Talent Assessment & Development Advisors
Talent assessment and development for companies building a future with human capital talent management of leaders and executives
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Insights for Talent Assessment and Development

Successful Mergers: Speeding to the Destination by Re-establishing Operating Expectations

I cannot change the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destinationJimmy Dean


Mergers or acquisitions start out with a strategy – which is typically a well thought out story of a journey through risks to opportunity. Due diligence complete; the investors and management team undertake their journey to success. The “story” often includes a map of the coming voyage laid out in great detail: defining risks, how to hedge the bet, when to use “Plan B” and sometimes plan “C” just in case something goes wrong. The question is how to recognize as early in the journey as possible when we are “off course” or even worse, about to end up on the rocks due to a broken core process or a team that doesn’t collaborate.

Getting work-processes (Operations) and infrastructure (IT, Accounting, HR) integrated is one challenge. Getting culture aligned and key relationships built is another. The sooner relationships are built and a shared worldview is established, the better chance that the journey will be successful. We have seen the importance of speed; getting work-processes and infrastructure integrated requires trust and a shared worldview. How is this done?

We can simplify the critical ingredients to three key elements which completed in sequence, provide for “early course correction” so often needed in the merger journey. These ingredients are: aligning the leadership team, getting key mid- level managers engaged and taking action across the legacy organizations, re-establishing operating expectations at all levels.

Aligning the Leadership Team.Trust and strong working relationships between members of the leadership team is necessary to drive and support the success of the other elements. To build this trust and create an effective leadership team, we:

  • Use assessments to not only capture team interactions and behavior, but to focus uniquely on helping team members understand and appreciate each other’s contributions to the team. We use a tool called TEVS to capture the value each person contributes, while also looking to ensure that the leadership team is playing with a full-deck – the full diversity of contributions needed to make a successful organization 

  • Engage in fun but thought-provoking activities that help people connect personally and get to know each other. Giving a chance to reflect upon and discuss the team, and its dynamics, accelerates collaboration. The activities often end with team members laughing about misbehaviors in the activity, and how they reflect upon teamwork issues 

  • Support defining team norms (or rules) for how the top team works and acts together

  • Examine and promote cascading communication to all levels and through multiple means, especially communication that recognizes merger progress and successes

Engaging Mid- Level Managers to Take Action.When mid-level managers start taking action together, across the legacy organizations, the merger will become real. We accelerate this process, and mutual learning across the two organizations, through focused project work, referred to as Business-Driven Action Learning. This method creates practical, dramatic examples of the combined power of the merged organization and how integrated teams can create an impact together.

We create action-learning teams containing members from both of the merging organizations and sponsors from senior leadership. These teams are tasked with areas such as solving a key process issue or determining the scope and accountability/decision-authority for a critical role. They are also taught how to work together as a team and use basic problem-solving tools. The best approach is to help teams use simple facilitation, root cause and brainstorming tools to build a comfortable, new, shared operating-style. This reinforcement of the shared “operating style and rhythm,” as teams make progress on real issues, builds shared learning, develops relationships and accelerates the progress of the merger. 

While managers sometimes protest that they don’t have enough time to be on another team, we carefully scale and scope the “problems” so that recommendations can be formulated in an efficient use of time. As we do this work, we revisit and discuss the operating principles, the establishment of teamwork and trust and build the stories of success that will propel the new organization forward.

Re-Establishing Operating Expectations. Shared expectations of how to operate, work together and “acceptable behaviors” is key to getting informal collaboration and synergy across the organization. Sometimes one company simply tries to assert their operating schedule, processes, and culture over those of the other company. However, even in acquisitions, there is always some ambiguities. These can include questions such as how are problems communicated and solved, degree of decision authority, how often do we meet, who is invited, and what are we allowed to communicate? Leaders need to make explicit these operating rules and agreements. Agreeing upon operating principles makes things concrete and communicable. 

Often, we use surveys to highlight differences in cultural assumptions across the legacy organizations. 

Reviewing the survey results makes it easier to discuss differences in important areas like how decisions are made, assumptions about structure and process, or corporate values and behavior. Open and candid dialogue on what is needed to improve operations and results is the goal. Creating agreement, starting at the top, on the future culture and the differences across the legacy cultures is a strong way to kick-start change and actions which will affect multiple levels of the organization. 

The faster expectations are set for operating together is established, the better. This is where many merging organizations take too long. The longer this process takes, the more likely it is for people to doubt the effectiveness of the combined organization. Shared operating expectations are demonstrated as meetings become more honest, people feel safer to voice their views and concerns, and decisions are made effectively. 

While not foolproof, the steps we have suggested will accelerate cultural integration during a merger and help to keep the combining teams on track. Leaders at all levels benefit from open and honest dialogue on goals, expectations and values. Shared opportunities to learn together about business assumptions and challenges helps to establish roles, meetings and progress measurements. Increased speed and steady progress build confidence in the merger, creating positive momentum to power through the typical merger issues and concerns, and reach a safe harbor thanks to a unified organization.

―David Giber, Charley Morrow, and Harold Weinstein

Charley Morrow
Human Capital Early Warning Systems

Ultimately, what any company does when it is successful is merely a lagging indicator of its existing culture. ― Satya Nadella

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“We knew there would be some risks hiring him; now we have to do something about it. Do you think you can help?” A top executive was struggling, and company performance was showing warning signs. As coaches we both hate and love these assignments. There is challenge, immediacy, and the possibility to make things for owners, the executive, and employees.

The challenge with derailing executives is that once they start going off the rails, the pileup gets big, fast. Often the cleanup involves rebuilding trust—trust of the board, his/her team, and employees throughout the organization. Trust takes time to build but only moments to break. And, trust might include beliefs about the executive’s competence, goodwill for others or reliability.

Earlier intervention is better. An early warning system can help. We are often surprised that action takes a long time to start. This post is about early warning signs of derailment and what to do about it.

Everyone loves the idea of a leading indicator. We look at bond-yields and think about the stock market. Often, but not always, we can gauge the future stock market performance from yield.

We have leading indicators of human capital. As consultants and coaches, we find these indicators are often overlooked and the early opportunities to manage risks are lost. Ultimately, the future of a company can be understood by the executives, executive team and culture of a company.

Executives tend to derail in two ways: operationally or interpersonally. Operational derailing happens when the executive operates either too much within or too outside the lines of nitty gritty involvement and micro-managing. Great executives know the details of their organization but empower others to make decisions and direct their functions. Watch out for:

  1. Consistent use of the pronoun I (vs. we)

  2. Direct reports that are not willing or able to make independent decisions

  3. Executives that are surprised by events that should have been predicted

  4. Executives that cannot clearly describe the processes and operations of the organization

Interpersonal derailing happens when executives have a negative impact on others: when the executive withdraws from challenge or conflict, dominates/leaves no space for other’s contribution, or when the executive fails to take an independent stand with decisions or values. Said another way, look for these red-flags, which are actually interpersonal defense mechanism:

  1. Withdrawal, when executives are not present to make decisions or give confidence that matters are being attended to

  2. Dominance, when executives become the center of things and do not make space for others to contribute

  3. Alliances, when executives are too concerned with board or other perceptions to take a stand

The clues are abundant. It is just that we often do not pay attention. Many firms do pre-hire assessments and do not provide feedback to the newly hired executive. Just as newly merged or acquired firms develop an operational plan within the first 100 days of acquisition, we encourage developing a talent or human capital plan. Several private equity firms we work with are starting to do this as a matter of good-business practice. A well-done executive assessment is a very good working document to support executive success.

Having great top leaders makes everything work better. But, human capital is not just important to the top executive. Talent across the organization matters; top-level team work and key organization functions provide opportunities and challenges to company success. In a future blog post we will address early warning systems for executive team performance and functional company performance.


Charley Morrow
Targeting Human Capital: Investing in Performance and Results

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. ― Artur Schopenhauer

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My friend Pat makes it happen. Not a perfect leader, but has a track record of growing businesses and getting results.

Consider these statements:

·       Get Pat on the assignment,...Pat’s the best business development person we have.

·       When you want to get something done you gotta talk to her.

·       When you want out of the box thinking, she’s the one who always has a unique take.

·       He’s the best person we have at getting teams to work together across the enterprise.

Sound familiar? Move the pro-nouns around and substitute names you know. It’s statements like these that are the shorthand often use to define the high-value human capital assets of our businesses and organizations.  Who contributes what on a regular basis? Who are the go-to people for solving tough problems? Who do you and others pick to work on opportunities that matter? Both individually and in aggregate, these are the resources that drive our businesses forward and are the critical equity elements in the overall worth of the enterprise. It’s also statements like these that can lead to a discussion of what’s missing.

It’s not the financial and other tangible assets that cause an enterprise to reach its full potential. It's the people.

As investors, we look to past business performance to identify gaps and unrealized opportunities to enhance enterprise value. Market opportunities, product enhancements, process efficiencies, etc., all contribute to those calculations. However, it’s the key human resource assets- Human Capital Equity (HCE) that provides the engine to realizing that potential and poses one of the greatest risks to the investment when those assets are not present. Just as a high-performance precision tool without a suitable operator fails to achieve its potential so does a company without the high performing HCE necessary to drive future growth and EBIDTA.

Valuing contributions versus competencies.

Figuring out Human Capital Equity (HCE) is less about individual competencies and more about the past, current and future contributions that people make. Individual Competencies are too granular to assess the core contributions that are essential for business performance. While useful from an individual diagnostic, coaching and development perspective, they are not sufficiently holistic to judge if the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. What we really want to know is who are the go-to people that make the enterprise what it is and what it might become. AND, where are the gaps?

Think about people you have worked with. Some simply have more value to the business than others due to their leadership, their ability to control finances, to innovate or to sell. It is commonsense and it dictates the decisions we make minute to minute in organizations. Why wouldn’t we get a head start by making decisions about human capital equity when engineering a path toward future growth?

Eight Core Human Capital Business Drivers.

Based on our research with investors and business leaders, HCE contributions center around eight core business drivers. While there may be others that are unique to a specific company, without these eight, there are likely to be critical talent gaps in driving a business to reach its full potential. Below, we've listed each HCE Business Driver along with its Contribution to Enterprise Value. Working in concert, these drivers result in an enterprise engine that has the potential to perform at or above expectations:

  1. Leadership

    Engaged, directed and inspired stakeholders

  2.  Teamwork

    Collaborative, inclusive, productive and trusting internal relationships

  3.  Execution

    Things get done reliably, consistently and efficiently

  4. Financial Acumen

    Prediction, judgment, and control of costs and revenue

  5. Industry / Market Relationships

    Insights and opportunities to grow and expand in the market

  6.  Business Development

    Predictable revenue from existing and new sources

  7. Technical Innovation / Improvement

    Thought leadership for invention or creation of processes, products, services, or markets

  8. Functional / Subject Matter Expertise

    Knowledge of job specific expertise (e.g., Operations, sales/marketing, Law, HR, Finance, etc.)

  9. Unique to Company

    Unique equity that is essential to the enterprise value in the investment hypothesis

Want to know who in a business is contributing what? Ask the people who know!

Reputational Assessment. At TA-DA we’ve been working on methods for measuring HCE at the enterprise level. Reputational Assessment is a systematic process of sorting out who contributes what to enterprise value. Using our proprietary reputational assessment tools, TA-DA askes key stakeholders who they see as the go-to people around eight core human capital business drivers, aggregates the findings and provides a rapid overview of Enterprise Human Capital Equity.

Human Capital Equity Potential. The best evidence of capability is a track record of success. But, sometimes that  Is not available. Starting with the HCEs above we have worked out algorithms of abilities and natural tendencies, gathered with psychometrics and interviews, to predict future performance. Prediction is always imperfect but when combined with past reputation and a laser focus on what matters for business we increase the odds.

Call us if you’d like to know how!


Charley Morrow
Rolling with Technology Trends – Leadership Needed!

Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road. ― Stewart Brand


Companies large and small seem to fall into two categories these days: those who harness technology for growth and those that don't. Many have technology plans, but no implementation. Others are implementing technology with lots of collateral damage. Some organizations even hold their nose and accept collateral damage as “growing pains.”

But a small number of organizations seem to balance change, technology, growth and the core business. Where it is balanced right, there is often a savvy Chief Technology Officer (CTO) making things happen.

Today’s successful CTO’s are required to be change insurgents – whether the change is adapting internal business agility or changing the go-to-market approach to optimize customer journey, leading change is a sizeable portion of the CTO’s job. 

In the rush to get the key technical leadership and insights, organizations often promote technical experts to be CTOs. At the highest levels of the organization these tech-savvy experts have potential for great leverage. They might help the company with its core technology, artificial intelligence, digital transformation or any number of strategic shifts.

However, the job is not just a technical one. Often a dark side emerges, and leadership / cultural dysfunctional prevent successful strategic or technological adaptation. Failure of CTOs are more likely to surround unrecognized business risk, inadequate emotional intelligence and other non-technological areas. Like everyone in the C-suite, the CTO has leadership duties beyond the scope of their specific responsibilities.  The best technological solutions affect broader business processes—CTO influence beyond technology can significantly impact success. How others are engaged matters.

We have found the best CTO’s are not only technically savvy, but also strategic, interpersonally skilled, intellectually agile/creative, and evolved managers. If there is a tradeoff, consider balancing towards vision, strategy and leadership. To stay abreast of the details of technology – AI, blockchains, SAS—chief technologists can hire consultants and engineers. But you cannot outsource technology’s fit with competitive advantage or building teams that enable secure, reliable infrastructure.  Consider this list:




  • Visualize how to adapt company capability for market innovation
  • Identify and translate trends across industries
  • Understand business operations and enterprise value
  • Present ideas in alignment with Vision
  • An understanding of risk, mitigation and optionality

interpersonally skilled

  • Emotional IQ
  • Ability to understand before being understood
  • Solid network of fellow technologists

intellectually agile/creative

  • Open to other’s ideas
  • Collaborative ability to build on the kernel of an idea
  • An appreciation for User Driven Development- internal/external
  • Willingness to try, fail fast and pivot

evolved managers

  • Ability to grow Managerial
  • Ability to delegate Tactical 
  • Attract/retain talent
  •  A great coach! (be and engage one! :)


In the best case there is someone in your organization or network that understands your technology and embodies these capabilities.  But, these individuals are in high demand. Developing CTOs is best undertaken with individuals who are facile at technology and have the right disposition towards personal and professional growth.  We recommend sourcing someone who has a general understanding of the technology, a general business understanding, as well as an intellectual curiosity and commitment to collaborating/connecting with others. Relationships and empathy for customers and their needs is critical. The details of your organization and leadership can be learned with good coaching. Successful CTOs have access to technical experts to support delivery.

Technology done right is a strategic differentiator and profit center.  Is your technology leadership driving or inhibiting corporate growth/greatness?

 ― Scott Krawitz & CHARLEY MORROW

Read more from Scott at http://peopledriven.co/blog/ and Charley at http://www.tada-advisors.com/blog/.

Charley Morrow
Challenging Competencies
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“It's not about charisma and personality, it's about results and products and those very bedrock things.” — Steve Jobs

We tend to get overly accustomed to past innovations as opposed to thinking about their core purpose and need and if they are still working today. Human capital and talent processes have fallen into this trap, and we should get out. What was once disruptive has become passé and the weaknesses have become apparent. I’m not talking about computer operating systems. I am talking about competencies.

When competencies were identified as a method to understand human capital, it was considered a revolution. Instead of talking about skills or knowledge, competencies were about behaviors, what people actually do. Interviews could uncover competencies, build workforce performance, and accelerate company results. And, competencies are trainable, by emulating behaviors anyone can become a high performer.

But, problems have emerged. Hiring for competencies has become a challenge, as people have learned to fake competency in behavioral interviews. Worse yet, the emphasis on what people do is just wrong. Organizations are in business for the purpose of developing better results. Individual contributions matter. Behaviors only matter to the extent that they are linked to results. If we forget the importance of results, we have missed the point.

I was part of the competency revolution. Earlier in my career I was amazed at the insights provided by competency. I learned a lot and actually built a career from competencies. But I have also seen how they have become confused.

Many other consultants have started to see the problems. My colleagues at Linkage and I started to focus on “commitments,” as areas that leaders actually deliver. My friends and collaborators at MDA Leadership are investigating “roles.” [hyperlink]. Many need to focus more on “what” human capital delivers vs how these results are delivered.  

Now, we are focusing on human capital equities, asking and answering the question “what value has a person developed and how does this manifest in company’s performance?” We can investigate this by looking at past performance and by projecting future potential.

Think about people you have worked with. Some are simply more valuable than others. Let’s try to keep in mind the actual need in talent decisions. 

— Charley Morrow


Charley Morrow
The Pivotal Role of Your CFO: Dr. No or Dr. Go?

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running. 

― Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

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In managing the risk and opportunities on the road from a start-up to a growing, maturing organization, the CFO seems to be the most important role after that of the CEO.  Yet, often companies do not pay equivalent attention to what constitutes outstanding CFO leadership?  They focus on selecting for the technical knowledge of the CFO, and often end up with someone who is a competent Controller or Chief Accountant but not a strategic or financial leader.

Referring to the old James Bond book and hit film, we used to joke that too many CFO’s were “Dr. No”; viewing it as their role to question risk taking and keep expenses trimmed.  While attention to the fiduciary responsibilities of the CFO position are always important, the best CFO’s we have known also played a major role in urging the right investments, promoting confidence in thoughtful growth, and helping communicate and clarify strategy.

In the private equity world, we have often seen following the acquisition of their company, the CFO of the acquired firm having to undergo several significant transitions their leadership and operating role.  Many up and coming firms are lacking in sophisticated financial accounting and reporting systems; the CFO may have been involved in the hands on work of reconciling spreadsheet driven reporting and coordinating data gathering from the field.  After the sale, the CFO must be open to upgrading not only these systems but reconsidering their own skills and approach to providing timely, accurate financial reports.  A more subtle pressure is between the CFO’s role as part of the existing, now acquired management team and the fiduciary responsibility to the Private Equity firm.  How is trust maintained with all parties?  How is information is reported to the new owners, and how much detail?  While the answer to this question may seem obvious, it is not simply a matter of maintaining an open, transparent approach.  How strong is the CFO in instituting controls, analyzing risks or describing opportunities?  How experienced is the CFO in dealing with an investor group?  While some startup CFO’s gain extensive experience in presenting to investors through multiple funding rounds etc.… others may need greater skills in the next level of  investor relations, corporate finance, managing compliance concerns and building a sound strategic plan.  It is difficult to find CFO’s with this range of experience who also can act as strategic leaders with the courage to help drive decision making and encourage sound risk taking.

Our work with CFO’s at private-equity backed companies shows that outstanding CFO’s demonstrate many of the characteristics listed below.  They were leaders who:

  • Balanced between responsible financial prudence and acting as supporters of growth. They encouraged investment, learned about market opportunities and competition and reassured the Board if a reasonable entrepreneurial decision did not pan out.  They brought with them a longer term vision of how to create sustainable value and growth.
  • Effectively managed constructive conflict between parts of the organization.  They were adept at helping the team sort out its priorities and able to influence across boundaries.  They built collaboration across the team in order to get things done.
  • Acted as business partners rather than intimidating the line.  They demanded transparency and “no surprises” but worked with the line to correct problems not to just point them out.
  • Understood and used the power of data analytics to drive decision making; Information technology was their “best friend”.  They used data to help the line formulate meaningful metrics and goals.
  • Developed not only the finance team but the business and financial acumen and understanding of the company overall.  They acted as teachers and encouraged critical business thinking and investment rationales.
  • Finally, the best CFO’s could “tell a story”.  Along with the CEO, they could offer a narrative on the key drivers and challenges for the organization that made sense, and often in simple language rather than finance jargon.  They could speak with clarity and adeptness to employees, the Board, stakeholders and the Executive team.

How do companies nurture this more strategic and expansive CFO capability?  What exposures and assignments do they provide which can transform the role and value of their CFO’s?  Some of the bigger firms we have worked with had given these excellent CFO’s a general management or customer facing assignment earlier in their career.  These types of assignments broadened the emerging CFO leaders’ understanding of the dynamics of the business, increased their appreciation of the growth side of the equation and also taught them some level of humility as they managed through their own decisions and mistakes.  Some were assigned to lead merger and acquisition teams, international initiatives or continuous improvement efforts.  All had some profound experience of managing through complex change.

For the private equity firm who is looking for a CFO who can take a smaller acquired company to the next level, they may not find the breadth of experience described here.  What they need to assess is the CFO’s learning and personal agility, the quality of the relationships of the CFO with multiple parts of the organization, and the abilities of the CFO to communicate, motivate others and develop a robust financial organization for the future.  The instrument we have developed, the TEVS is aimed at assessing these critical competencies for Chief Financial Officers as well as other key C-Suite jobs.  It assesses the perceived “equity” or value of the CFO as viewed by the management team.  It is a window into how a particular CFO has influenced the growth of the organization as well as where they may be holding it back.

David Giber and Gayle Grader

Charley Morrow
Engagement and the Employee Value Proposition

Speak to many consultants, and you may hear the suggestion that engagement is a free resource that you should tap, and that you should always engage your work-force more—for better results.

Question this assumption.

Dilbert offers some wisdom about this:

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Different organizations need distinct types of employee engagement. To some organizations retaining employees is critical; to others only a few years of intense effort is needed. Yet others need to retain customers and as such employee engagement with the customer is critical. Others rely on employee innovation and skill as the strategy. The list could go on—ask yourself "what does your organization really need from its employees?"

Some organizations have a business model based on "employee churn." Life insurance sales organizations have a reputation for paying largely on commission and accepting that a large percentage of employees will leave within a year. Employee churn is a reasonable business model. Life-insurance sales organizations need producers and they can use churn to find the one out of ten applicants who can sell life insurance to strangers.  

Other organizations have an up-or-out value proposition. These organizations often provide great opportunities a highly stimulating environment and these organizations benefit from hiring younger employees with alacrity. If employees run out of engagement in a few years, more can be hired. 

Companies pursuing a product innovation strategy often rely upon skilled employees who have a deep understanding of their product--for example consulting, technology and pharmaceutical firms. In these companies the value proposition has to do with retention and reward of the key talent -- for example expert consultants, critical skill engineers and R&D/Commercialization professionals. Again, employee value proposition should vary with strategy. 

Employees will engage in any organization, even those with a churn or an up-or-out employee value proposition. However, the value proposition must be transparent to earn engagement. A young and ambition employee will follow a leader who says “I’m going to give you an opportunity and it will be challenging. You will learn a lot that will be useful in your career.”  If, the employee value proposition is not made clear some new hires will have other expectations and be disappointed. 

The challenge for organizations is to understand the links between the value propositions and strategy and then to make the contract explicit. Mangers need to authentically relate to employees and build trust. Organizations need to ask themselves:

  • "Are our managers up to this task?” 
  • “Does the organization support authentic relationships with employees?”


– Charley Morrow

Charley Morrow