having improved their effectiveness far more than leaders who had “little” or “no” interaction with co-workers.

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  1. Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer, “My Coach and I,” s+b, Summer 2003; Click here. 
  2. Elizabeth Thach, “The Impact of Executive Coaching and 360 Feedback on Leadership Effectiveness,” Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4, 2002; Click here. 
  3. Marshall Goldsmith, “Ask, Learn, Follow Up, and Grow,” in The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era, edited by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Richard Beckhard (Peter Drucker Foundation and Jossey-Bass, 1996)
  4. Linda Sharkey, “Leveraging HR: How to Develop Leaders in Real Time,” in Human Resources in the 21st Century, edited by Marc Effron, Robert Gandossy, and Marshall Goldsmith (John Wiley & Sons, 2003)
  5. Diane Anderson, Brian Underhill, and Robert Silva, “The Agilent APEX Case Study,” in Best Practices in Leadership Development — 2004, edited by Dave Ulrich, Louis Carter, and Marshall Goldsmith (Best Practices Publications, forthcoming 2004)
  6. Marshall Goldsmith, Cathy L. Greenberg, Alastair Robertson, and Maya Hu-Chan, Global Leadership: The Next Generation (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2003)
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