Warriors: Cultivate Talent
Because warriors understand how to drive change, they often win the battle for transformation: As noted, in our study, 43 percent of their initiatives exceeded expectations. But because they lag in leadership development, they often lose the war for talent. Ninety-two percent of their change leaders moved laterally or left the company, roughly on par with laggards.
Warriors, recognizing that they must change to remain competitive, usually devote significant resources to ensuring the success of their initiatives. They may put a strong steering committee and executive sponsor in place, and they may have sophisticated project metrics to keep track of results. But they tend to take less care in choosing the change leader in the first place, and may give almost no thought to that leader’s mentoring or development.
Consider the case of an executive who had led the negotiations for his company’s sale to a rival. He survived the acquisition and was subsequently tapped by the parent company to lead his former company as a division of the new entity and to oversee the post-sale integration. Working with a team of people he knew well as colleagues and as peers, he was assumed to need little in the way of support and development. Moreover, the parent company — a classic warrior organization — had bought its rival in order to grow market share, not talent. But his former colleagues, now his direct reports, carried memories of experiences with him that were not uniformly positive. In other words, he came with baggage. Fortunately, he recognized the problem and sat down with his team to talk openly, to consider how their new relationship should work and to ask what they wanted to achieve from their jobs. This general manager’s ability to engage and re-form his relationships and teams allowed him to continue to lead, despite getting little personal support from the parent organization.
The lesson for warrior companies is to be extremely careful in choosing the change leader. If the institutional lack of awareness regarding leadership development is simply too great to overcome, it might be wise to — as the general manager’s parent company did — select an individual who is good at self-development and who needs less mentoring or individual help than many people. But unless such change leaders are given some additional career incentives, they are unlikely to stay with the company afterward, resulting in a significant waste of talent.
Laggards: Intervene as Needed
Laggard companies, which have mastered neither change nor leadership development, put themselves doubly at risk for poor execution of change initiatives. Like masters, they often fail to provide the organizational support required to overcome resistance to change. Like warriors, they don’t see change events as opportunities for leadership development.
Stories from laggard organizations can be particularly disheartening. An information-services company was frustrated with its HR function. Service was poor, processes were unclear, and employees were constantly being pulled from their real jobs to take care of problems with payroll, benefits, onboarding, and the like. The tyrannical CEO demanded that the problem be fixed — now — and appointed his fixer-in-chief to figure it out. The fixer’s first instincts were to read the riot act to the head of HR, throw down the gauntlet, and threaten to hire outside help. The well-meaning head of HR tried her best to right the ship. But between being tarred with responsibility for the current state and suffering under the impatient glare of the CEO, she wilted and was replaced. Her successor was a bright former consultant, who came with a plan and set about implementing it. But the infrastructure on which success depended was not yet in place, and time was not on his side. Despite his heroic efforts, the pace of change was deemed too slow, and he was fired. The job was turned over to yet another head of HR, again an outside hire, who also failed in the face of institutional inertia and resigned.