Key to development centre success is in the follow-up work

New
research confirms the benefits of management training, but HR teams must become
more involved

The
debate surrounding development centres is a timely one. As Personnel Today
reported (Features, 7 August), there are valid concerns about designing events
that reflect modern working practices, meet organisational goals and engage
individuals and managers.

But
the discussion also focuses employers’ attention on the need to maximise the
potentialof their development programmes.

To
an extent the use of development centres has been an act of faith, since there
has been little evaluation of their impact on managers and organisations. This
was something occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola set out to address in a
recent study run with the Institute of Work Psychology in Sheffield.

Research
was carried out in a major multinational organisation and was based on the
responses of about 120 managers from operating companies who had attended
management development centres in the previous four years. During the events
they completed 360-degree feedback and were assessed by our psychologists.

The
survey results reflected some criticisms already voiced, highlighting the need
for better follow-up procedures. But there was also evidence of a positive
impact on motivation, retention and performance.

The
findings established a link between the management development centres and
staff retention. The average annualised turnover among those attending the
centres was significantly lower (30 per cent) than in the organisation’s
general management population. Although the attendees were picked out as
managers with  potential which may have
had a bearing, the fact that participants were more likely to stay did point to
improved staff retention.

In
terms of the fit of a person to an organisation, the management development
centre ratings of those leaving an organisation were not significantly
different from those remaining. But there were differences in their profiles:
leavers tended to be younger, had spent less time in the company and received
lower 360-degree feedback ratings.

The
psychologists assessed the effect on business performance by analysing sales
per employee by company both before and after the development centre programme
started. The proportion of participants sent by each operating company had
little effect, but the indications were that management development centres
were likely to lead to better performance.

From
the data we could also identify the competencies associated with increased
productivity. But the best indicator of good financial performance was a
positive 360-degree appraisal by colleagues.

So
far so good. But it was when managers were asked about the effect of the centre
on their own development that concerns began to emerge. On the plus side,
respondents reported significant improvements in work attitude, insight and job
performance. More than 40 per cent said they had a better understanding of
their strengths and weaknesses, with more than three-quarters preparing personal
development plans.  

But
the results also showed that any development work did not increase. This was
partly attributed to time pressures and other work priorities, but the most
common reason managers gave was lack of support after the centre.

Unless
we address these issues, the return on investment from management development
centres will continue to fall short. The solution lies in implementing events
around best practice. It is up to HR management to brief supervisors on their
role both in preparing and coaching participants, to organise seminars after
the events and involve themselves, other managers and external consultants, if
appropriate.

Our
job as service providers is to ensure that professionals are equipped with the
skills to achieve this.

Management
development centres clearly offer important business benefits. But it is the
way they are run and followed up, and the quality and purpose of the overall
process in which they are embedded that determines their true value and ensures
that they fulfil their ultimate purpose – developing people’s potential.

By
Binna Kandola, a partner with Pearn Kandola, occupational psychologists
specialising in assessment, development and diversity

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