Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Much as with training, employee development must begin with analyses of the needs of both the organization and individuals. There is evidence that this analysis of an individual’s development needs is often not given enough attention.

Development Needs Analysis
Either the company or the individual can analyze what a given person needs by way of development. The goal, of course, is to identify strengths and weaknesses. Methods used by organizations to assess development needs include assessment centers, psychological testing, and performance appraisals.

Assessment centers are not places as much as they are collections of instruments and exercises designed to diagnose a person’s development needs. They are used both for developing and for selecting managers. Police departments, as well as many other types of large organizations, use assessment centers.
In a typical assessment-center experience, a potential manager spends two or three days away from the job, performing many activities. These activities may include role playing, pencil-and-paper tests, cases, leaderless group discussions, management games, peer evaluations, and in-basket exercises, in which the trainee handles typical problems coming across a manager’s desk. For the most part, the exercises are samples of managerial situations that require the use of managerial skills and behaviors. During the exercises, participants are observed by several specially trained judges. Assessment centers are seen as an excellent means for determining management potential. These centers are praised because they are thought to overcome the biases inherent in interview situations, supervisor ratings, and written tests. Experience has shown that such key variables as leadership, initiative, and supervisory skills are almost impossible to measure with paper-and-pencil tests alone. Another advantage of assessment centers is that they help identify employees with potential in large organizations.
Supervisors may nominate people for the assessment center, or employees may volunteer. The opportunity to volunteer is especially valuable for talented people whose supervisors may not recognize their abilities.
Assessment centers also can raise problems. Some managers may use the assessment center as a way to avoid difficult promotion decisions. Suppose a plant supervisor has personally decided that an employee is not a qualified candidate for promotion. Rather than stick by the decision and tell the employee, the supervisor may send the employee to the assessment center, hoping that the report will show that the employee is not qualified for promotion. Problems between the employee and the supervisor will be worse if the employee earns a positive report. If the report is negative, the supervisor’s views are validated. Using the assessment center in this way is not recommended, because it does not aid the development of the employee.

Psychological pencil-and-paper tests have been used for several years to determine employees’ developmental potential and needs. Intelligence tests, verbal and mathematical reasoning tests, and personality tests are often used. Such testing can furnish useful information to employers about such factors as motivation, reasoning abilities, leadership styles, interpersonal response traits, and job preferences.
The biggest problem with psychological testing lies in interpretation, because untrained managers, supervisors, and workers usually cannot accurately interpret test results. After a professional reports a test taker’s scores to someone in the organization, the interpretation often is left to untrained managers, who may attach their own meanings to the results. It also should be recognized that some. psychological tests are of limited validity, and test takers can easily fake desirable responses. Thus, psychological testing is appropriate only when the testing and feedback process is closely supervised by a qualified professional throughout.

Well-done performance appraisals can be a source of development information. Performance data on productivity, employee relations, job knowledge, and other relevant dimensions can be measured this way.
Appraisals that are designed for development purposes may be more useful than appraisals designed strictly for administrative purposes.

Succession Planning
Succession planning can be an important part of development. For example, combined with skills training, management development, and promotion from within, it has been linked to “turning around” a plant acquired by another company. The general result for the plant was a large increase in capacity over four years, with virtually no infusion of new managers or employees. Existing talent was developed instead.

Succession planning can be especially important in small- and medium-sized firms, but studies show that these firms have done the least planning. Few small- and medium-sized firms have formal succession plans. In closely-held family firms (those that are not publicly traded on stock exchanges), many CEOs plan to pass the business on to a family member. Planning in advance for the orderly succession and development needs of the successor is important to avoid a host of potential problems.

Traditional career paths in a company include a range of possible moves: lateral moves across departments, vertical moves within departments, and others. Each possible path represents actual positions, the experience needed to fill the positions, and the relationships of positions to each other. Replacement charts (similar to depth charts used by football teams to show the backup players at each position) give a simple model of the process. The purpose of replacement charts is to ensure that the right individuals are available at the right time, and that they have had sufficient experience to handle the targeted jobs.
Replacement charts can be part of the development planning process by specifying the nature of development each employee needs to be prepared for the identified promotions. This information can be used to identify development needs and “promotion ladders” for people.

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