Charles Pfeffer

Executive Coaching & Leadership Consulting

Success Stories

A hugely successful entrepreneur and inventor, Benjamin Franklin once advised, "To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions." In today's complex business environment, it can be a challenge to identify the right opportunities, much less heed Franklin's advice, particularly with the barrage of issues you confront daily as an organizational leader. But often these challenges ARE your opportunities. Through his thoughtful, personal approach, Charles will help you seize them!

Case Study: Xerox Corporation


The printing technology for a new digital color press planned to disrupt the marketplace was stuck in the research labs.  Already the scheduled date to bring the new product to market had slipped by two years.  The new head of the Wilson Center, Charles P. (Chip) Holt had led the last major disruptive product introduction and the CEO now looked to him to get this project back on line.  Hewlett Packard was in merger talks with an Israeli company to acquire a competing technology.  Canon was behind, but catching up quickly in lower end color print engines.  Meanwhile the researchers and the product engineers argued over whether it was possible to invent to a schedule.


My colleagues and I coached the Marking Engine Competency Center Leader whose labs were developing the new technology.  We recommended that he form a project leadership team composed of the lab heads and the product engineering leaders who would receive the technology once it had been proven ready for commercialization.  We taught a method of high performance communication that we called, “Commitment-Based Management” to these leaders and roughly 200 other scientists and engineers within R&D and the Engineering organization.  The main purpose for this education was to establish a chain of commitments, promises and mutual responsibilities from one end of the delivery chain to the other and from the most senior to the most junior member of the organization.  Anyone associated with the project knew its importance to the company and knew their required contribution to its success.

We then coached each sub-system team using a method we call Action Coaching.  This approach allowed us to reinforce the skills and behaviors of commitment based management while ensuring that every breakdown or set back in the project would be leveraged to increase team cohesion and accelerate the pace of learning, rather than lead to blame, hiding and despair.  As a result, at the end of one year of work, the research team was able to deliver a demonstrated technology which became the basis for the flagship iGen series of color digital printing presses, that launched the color print on demand industry for Xerox.

Case Study: Eastman Kodak


Competitors had been eating away at Kodak’s substantial market share advantage for a few years.  Kodak’s response was to try and bring a new color negative technology to market that would leap frog the competition in speed and quality.  The trouble was that R&D, Manufacturing and Marketing leaders were not cooperating and the project was over a year behind schedule.


My colleagues and I recommended that R&D, Manufacturing and Marketing, three functions essential to launching a new product, each appoint one leader to a project team.  I coached the members of this team individually and together to ensure that they were clear about their separate and mutual goals and commitments for the project.  We then taught a group of about 100 contributing members of the broader project team a high performance communication process we called, “Commitment-based Management”.  In this approach, people make clear promises that they commit to keep.  They also commit to let the team leaders know the instant they realize that any promise is in danger of not being kept.  This constituted a major cultural change for this organization.

We then coached sub-system teams to make their project commitments visible on a daily basis and to track progress.  These Action Coaching sessions kept people in communication with each other and allowed us to reinforce the Commitment Based Management behaviors and skills.  Key moments in the project involved the three Project Leaders declaring breakdowns around the non-availability of testing equipment that was shared with other parts of the company. 

By seeing conflicts in the schedule early and raising the issues to senior level management, the team was able to reach agreements with other teams to switch testing dates, keeping both projects on schedule.  The people who controlled the testing equipment were not inclined, nor empowered to make these changes on their own, and traditionally this would have been the end of the conversation. 

After six months of this new way of working, the team had a pilot run which produced a product of such high quality, it was immediately approved for sale.  This had never happened before in the 100 year history of the company.  As a result, one major competitor left the market.  The value to Kodak of this competitor’s withdrawal was $300 million in annual profit.

Case Study: Lockheed Martin Space Systems

CHALLENGE: The end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program had been announced and several companies were vying to build the successor.  Lockheed Martin’s operations near New Orleans had made and restored the external rockets for the whole life of the program.  The plant manager had just learned that the company lost the bid for the next generation vehicle.  With six launches still scheduled, he had to bring together the top 50 leaders of a proud organization (several of them senior air force and NASA officials)  to plan a smooth landing for the plant: reducing the workforce, while keeping all essential technical staff right up to a final, flawless shuttle launch.

 SOLUTION: With little time to work with, we designed a two day leadership retreat.  The focus was to help these leaders co-create a mission beyond the disappointment and sadness of the loss of the program, that would enable the organization to “fly out with pride”.  Using a conversational design approach to find the intersections of the many different opinions in the room, the team was able to tap the energy of these intersections to invent new solutions and come to an agreement in which all the members were willing to invest their authority and credibility.  This made an enormous difference in rallying support from the corporation and from NASA to fund transition programs.  These helped employees move from work they loved to new opportunities, without loss of energy and enthusiasm for the critical missions they remained responsible to serve: the safe launch and return of the Space Shuttle Astronauts.