A couple years ago a board member I had worked with at another client called and asked if I would work with their CEO and his team on an executive development project. As this was aligned with the work I do and a typical request from clients, I was excited about the opportunity to work with a new company and team. I had also really liked working with this board member at his other organization. After I had conducted the needs assessment, I wrote a preliminary proposal for the work. Even though I was clear about the expected deliverables and outcomes, a few board members wanted to know if I would provide an “evaluation of the CEO”. After some back and forth, I turned the job down. Here’s why.
My first question when a client wants to work on executive development is to ensure they want development and not performance management. You shouldn’t hire an executive coach for someone who is not performing. Period.
Their CEO had worked with them for more than 7 years and by all the financial metrics, was doing a good job. The board confirmed they wanted to “develop” this executive and his team. But after writing the proposal, it became clear that what this company wanted was to help them fire their CEO. The company and CEO parted ways shortly after I declined the project. Since confidentiality is important to me, for the record they have never been a client. I know they are a good organization and do important work that I admire. But like many executive teams, the board was trying to avoid a direct conflict. As can sometimes be the case, companies want to be able to say, “the consultant recommended we do this” and willing consultants, for a fee, will help them. But I believe there is a better way to look at this and propose a more holistic way to resolve it.
It’s no surprise that with ever increasing technological change and automation, change is a constant for most businesses. A leader who was a great fit in a given business situation or cycle, may no longer be a fit when things change. Whether this happens 3, 5 or 10 years later, it is the reality. This also happens when a new leader comes in, assesses their team and decides that in order to execute on their strategy, they need to make changes on their team. No one needs to be at fault. It can be very frustrating for clients when an executive doesn’t step up, or grow and change at a pace commensurate with the needs of the business. But I don’t like blaming people for what I see as a normal business fit issue and I certainly don’t help clients “evaluate” someone with whom they have substantial experience (way more than I will ever have). In my mind, it is unethical. It is also not aligned with my values. I want to help organizations and their leaders get better. Sometimes businesses don’t have time for this and the executive doesn’t have interest in becoming what they need. I understand.
When, for whatever reason, an executive or leader is no longer a fit for the business, the best approach is the most direct one. Start a conversation. Honestly share what you need from the role and the performance and other gaps for the individual in the role. It may be that the executive isn’t as happy in the role either. It’s better to be open about the fit issue, discuss it and decide on a transition plan.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 18 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.