What does the phrase ‘development centre’ mean to you? I think, for many, it sounds rather negative, rather scary. Some sort of gulag you get sent to if you’re not performing satisfactorily. A room full of people in white coats with clipboards, assessing your every move.
Perhaps it’s time for a new name. Because actually they are much more positive than that. Development centres are a way to identify talent and potential in your business. They help your good and high performers take the next step in their careers and within your organisation.
So if you’re looking to:
- find out what talent you have in your business
- get the most out of your talented people
- identify their strengths, weaknesses and development areas
- ensure they’re on the right career path for them – and you
- improve their self-awareness and build their confidence
then you should consider running a development centre.
Here’s what you need to know.
The difference between development centres and assessment centres
Often confused with each other, development and assessment centres are very similar. They both involve a number of assessments, be that personality tests, reasoning tests, role plays, exercises etc. (The word ‘centre’ is often taken to mean they take place at a particular location but it actually refers to the fact that it will involve more than one test, exercise or assessment.) They might take place over the course of a day or more.
Both are designed to evaluate participants’ capabilities, strengths and weaknesses and development needs in relation to a role or level in the business.
The difference is that a development centre includes feedback and opportunities for the participant to discuss, practise and reflect upon what they’ve learnt about themselves during the activity.
The purpose of a development centre
A development centre is usually held at the beginning of a talent development project, whether that’s a graduate programme or leadership development or succession planning activity.
Its purpose is to identify talent and potential whether that’s spotting future leaders or discovering the right career path for an individual. For instance, you might have a group of high-performing technical specialists, some of them might be successful in managerial roles, while for others that would be the wrong path.
Its purpose is also to give individuals the opportunity to learn new things, test their skills and build their confidence, in a safe environment where they can try, fail, get feedback and have another go.
Who would attend a development centre?
Most of the time you would use a development centre to target the good or high performers in your business.
You wouldn’t tend to use a development centre to tackle poor performance. You could, but it’s not the most efficient way of helping someone do their current job better. They’re really designed to help take those with potential to the next level.
Development centres can often have the most impact with people in middle management roles – often a rather overlooked group. Development centres ensure you’re not missing out on any real talent for leadership in this group. As well as improving motivation, engagement and loyalty.
Running a development centre
Development centre assessors need to have experience at assessing and giving feedback, be skilled at spotting what good looks like and be trained in assessment and selection methodology. They need to be experts in behavioural analysis.
It’s advisable to use external assessors rather than your own managers. Participants may feel as if they’re being judged if internal assessors are present. They may fear what would happen if they ‘fail’ so they play safe. And if they play safe, they won’t learn. Although if you are including 360 degree feedback i.e. feedback from others in the business, in the assessment, you may want to facilitate a three-way discussion between the individual, their manager and the observer at the centre.
External assessors can also help to benchmark the activity. They’ll be able to reflect on how you are doing compared to your peers outside of the organisation.
What would you assess at a development centre?
That would depend on what you were trying to achieve. Do you want to identify potential senior leaders, develop your graduate intake, support those at mid-management level?
Are you targeting a level or a specific role? Or is it about career paths?
First, identify, via job analysis, what it is you want to measure. Is it competencies, attitudes, motivations, intelligence, strengths etc?
This will help you decide on the tests and tools you will use – whether that’s personality tests, emotional intelligence tests, learning styles, group activities, role plays etc.
Things to consider when pulling together your development centre:
Before embarking on your development centre adventure, you need to consider the following:
1. What else is going on in the organisation?
If you’ve restructured recently, made redundancies, or there are rumours you might soon, holding a development centre now might set the hares running. People might be suspicious about your motives. You’ll need to put in a lot of groundwork to properly communicate the benefits to the individual and the business.
2. What happens if I fail?
A development centre can be a hugely positive experience for participants but it can also feel quite exposing. After all, you might have been happily doing your job for a number of years and then out-of-the-blue you get sent on a ‘development centre’. Suddenly you’re being assessed on things you thought you already did quite well. Or maybe on things you’ve avoided doing or have failed to do. It feels risky. People might be concerned about what happens if they ‘fail’. Again, communication about what the centre is for and what will happen when it’s over is crucial.
And remember the impact on those who aren’t invited – they need to understand why, in a way that is not going disengage them.
3. What support will people receive once the centre is over?
So you’ve participated in a shiny development centre, got your shiny report about all your exciting potential, built some shiny new confidence? But then you’re back at your desk and nothing happens.
How is the business going to support and nurture the talent it’s identified?
People may need access to a third party – a coach or mentor – to bounce ideas off, reflect on progress with and get feedback from. They may need help to understand what this means for them. And help to build the confidence that they can progress – that they do indeed have the potential.
A development centre can be a hugely useful way to identify, support talented people in your business. If you’d like more information on designing a development centre or addressing your people development needs, please drop me a line.