For several years, Tacy Byham has had one foot in the past and another in the future. She knew she would be taking over as CEO of Development Dimensions International Inc., from her father, Bill Byham, who founded the global human resources consulting firm.
“As you can imagine, any significant transition requires a difference in scope, responsibility, a difference in visibility, a difference in leadership style that needs to be applied and associated with that,” she says. “But one of the unique things about DDI is that as an organization, we help global companies with succession management.”
As a company with expertise on succession planning, DDI just had to follow its own best practices.
For two years, Byham, who has been at the company for 20 years, learned from her father, while the head of global sales, Ron Dalesio, shadowed retiring President Bob Rogers.
Delegation and micromanaging are challenges leaders face as they move away from their technical expertise — Byham and Richard Wellins wrote a book on that very subject: “Your First Leadership Job.” But Byham says as a strategic leader, the adjustments are different.
You have to make decisions with a limited amount of information, trusting the people around you, while also juggling budgets and risk implications, she says.
She’s had to temper her curiosity. She can’t always indulge her fascination to learn the business-based rationale for a particular decision or what the immediate results would be before an investment is made.
“You have to figure out how to softly ask those types of questions to ensure that your executive team is running smoothly,” she says.
But with the DDI leadership shift has come a recognition that the company needs to invest in the right areas.
“We’ve grown and have been successful for 45 years, but at the same time, we recognize that what got us here is not going to be what gets us there,” Byham says.
Invest for the future
It’s not easy to introduce change in an organization of 1,100 employees in 26 countries.
“The larger the organization, the more it’s like turning the Titanic,” Byham says.
It helps, however, that DDI has always been innovative. Her father invented the modern-day interview question that asks how did you handle a difficult situation.
There also are many things that won’t change at DDI. She says operating with integrity or the company’s key principles of esteem, empathy, involvement, sharing and support of each other will not change.
But Byham and Dalesio identified six areas that they feel will position the company for the future, and cater to the modern learner.
For example, DDI is moving from a talent management consulting company to focusing on leadership insight and growth. DDI no longer wants to view technology as an add-on that enables innovations, but sees technology as integral to the way it does business. And, DDI is moving away from decision-making innovations driven from headquarters to having multimarket global innovation centers.
“You can think of a flower: You have the core of a flower and then a petal grows, a petal grows and a petal grows,” Byham says. “We needed to focus on the things that were the right parts of the business for the future.
“Not that we’re letting the other ones die on the vine,” she says, “but we are focusing our investments more heavily in where we believe the future is, as any good organization would do.”
Get to the heart of it
For the past six months, Byham and her executive team have been socializing the six transformations in small pockets and now have started the global rollout. They also have a two-year pathway of planned milestones around the transitions to measure progress.
Byham is already seeing differences with how employees perceive the changes. She says the word “focus” gets her energized, but for others, the first question is “Does that mean I’m becoming irrelevant?”
“From the mother ship, that message hasn’t gone out globally yet, so you need to be the Pied Piper yourself,” Byham says.
She says if something an employee is doing isn’t as much a part of the core focus for the future, DDI can help people reposition and expand their skill sets to become stronger contributors.
For instance, DDI may have fewer facilitators teaching people — although she says the classroom is never going away and there’s nothing better than getting people out of work, in order to focus on themselves and their leadership.
The organizational shift is opening up new opportunities. Facilitators may spend more time creating the learning experiences, she says. They facilitate in a different way.
“It’s not that they will become obsolete. It’s that the way that they had allocated their work time needs to shift,” Byham says.
Now, they might spend more time creating content for DDI’s technology tools.