Arrested development

The
ailing economy has forced Nortel Networks to put its unusual development
programme on hold. But the company is still enthusiastic about the scheme,
reports Nic Paton

The
downturn that has swept through the telecoms and high-tech sector has taken its
toll on an innovative development function put in place by US technology giant
Nortel Networks.

The
company set up the programme through HR consultancy Lighthouse Project
Solutions last October, aimed at assessing and developing its project managers.

But
the economic slump means this has now been put on ice, albeit temporarily.

Developing
individuals

Nevertheless,
the function is keenly focused on developing the individual going forward from
the assessment process, with the half-day assessment system seen as only one
small part of the programme.

Before
going to the centre, project managers are given some pre-work, including tasks
such as a self-assessment, updating their CVs and explaining their project
management skills.

The
process entails making two presentations ñ the first a surprise one designed to
see how participants think on their feet. "Most of them say it is quite
fun… afterwards," jokes Lighthouse management consultant Derek Abell.

Probing
competencies

The
second presentation is one prepared in advance, and after this comes a question
and answer session, including input from other participants, followed by an
intensive interview process designed to probe their competencies, skills and
knowledge.

Once
the assessment is completed, Lighthouse produces an outcome pack linked to
Nortel’s matrix for project manager abilities. It also implements a feedback
process and develops a six-month to two-year action plan.

About
150 project managers from Nortel’s Europe, Middle East and Asia region ñ about
50 per cent of the whole team ñ went through the programme before it was put on
hold. "It has been the first time they have had development plans for
project managers. It is giving them something to aim at. We are looking at
creating a centre of excellence for project managers with the company,"
says Abell.

Basis
for development

The
development plan should be the major output of the process, rather than the
visit to the centre itself, he argues. "The assessment is merely a way of getting
to the development plan. The assessment centre obviously cannot develop very
much. Its purpose is to form a basis for the development plan."

This
means the process has to work very closely with line managers, who effectively
become part of the function, intertwined with the feedback process and involved
from the start.

Working
smarter

Alastair
Watters, senior manager for Nortel’s EMEA project officer, says by putting the
function in place, the company’s goal was to have project managers who could work
smarter, deliver quicker and to a higher quality.

He
also hopes to improve margins as a result. "Some companies take the
attitude that it is fine to throw training at people, but it is knowing what
you are where you are going to that is important," he says.

Culture
of coaching

The
company has aimed to encourage a culture of coaching and mentoring to enable
continual learning, he adds. To add to the motivation process, implementing the
development plan is linked to the company’s promotion procedures, with both
participant and line manager expected to work together closely.

Abell
adds, "From the project manager’s viewpoint, we stress that this is not a
test, it is an assessment of where they are now, so that we can manage their
career more effectively."

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