Use Trusted Advisors to Shore Up Your Consulting

I think of myself as "an A student" and don't like to fail. That's why, when an assignment gets overly-difficult or complex, I reach out to others for their thoughts and ideas. Even though independent, I realize that asking for help is a sign of strength. 

A company hired me to give one of their underperforming Vice Presidents a 360 Review, because many of his colleagues and team members had expressed deep concerns about him.

In a "360," the candidate completes a questionnaire about him- or herself, and their boss, peers, and direct reports complete the same questionnaire.

A typical 360 measures things like building strong teams, delegating, developing others, and making decisions. The results are tabulated anonymously and allow the candidate to see how their view of themselves differs from the way they're seen by others. The gaps present development opportunities.

For example, if I rate my decision making ability a 4.5 (on a 5-point scale) and my observers rate me a 2.5, there's a large gap of 2 points. That tells me I'm worse at making decisions than I had thought, and that decision making is something I must improve. Since a 360 is often a 50-page report, there are a lot of issues to consider.

In this case, the candidate was a Senior Vice President in the state's largest bank. His 360 scores were so poor I wondered if I could succeessfully turn him around and save his job. I thought perhaps the company should just terminate him.

To help me navigate these difficult waters I wrote an email to 12 trusted advisors asking their input. Without mentioning personal or company names, I explained the situation.

They unanimously thought the executive should be coached, not fired. This is the thank you letter I sent to those who helped me.


Thank you for coming to my aid when I reached out to you on Wednesday,  March 26. Sure, I could have tackled the assignment alone, but I felt more confident drawing on your good will and life experience.

This was a biggie. I've turned around many executives faced with termination, but never any with scores at 40%.

We agreed not to terminate Martin (not his real name). As one friend advised, "going straight into termination is not the way to institutionalize 360 surveys."

We also decided not to change his job description or remove direct reports. (Turns out he has eight direct reports, not 80 as I had told you.)

The CEO met with Martin and told him he was facing dismissal. Then I met with him for three hours, which seemed like five minutes.

I did not share the terrible 46-page 360-review with him because I thought that much negative feedback would break him.

Instead, I told him that his direct reports had given him 2's across all measures. That's 40% which is an "F" in anyone's classroom. Martin was stunned but received the feedback well.

His job is extremely complex and may be too big. (This bank is a 55-gallon can of worms.)

I taught him that a leader's first and primary job is to develop his/her people, regardless of the tasks at hand. That was a revelation.

I gave him a copy of the bulleted leadership style of a Senior District Team Leader (District Manager) from Target corporation. His resume is stacked with awards as District Team Leader of the Year, Best Talent Developer, Best Boss, and Best Team Player.

He's a great role model. Martin was encouraged to see what good looks like. (He could use a powerful mentor who is a great developer of talent.)

He was to have an all-day team meeting on Friday, so we scripted his kick-off, which thanked the group for participating in the study, acknowledged his failings, and promised to make fixing them Job #1.

He texted that the meeting had gone extremely well, and several direct reports thanked him privately.

So far, so good.

I told Martin that I'm not handling this alone, that I've assembled a team to help him. I mean that sincerely. I didn't give him names, but I told him about your role as a business and community leader. He was comforted not to be going it alone.

As I was driving to meet Martin Thursday morning, I was a bit unsettled. I'd had a sleepless night. Lives and careers are at stake, and I don't want to mess this up. As I was driving, I was talking to my oldest son in Seattle, and he said, "Dad, if anyone can help him, you can."

Thanks for responding to me so quickly with such great ideas.

Footnote: I spent several months helping Martin improve his performance. His scores on a second 360 were better. Things went so well the CEO gave him glowing reviews. Sadly, a month later I received a call from the VP of Human Resources telling me that Martin was being fired.

The bank being tight-lipped, I never learned the reasons why. They gave Martin a generous severance and outplacement package, and as his outplacement (career transition) consultant, I helped him land a bigger, better job where he has been more successful and happy.

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