Can A Leopard Really Change Its Spots……

It never ceases to amaze me that the leadership intent and subsequent practice within organisations are often poles apart. I recently experienced this when working with the management team of a privately owned manufacturing company who were developing a strategy to expand out of their home market.

My discussions with the management team were fairly routine; their market was saturated, profits were stalling but opportunities to move into new markets provided the channels to grow the company whilst new products were being developed. The initial assessment looked good – it seemed that they would be able to replicate their home market advantage in most if not all, of the proposed new markets.

The strategy work was developing well under the leadership of one of the junior executives who headed up a cross-functional team. Plans were in place to acquire new facilities, staffing levels were being assessed and a recruitment and training plan was being developed. The impact on the company’s supply chains were also being evaluated as this was fundamental to achieving a smooth entry into the new market.

Encouragingly there was also a work-stream in place to assess how to ensure that the necessary leadership model was developed to embrace the requirements of operating in the new regions. “We recognise that getting the right leadership model and behaviours in place will be critical to the overall success of the venture” enthused the CEO. “We are really fortunate that the team leader is a real asset to this programme. He’s nearing the end of his MBA at a top US business school and has been able to save us a fortune in consultancy fees“

Later that day I met the team leader over coffee to discuss his plans. I naturally shared with him the conversation that I’d had with the CEO and confided how pleased he was that the company’s investment in his MBA was providing such rich rewards.

“That’s very strange” he responded “I’ve funded the MBA out of my own pocket and I have taken holiday to enable me to attend the course. When I asked the CEO to sponsor me he just said that he couldn’t see what benefit it could be to the company”. Just then his Blackberry rang. “Oh could you excuse me for a moment. I need to take this – it’s my headhunter”

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4 thoughts on “Can A Leopard Really Change Its Spots……

    • This issue has two perspectives. The initial and more obvious is the approach taken by the CEO to the exective’s development that probably occured a couple of years ago. The decision not to support his MBA aspirations effectively set in motion his exit from the company as inevitably there would come a point where the individual felt exploited as the organisation used his newly acquired skills. Initially there were several options open to the CEO one of which would have been to sponsor the MBA from the beginning, others included such things as conditional support throughout the programme – study leave, bonus payments linked to achievement etc.
      The less obvious issue is how the organisation is approaching the development of the new leadership model for the new markets. Their thinking is primarily ‘inside – out’ inasmuch as their only consideration at present is focussed on how to integrate the new satellite organisations into the existing structure and style. What is not currently under consideration is the benefits that will accrue in the home organisation of working in a broader cultural environment – the ‘outside – in’ viewpoint (more of this in a future blog).
      As for my advice to the CEO…well that’s ongoing but it’s too late to save him from losing his most talented executive – a costly lesson for him I’m afraid.

  1. Most organisations don’t know what they have until the space is made vacant! But there does come a time when individuals have to move on within or outside the company – to widen their horizons and get the experience that readies them for the next senior exe role. The trick as a manager is to hold onto the best within your organisation, through challenging work, appreciative response to success (including rewards financial or otherwise), aiding and supporting the acquiring of new skils/education otherwise you risk them driving forward your competitiors business.

  2. Cannot agree with you more Paul. The loss of this individual is likely to have a significant impact on the health of the organisation. His role in developing the strategy for the new market is obvious and very visible within the organisation; what is less so is the impact his leaving will have in its home market! Not only will there be the immediate impact of losing one of their most talented individuals but also the underlying message to other aspiring individuals within the organisation will need to be addressed. You can rest assured that a talent management conversation with the CEO is not far away….

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