DBM: Transition Services - Human Capital Management

The talent dilemma: is it better to rapidly promote your shining stars or give them time to develop and gather experience? In this article, Jack Gavin, Chief Executive Officer and President of Philadelphia-based DBM, gives us some answers.

Today's CEO faces a stark dilemma when it comes to retaining talent: do I give high-potential executives the rapid promotions they expect, and risk putting under-prepared people in over-challenging jobs where they are likely to fail? Or do I encourage them to gather more experience and risk losing them to a competitor, leaving me struggling to find replacements?

Today’s high performers know their talents are in ever-shorter supply. They also know that as organisations flatten, career paths are contracting. They expect to reach the top faster than their predecessors, taking fewer jobs along the way. If their current organisation cannot or will not offer frequent and substantial promotions, they will look elsewhere.


But stretch promotions carry substantial risks. In his book, The First Ninety Days, Professor Michael Watkins of Harvard Business School estimates that the first few months of a new role are make or break for executives. At this early stage, 35% to 40% fail. Even those who eventually succeed under-perform at first. And it is not just the new jobholder whose productivity is depressed; Watkins’ research in 210 companies showed that on average more than 12 colleagues’ productivity is impacted too.

The root problem is the difficulty even highly talented people have in making major career transitions. Every stretch promotion brings steep performance challenges, an uncharted working environment and a vacuum where the jobholder has to create the networks and relationships necessary for success. It often feels like having three jobs at once: first, up-skilling yourself in competencies, knowledge and networks; second, helping your direct-reports, colleagues and boss adjust to you and your ways of working; and third, doing the job itself.


The solution is to build transition capability. One of DBM’s customers, the finance division of an international conglomerate, was disappointed with its fast-track promotion programme for CFO designates; too many high-potentials were dropping out, productivity fell with each stretch promotion and senior managers were unhappy with results.

We guided each prospective CFO through a transition programme where they first mapped their capabilities onto the demands of each job, then received regular coaching in developing transition-relevant competencies, skills and knowledge. Retention improved together with productivity. Seeing the results, senior managers asked for a similar programme for themselves.

These senior managers had realised something very important: job transition capability matters at all levels, especially as mergers and organisational restructurings reach an all-time high. Change leaders have to manage not only their own transitions to new roles and new responsibilities, but also those of the people they manage.

DBM has helped senior teams beat targets significantly and complete transitions six months ahead of schedule. We have set up ‘transition acceleration centres’, which combine personal coaching with virtual support for employees worldwide on specific transition issues.

In the end, the benefits of building transition capability go beyond retention. When people receive transition coaching and support, they not only master their future transitions more quickly and profoundly, but their immediate performance and commitment to the organisation improves dramatically. All employees – not just ambitious high-potential ones – want to succeed and contribute to the business. They will repay with commitment and innovation those employers who help them do this.


DBM is a leading global human capital management firm, providing transition services to private and public companies, not-for-profits and governments. DBM annually guides more than 7,000 organisations and 250,000 individuals through key transitions and has partnered with 70% of Fortune 500 and 80% of Global 500 companies.

Jack Gavin, Chief Executive Officer and President of Philadelphia-based DBM.