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Case Studies

The KAUST Project

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (, a client some 10,000 miles away, is a brand-new institution of higher learning that opened in September 2009 on the shores of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Tries to Grow Modern Ideas in Desert.) In developing the organization structure and HR infrastructure for the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the PSG team had to address the following issues:

  • The impact of globalization, technology and significant cross-cultural differences on HR policies and practices in the academic workplace;
  • The ability of compensation and benefits packages to attract and retain a multi-national faculty and staff;
  • Introduction of best-practice systems, processes and procedures in recruiting, performance management and communications;
  • The role HR in making a strategic difference, rather than processing transactions from the sidelines.

Performance-Solutions-Group (PSG) benchmarked best practices of leading higher ed institutions in the US and the Middle East, while drawing from the best in the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds.

PSG’s Role

PSG’s recommendations focused on:

  • Organizational structure
  • Compensation structure and pay-for-performance (including incentive plans)
  • Special expatriate benefits
  • Recruiting strategies
  • Related governance issues
  • Other HR policies and procedures, including a code of ethics and job descriptions for multiple positions.
Let PSG Help You

With our extensive experience in the corporate and not-for-profit arenas, and knowledge of best practices in higher education, PSG’s consultants can audit your HR organization and develop the solutions and recommendations that will help you play a strategic leadership role.

It worked because she realized it was not all about her – it was about everyone else whom she had to lead and she worked at listening, developing her emotional intelligence and letting go.

  • VP, largest division of a major public company
  • Seven direct reports and with numerous external customers
  • Highly successful female executive with liberal arts background, working in a culture of male engineers
1. Coaching Focus:
  • Develop more strategic thinking, transitioning from a tactical, project management frame of reference to developing high potential as a leader
  • Delegate effectively, including decision-making and avoiding tendency to micro-manage
  • Improve staff meeting procedures
  • Gather the facts and respond in a balanced, well-prepared manner, demonstrating leadership
  • Manage time more effectively with less activity and more focus on strategic issues
  • Develop an effective approach to managing up
2. Coachee’s Perceptions of the Outcomes:
  • She worked more effectively with her direct reports, addressing the criticisms raised:
    • Rush to make decisions
    • Unwillingness to listen
    • Lack of self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy
    • Disorganization and poor meeting management (meetings became regularly scheduled and held, far more information sharing. more healthy debate of the issues)
    • Micro-management (a challenge in the culture of exceptional focus on detail, starting with the CEO)
    • Need to become more strategic and focused on leadership behaviors.
  • She significantly improved her ability to manage up effectively to a demanding and imperious division president, who praised her progress, acknowledging the challenge of managing up to him.
  • She disciplined herself not to respond too quickly to situations, focusing on:
    • Utilizing her specialists (rather than herself) to gather the data
    • Sensible push-back on requests for immediate information and details;
    • Care in communicating responses to situations.
  • She extricated herself from operating detail, was able to develop strategic relationships across divisions and became involved in industry-wide issues.
  • She rebuilt relationships with direct reports.
3. Coachee’s Focus Going Forward:
  • Self-awareness and raising level of EI
  • Industry awareness, identifying and working on strategic issues
  • Promoting visibility and relationships at highest levels in the company
  • Slowing down and focusing on priorities
  • Fully delegating, balanced with ongoing accountability from direct reports

It worked because he practiced, he prepared for every meeting, he was thoughtful, he was self-analytical, he got feedback on his progress, he became self-aware. And he was totally committed to significantly improving himself.

  • SVP, General Counsel of a major public company
  • Eight direct reports and with customers across the business units
  • Nationally recognized technical specialist in his field
1. Coaching Objectives:

The coaching objectives were as follows:

  • Improve ability to relate to his staff, motivate them
  • Become an effective coach to direct reports
  • Improve ability to attract, develop and retain talent with benchstrength for succession
  • Become better able to embrace change and lead department through change
  • Complete the transition to highly effective leader and manager

Increasing effectiveness with the first three objectives would improve ability to attract retain, build and benchstrength. More delegation and freedom from unnecessary operational involvement would facilitate focus on the bigger picture and the leadership challenges.

2. Coachee’s Perceptions of the Outcomes:
  • He’s backed off the interrogation style of a lawyer.
  • He’s catching people doing things right.
  • He’s giving positive feedback.
  • He’s been far less picky with unimportant things.
  • He’s allowing his direct reports to be far more prominent in presentations.
  • He’s not correcting his direct reports in front of clients.
  • Instead of telling direct reports what they’re doing wrong, he’s asking them what they think they could have done differently.
  • He is working harder at listening.
  • He is pushing far more responsibility downwards and finding he has more time to be thoughtful and strategic.
  • He’s trying to be more patient.
  • He is working at being more personable.
3. Coachee’s Focus Going Forward:
  • Increasing approachability and being personable
  • Creating ownership and a vested interest in projects
  • Motivating good feeling about what direct reports are doing
  • Providing ongoing feedback
  • Finding development opportunities
  • Not sweating the small stuff

One of the more challenging and rewarding services PSG provides is in the area of executive coaching. Each assignment is unique, requiring creativity in approach and a recognition that answers often lie beyond the obvious.

Recently, we were asked to help a group controller in a large international company save his career. He had a brilliant financial mind and his rise through the ranks had been meteoric. Responsible for the preparation and analysis of quarterly reports to the CEO and Board of Directors, part of his job required him and his department to work with the business units in processing 47 different sets of financials.

Diagnostic discussions revealed that executives at the business units perceived him as an ambitious, driving and self-serving, single-mindedly focused on his own advancement to the exclusion of all others. They also experienced situations where they were blindsided and caught “doing things wrong.” In short, there were no relationships and no collaboration.

At the same time, we found a man bored with the mundane and, in his mind, ten steps ahead intellectually of his colleagues and direct reports. There was also no recognition of the need to provide customer service to the operating units that supplied the quarterly numbers. The resulting attitude of his department was demanding, critical and uncompromising.

His management style and attitudes were poisoning the work environment, and it was obvious, without intervention, his future with the company would be derailed.

Our findings required a shift from the more conventional coaching role related to management style to the broader spectrum of issues. The outcomes were as follows:

  • The controller’s recognition of the issues and his wholehearted commitment to move rapidly to address them;
  • Successful efforts to build collaborative relationships with the presidents and staffs of the business units;
  • Resolving system problems in the department;
  • A shift in focus by the department to provide quality customer service and facilitation, as opposed to demands;
  • Increased focus on the basics of performance management in terms of reporting and accountability, ongoing feedback and coaching, and addressing issues raised by direct reports and department professionals.

Following an extremely intensive coaching relationship, there was a dramatic turnaround in the perceptions of colleagues, including the HR department which was tracking progress.

The impact on the controller? While the changes are still a work-in-progress, this coaching initiative has put his career back on track with favorable implications for the business units and prospects of greater effectiveness, efficiency and improved morale within his own department.

There are numerous similar situations in most companies in various functional areas. It doesn’t have to be in accounting. If you’d like to chat about these kinds of challenges, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Chimes is a multiservice agency delivering a wide range of programs, support and services to people with developmental disabilities, including mental retardation and illness. With facilities in six mid-Atlantic states, the organization employs some 3,000 professionals and staff.

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The New York Times in this morning’s article (October 26th) said it all:

“Saudi King Tries to Grow Modern Ideas in Desert.” (To view, click on Saudi King Tries to Grow Modern Ideas in Desert ) We’re proud to say that our company, Performance-Solutions-Group, Inc. (PSG), was the HR management consulting firm that developed the recommendations for establishing the entire HR infrastructure.

Our team of talented professionals, led by Wil Brewer, President of PSG, worked closely with the senior executives from Saudi Aramco, assigned to manage the establishment of the university while full-time faculty and staff are recruited. During the course of this incredibly excitiing and challenging project, we visited some of the world’s top universities to benchmark best practices for development of our recommendations. This required visits to Dubai, Cairo and Ankara, contact with the Education City schools in Qatar and Imperial College in London, UK, and visits to MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Caltech and other top schools in the US.

PSG put together a set of HR recommendations that focused on organizational structure, compensation, job families, medical, insurance and retirement benefits, special expatriate benefits, recruiting strategies, governance and other HR policies and procedures. PSG was awarded the project over a top international HR consulting firm.

KAUST (check it out at is a brand-new institution of higher learning that will open in two years on the shores of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. The official groundbreaking was held on October 21, as indicated in the Times article. With an endowment of more than $10 billion, the university will grant Master’s and Ph.D. degrees to students who will work with faculty on cutting-edge scientific and engineering research to benefit and drive the economies of the Middle East and other regions of the world.

In formulating its recommendations to a client some 10,000 miles away, the PSG team combined the benchmark findings from the universities visited with relevant corporate and nonprofit best practices. The team also took into consideration the fact that Saudi Arabia was not a location that would immediately appeal to the top-notch faculty KAUST wanted to attract.

KAUST is now using our recommendations to set up its HR department and help recruit the people it needs.

To discuss how PSG can help you assess your current management practices and HR practices and operations, call us at (203) 987-3338 contact us here.

Wilfred B. Brewer
President, Performance-Solutions-Group, Inc.

Executive Coaching Consulting Training Diagnostics