Building the internal bench to build the business

Sumeet Varghese | August 03,2011 11:38 am IST

For the lakhs of MSME's in the country, the question of creating a second line or third line of leaders is perhaps one of the most unsettling. While it is possible that many organizations address this issue in their own way, one particular MSME (referred to as Z) in the manufacturing sector that I worked with, thought of institutionalizing a leadership development program for its high potential population using both annual assessments as well as targeted training.


Why assessment and development centers

As a fast growing organization with more than 700 employees, Z had a healthy turnover and a strong senior management to support dayto-day operations with minimum involvement from the founder MD.

Since Z catered to various organizations globally, they had sufficient exposure to management best practices they experienced in client organizations. Apparently while interfacing with a reputed IT organization, some of the senior management team learnt about the practice of leveraging assessment and development centers alongwith individual as well as group development interventions to create a strong leadership bench. The senior management had more or less decided on putting a pool of 30 plus executives through an assessment and development center to measure their potential and identify development gaps. As a matter of fact, these executives were selected on the basis of past performance by their respective department heads. Over several interactions, the senior management team at Z finalized the objectives of the entire exercise. Some of the key reasons for undertaking the exercise were: talent identification, talent development and talent retention.


As it turned out, the intervention did finally address all the 3 objectives but in the absence of critical measures to check progress on the development and retention part, only informal reviews could establish the extent of success the program had on those 2 counts.


The how of assessment

As soon as the decision to conduct assessments were made, the senior management team at Z were instructed to create a communication agenda stressing the importance of the intervention and the processes that would be followed as part of the exercise. Accordingly, every executive was sent a special mail highlighting the benefits of the exercise and containing a thorough introduction to assessment and development centers. Moreover, special assistance was provided to help resolve their doubts and concerns.


In line with global best practices, a rigorous competency mapping initiative was first launched in order to finalize a set of critical competencies for the assessment and development centers. In all over 20 senior executives of the company were interviewed using the Critical Incident Interview technique. The interviews not only revealed some of the critical challenges faced by the organization in various departments but also gave good information about the managerial competencies that the senior executives utilized frequently to handle such challenges. After discussions with the MD, who insisted that industry competency benchmarks should also be considered, a competency model comprising 6 competencies were finalized. Subsequently tools to measure these competencies through a 1-day assessment and development center were finalized.


The what of assessment

In order to maintain complete objectivity throughout the assessment and development center intervention, a handful of external assessors were picked up to review the participants. Moreover, assessors were rotated well to ensure they did not observe a particular participant more than a couple of times through the day. Utmost care was also taken to brief the assessors on the various tools and potential interpretations of the same at the outset. Also, final candidate perceptions were arrived at consensually. All of these measures communicated a very professional atmosphere. Interestingly, at the end of the exercise, a majority of the participants felt they were confident the organization had done a great job of taking them through such processes.

At the end of the assessments, participant performance across various tools and various competencies was shared with the senior management and the MD in a special meeting.


Apart from disclosing the quantitative as well as qualitative details of performance, the methodology used to arrive at the findings was also made public. Interestingly, this approach contributed to creating greater acceptability and credibility. More importantly, the results from the assessment were very much in sync with the experience the entire senior management team had had with the executives who attended the assessment and development center. Eventually, based on overall performance, the entire executive pool was divided into 3 different groups comprising varying numbers of executives. The general idea behind the classification was to give a different range of developmental experiences to each group.


Assessment to development

Once the groups were formed, the senior management team communicated the results of the exercise in a special meeting. Those who belonged to the group that had outperformed others were specially congratulated by the MD at the same meeting. Although the MD had made it clear that everyone was considered equally valuable to the organization and that members of each group would get their due, the special felicitation session generated both positive as well as negative vibes in the participants. While some did not like the classification, some were clearly not happy with the results. A couple of candidates even threatened to quit the organization as they felt they had been wronged. There was a handful that had even begun to question the entire assessment and development framework.


Since each of the participants had been promised a special feedback session to identify their competency strengths and gaps by this author, the negativity from the way the results were announced spilled over to the feedback sessions. Obviously, as no 2 participants were the same, each required a different level of handling and focus. However, over a period of 2 days all those who had participated in the assessment and development centers received special one-on-one feedback based on their results. Interestingly, but for a few who were resolute in their views about the process, almost all came around to finalizing their individual development plans. In framing the plans due importance was given to some department-level challenge/project that the participant could take up in order to develop competencies that were identified for development. Moreover, every aspect of the plan had a specific deliverable and a timeline to be followed.



Sumeet Varghese is an independent management consultant....