What was needed
A client approached Team Focus with the question “are we getting value for money from our Development Centres?” (DC). Our analysis involved interviewing previous DC ‘graduates’ to find out what had happened since. Whilst the company has a strong ‘people-focussed’ culture, the result was profoundly disappointing. 80% of those interviewed (a number had left) claimed that they had been “bruised” by the experience. Even the 20% who reported a positive experience reported being insufficiently supported in their subsequent development. Many said their line managers did not really allocate the time for helping them further or that they were not the best person to do so. Our conclusion was that the enormous cost and effort involved had not produced sufficient tangible returns – and some of the effect had actually been negative.
The interviews further suggested that each person was at a different stage in terms of development. Some needed greater awareness of their own skills and style, others needed practical help to deal with current challenges and yet others needed to refocus on what their underlying motivations and interests really were. This diversity of need gave the clue as to why the DC was not the right vehicle for addressing development at the individual level.
What was done
We proposed inviting people to take responsibility for their own development within a structured process. This involved:
- gaining full commitment to the development process - this required participants to attend a half-day briefing in order for them to better understand what would be required from them. They would then sign a formal contract detailing their involvement in the development process and committing them to a minimum of 6 and coaching sessions during the first 6 months. It also involved explicitly taking responsibility for managing the change process which meant that they were asked not to ask “what is the company going to do for me?” but to ask instead “what am I going to do for myself which will benefit my company?”;
- tailoring the assessment process – development often involves having a personal vision and a reality check – and the reality check needs to be meaningful and credible for the individual. If it is not, people can too readily ‘explain the results away’ which is a natural defensive reaction to unpleasant feedback. By working with a coach who goes beyond performance issues and is prepared to address deeper issues such as the person’s self-concept and defensiveness, the process can be progressed on two fronts – the person can be prepared for a more honest and non-defensive reaction to feedback and the appropriate feedback vehicle can be chosen. Sometimes this is a DC style evaluation but sometimes this is not necessary because they already have a realistic view of themselves. Alternatively they can solicit feedback from carefully chosen colleagues or engage in a 360° process or a combination of approaches. The coach ensures that the soil is prepared before the seed is sown;
- choosing the development approach – the coach then guides the person through the numerous options for achieving change – but the Team Focus approach is to maximise the use of internal resources which may involve work shadowing, mentoring, taking on specific projects, joining action learning sets before considering external courses and experiences;
- engaging company sponsors – one powerful way to maximise development is to ask others in the company to help. The coach helps the individual to prepare a public declaration of their development path to a carefully selected group of people who are invited to help the individual over the coming year by acting as their eyes and ears in terms of progress and regression – this is an open invitation for support and feedback which greatly increases the stakes but greatly increases the chances of significant change;
- managing their own assessment portfolio – the individual has contracted to manage their own portfolio of skills which means that they self-evaluate their progress on the company competencies (and any personal targets they set themselves). This means that any evaluations early in the process are monitored and changes recorded so that any career opportunities can be discussed in an adult way.
What the benefits were
Personalising the development process in this way has the benefits of:
- ensuring the individual is ready to make maximum use of the opportunities arising;
- using the wealth of skills and experience within the company – and hence reducing direct costs and maximising transfer to the workplace;
- creating a development culture through the involvement of people within the company in an immediate and personal way.