Helping High-Potentials Avoid Transition Pitfalls

A message popped up on my phone this morning reminding me of a call I needed to return. I had been asked to talk with a recently promoted manager from a large company. He moved to a manager role nine months ago and was now struggling. His group’s sales numbers were down and his team was in the dark and grumbling. The HR executive was understandably concerned. What had happened to this high-performing sales producer? He’s friendly, professional, savvy and ambitious. He seemed to be the perfect fit for the ‘accelerated promotion’ program that the company launched a year ago. But now his situation had become a problem that needed to be fixed.

This scenario is a common pitfall in a company’s efforts to retain its top talent. The transition from high-performing individual to high-performing manager can be perilous. Without the right level of development and support, companies inadvertently set their high-potential talent up for failure, especially as they are promoted to management roles.

The HR executive asked me to talk with this new manager to determine whether he was a good candidate for coaching. Arriving at a recommendation is as much art as science, but the process generally comes down to discovering the answers to these questions:

  1. What is the mindset of the individual? Is he open to change, ready to challenge himself?
  2. What are the skills and competencies of this individual? Has he been assessed and tested?
  3. What are the skills and competencies that the organization needs today and in the future? Is there a good match?

After ten minutes of talking with him, I concluded that coaching was the right path to pursue. While shaken by his current situation, he was resilient and had the right mindset. He recognized the need to challenge himself to find a new way of thinking and acting in order to refine the skills he needed for the management position. He was also deeply committed to the success of the organization, with extensive industry knowledge and a clear vision of his role in driving the company’s strategic market opportunity. The coaching process would uncover more concise answers to questions two and three. An executive coach helps an individual understand the skills they have, build upon them and apply them in new and broader situations. For executive coaching to be successful, coaches must engage individuals in the process and provide goals that move them beyond their comfort zone within a safe environment.

Coaching was a fit for this situation. But the problem might have been prevented with a proactive high-potential development plan. All companies have high-potential individuals. By assessing their skills and mindsets and planning for their development prior to promotion, the company not only prevents transition issues that so often accompany professionals moving from individual roles to management roles but also better aligns the development needs of the individual with the management needs of the company.

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