For many companies, succession planning involves rotational assignments. High potential candidates move from role to role gaining exposure and experience across the business. The assignments are used as a way to test and evaluate performance and the aptitude for leadership.

However, too often the focus of a development plan is on learning the operational side of the business and not on leading – employees, peers, clients – through change. This critical business skill is rarely taught at business school nor is it considered an integral part of senior level development.

Case in point, recently I was asked to intervene and avert a potentially bad ending for two promising careers. A call came into my office from the HR department asking me if I would be the executive coach for a long standing high performing African American women who managed a highly successful line of business.

Every executive coach walks into an assignment blindly. Like any other strategist, the reasons I’m called in are rarely what’s the root or cause of the problem. HR and the high potential VP was convinced the “performance problems” were the result of the subordinate’s poor attitude and resistance to change.

However, what I found were accusations of insensitivity and the use of racist comments which were threatening a heretofore ‘High Performing’ Vice President’s continued career success at a 100-year-old financial services company.  The VP’s credible and well-respected subordinate’s acid relationship was causing performance to slip and the entire department was being negatively impacted by their new Vice President’s style.

I agreed to coached the subordinate directly and the Vice President indirectly. The solution was to form a more trusting working relationship between them which was originally graded by them as a ‘3’ on a 1-10 scale. Six months later, they rated their relationship as a ‘9’. I credit the success of this outcome to the subordinate because if she had not been open to embracing her power to change others then we would have seen a very different outcome.

70-85% of Strategies Fail To Achieve The Intended Outcomes/ Results but not in this case.

During my assignment the two successfully worked together to implement an important company initiative expanding the company’s scope of influence from handling products and services relevant only to individual life events, to broadening the company’s relationships across investment products and to additional client groups.  Both the Vice President and the subordinate Director are in excellent standing with their employer today.

The improvement was achieved by focusing on behaviors that increased self-awareness, rewrote damaging self-talk and took their communications to another level.

Some may wonder why focus on the subordinate instead of the VP. The answer is simple.

Change always occurs when you can leverage the power of one.

I’ve found far more success by teaching one or both parties how to reduce the tension without triggering defensiveness. The best way to do that is by identifying triggers that negatively impact critical thinking and trust. Once those triggers are named, then providing specific tactics will generate a productive use of different management styles, perspectives and cultural differences to achieve a higher level of performance.

What was missing was an understanding that without trust critical thinking is impaired.

The goal of creating a high performance inclusive culture doesn’t have to be at odds. From my experience, executives fail to successfully generate higher performance within their team or across departments because they fail to learn how to manage people through change. Instead of viewing change as a process with stages most people view change as an event.

The new normal for leaders is to deal with constant and adaptive change. Unfortunately, the human response to change is sometimes resistance, fear and reduced levels of trust due to uncertainty. If we are to achieve the goal of creating high performing inclusive workplaces then learning how to manage openness, instill compassionate accountability and increased self-awareness are the keys to achieving the next level of sustainable performance.