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.
So far, it seems like one-third of the employees are very excited and saying, “Thank goodness,” she says. They see the world is changing and that the company needs to change with it.
About a third are a little more skeptical; they liked what they were doing and aren’t sure they want to change. The final third are in wait-and-see mode.
“Communication is absolutely key. It sounds trite,” Byham says. “I know as a leader, I’ve been saying this for the 20 years of my career: Communication is key. But now I feel like I’m living it.”
Byham is a big believer in eyeball-to-eyeball communication to make sure you’re being understood.
In December, for example, she went to China to talk about the new strategies and transformations. The people there were wondering how the new strategies were relevant to them.
“To me, it was a no brainer, but they somehow hadn’t made the translation themselves,” she says.
Byham helped them understand how each and every person was a part of DDI’s future, including how they fit into the bigger picture.
She’s also doing a series of videos about each strategic priority to help the team understand where they’ve gotten in the first six month, what are the goals for the rest of the year and where DDI is going to expect to go after that.
Lay a foundation; mind the timing
Any kind of organizational change starts with a strong foundation of leadership.
Byham says you need to get in front of change early on, to help equip people with the mindset for why the change is important and what behaviors they need to do in the face of that change.
You also need to help your regional leaders understand how to handle other people’s emotions; where they can be a Pied Piper spreading the message; and what are the levels of latitude they have to implement something that is unique and different — adapted to that region’s culture — but will still get the results that corporate is looking for, she says.
DDI itself has a strong culture globally, even with cultural nuances in how certain things are applied.
“Every leader anywhere in the world — whether you’re in France, whether you’re in South Africa, whether you’re in India, China, Bali — anywhere in the world, you would feel that same leadership footprint in the way our leaders work,” Byham says.
But Byham believes DDI will have more ideas coming from the global offices back into the U.S. A video game around practicing leadership was invented in China, and that’s now going to be deployed globally, she says.
“We’re doing some reverse innovation, where innovations are coming in different parts of the world and they’re reversing back and we’re taking those globally,” Byham says. “So it’s an exciting time.”
As excited as she is, Byham is trying to temper her excitement and impatience. She’s been going through this transition for two years, and has started to feel like she’s done with her change process.
“We’re helping launch the change, so we’re way ahead of it,” she says. “Others are coming around the process and they go at their own speed.”
It’s easy to start thinking, “Why aren’t we done yet?” Byham says.
“But what you don’t want to do is not invest in the right amount of time, energy and focus in something like this that is a cultural change — keeping the best of what we had and focusing for the future,” she says.
“If you don’t invest that right amount of time, then you’re not going to get the results you want,” Byham says. “It will be just a flash in the pan, and it will be something that got talked about and then everybody forgot about (it).”
- Communicate changes often and in person.
- Equip your leaders with why the change is important and what will make it happen.
- Organizational buy-in doesn’t come at once.
The Byham File:
Name: Tacy Byham
Company: Development Dimensions International Inc.
Born: New York City
Education: Bachelor’s degree in mathematics/computer science from Mount Holyoke College; master’s degree and doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Akron.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I worked as an intern at DDI. Being that we’re a family-owned and run organization, I always worked twice as hard, so others didn’t think I was given anything that I didn’t deserve.
But when I came out of college, I worked for a computer company in New York City, and I learned what a bad boss is like.
I grew up in DDI, where, as you can imagine, if you teach leadership, people live and act it. And they should. I was thrown into a situation where I truly had a bad boss. She didn’t communicate, she didn’t work with the team, she didn’t trust us, she micromanaged — anything you could think of.
Did you plan on joining the family business? No, I did not at all. After working in New York for a couple of years, I ended up doing technical training. I helped create some computer products and we had to train people.
It was a way for me to help other people grow and improve and learn things. You see that light bulb go on, it’s so cool and energizing. But I always liked to tinker — what did I do that could be done differently?
All of the sudden, I realized I was playing in the same sandbox that my father did. He’ll say that one of the best phone calls he ever had was when I called from New York City and asked, ‘Dad, can you tell me a little bit about the training side of DDI’s business?’
What is the best business advice you ever received? Be true to yourself. Be authentic and let others see it. It’s hard to convey the message without it. You’ve got to connect the head and the heart. If I’m feeling scared, nervous, excited or skeptical myself — if I can articulate and share that —that helps build a connection and trust.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? I’m a single mom. I’ve got a 16-year-old son. (Right now, stay off the roads in Pittsburgh.) My friends and I, we love to hang out together and we cook. We love to travel. And then of course, I like to have fun. I saw Beyoncé in Pittsburgh (last month). It was amazing.