Questions like these illustrate the inevitable need of organizations to assess and to develop its leadership potential.
Which vice-president should/could become president of the company? Who are the 'comers'? How well will this manager handle broader responsibility? How can the professional effectiveness of executives be upgraded?
Development centers: why?
Assessment/development centers - a tool to provide an objective assessment of the skills, capacities and competencies of an executive against a specific profile required by the organization - are alive and well in industry, having withstood the scrutiny of practitioners and researchers alike for more than 50 years. The validity and, in turn, the utility of the method has been established across many industries and in a multitude of positions.
Nowadays, development centers are used for a multitude of purposes. The most important one's are the following:
- The use of development center feedback, in and off itself, as a management development tool
- Early identification (fast track) high potential development programs
- Use of development centers for diagnosing strengths and weaknesses and devising individual training and development programs
- The development center as a tool for organizational planning and organizational development.
Irrespective of the specific objective of the development center, it should be stressed that the group of senior executives should clearly express ownership for the concept. Establishing the standards of excellence for executives and the action to diagnose strengths and weaknesses should send a powerful message throughout the organization.
Can potential be developed?
Human development (except perhaps for a few exceptions) is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Evolutionary change is slow, continuing, undramatic: something that existed yesterday still exists tomorrow, but with still further modifications. Each modification can be too small to be noticed; only when a number of modifications have accumulated can any significant change be perceived.
Everything we know about human development leads to one conclusion: it is a step-by-step, time-consuming process in which false starts and detours are almost sure to slow things down. In developing executives, we must be willing to tolerate setbacks and exercise patience. They, who want to believe that there are instantly-effective remedies, may fall victim to training and development gimmicks that suddenly appear on the scene, announce themselves as panaceas for virtually every organizational/ individual ailment, and then disappear a couple of years later as suddenly as they have emerged.
It is difficult to replace habitual behaviors: new skills feel 'awkward', the habitual behaviors feel 'comfortable', will be displayed without even thinking. It will take time for the new behavior to be perfected and to make a real difference.
Even though development is incremental, the increments can be enlarged, and the evolutionary process speeded up by means of well-thought-out development centers embedded in the organizational culture and as part of an integrated HR approach.