SCA. Assessment centers

SCA is the major European manufacturer of wood and paper products. The company manufactures and sells personal-care products, paper products and packaging solutions. The key trademarks are TENA, Libero, Libresse, Zewa, and Tork.

In 2007, we were asked to conduct a DC for six customer contact managers. The main objective of the DC was to identify each employee’s competencies requiring development. There was also a possibility that based on the assessment results, decisions would be made to promote these individuals. The DC preparation included several key tasks: drawing up the assessment matrix, creating SCA Competency Scoring Sheets and designing the timetable for the centre. While drawing up the Assessment Matrix (see Table 29.1), we followed two key principles: each competency should be assessed in at least two exercises; and the DC should consist of as few techniques as possible.

In designing the timetable, we applied the following rules:

  • Assessors should see all participants. The participant should be engaged in each subsequent exercise with a different assessor. It is necessary to minimize any opportunity for the assessors to display subjectivity or bias.
  • Interactive exercises should be combined, whenever possible, with written ones.
  • Sufficient numbers of breaks should be provided for the assessors to complete the Scoring Sheets
  • Participants should not have any long breaks between exercises.

We used seven different tools to assess the eight competencies and we suggested that the participants completed the ability tests and the personality questionnaire online, several days before the DC, which meant they only had to complete five exercises during the DC, thus enabling us to run it within one day.

Table 29.1 The Assessment Matrix

RPI = Role Play (Internal) with a Subordinate; RPE = Role Play (External) with a Customer; AP = Analytical Presentation Exercise; ARG = Assigned Role Group Discussion; INB = In-Basket Exercise; AT = Ability Tests; 15FQ+ = Personality Questionnaire

Feedback Preparation and Delivery

Based on the assessment results and after feedback reports had been prepared, a feedback meeting was held with each participant and the commercial department manager. The department manager was actively involved, during the assessment of the employees (attendance of separate exercises undertaken by his subordinates during the DC) and discussion of their development options.

Prior to the feedback meeting we had a discussion with the department manager where we presented each employee’s results, the consolidated results of the business unit as a whole (covering both strengths and weaknesses) and discussed in detail what actions should be undertaken by the manager to develop each subordinate. He asked us to advise him how the results could be used in the most effective way and we suggested that the sales manager be present during the discussion of the individual development plan with each of the subordinates.

The feedback meetings, which were focused on creating individual development plans, were attended by three people: the consultant, the employee and the sales manager (the employee’s immediate superior). The consultant ran the meeting with the employee, and the manager added to the discussion as required. The feedback meeting started by focusing on the competencies that the employee planned to develop during the year. This choice is based on the DC results, the employee’s preferences, the consultant’s recommendations, and the business needs (Woo et al. 2009; Thornton and Rupp 2006).

However, there were frequent differences between the employee’s preferences and the business needs, and the manager’s vision. There were cases when the participant wished to develop the competency with the highest score, despite the fact that the DC results and the immediate superior highlighted more obvious gaps in other competencies, which would have a greater impact on his effectiveness.

In order to identify appropriate development actions, the consultant and the participant discussed which working situations and projects the employee would find most beneficial to work on, so as to develop the relevant competencies. The presence of his direct manager was of immeasurable value in this situation, as the participant was able to immediately agree the specific actions he would complete on his own and the manager would be able to supervise and ensure they were performed properly. Jointly they would also agree a plan for ongoing review and feedback. For example, when the consultant discussed the opportunity to develop the Decision-Making On-site competency with one of the participants, the sales manager offered his help by saying that he was ready to go with the subordinate to the meeting and give him feedback after it. This action was included in the individual development plan. This action was clearly quite motivational, as the subordinate was very surprised, for as he said later, he had never expected that his manager would be willing to devote so much of his time to his development.

Thus, the individual development plan was actually prepared by the employee together with his manager. The consultant provided only methodological and facilitative support. Now the employee had to put this plan into practice and the manager had to provide appropriate assistance when required and to monitor the competency development progress.

We were fortunate enough to be able to check their success of following this approach two years later, when we were asked to conduct another DC for them. This time the participants included the employees who had participated in the Development Centre two years earlier. We found it interesting to see the result of their joint efforts to develop the competencies, both of the subordinates and the manager. During this time, some of the employees’ roles had changed: some were promoted, others’ areas of responsibility extended or objectives had become more complex. Therefore, this time the Development Centre included more complex assessment techniques, although the objective remained more or less the same; namely competency development, albeit within an environment with more complex objectives, and the promotion opportunity for several employees.

Table 29.2 provides an indication of the progress made in developing five different competencies between two DCs which were run in 2007 and 2009. The table contains only the data on each participant’s competencies included in their 2007 individual development plans.

Table 29.2 Comparing competency development progress between two DCs

The table demonstrates that the participants appear to have made progress on all of the competencies except one. It is also important to keep in mind that the participants faced more challenging exercises in the DC in 2009, and this meant that the same competencies were assessed at a more complex level. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that had the same exercises been used as in 2007, the participants would have probably performed at an even higher level. .During the feedback, the participants and their manager confirmed that they had actively implemented the individual development plans they had generated two years ago, although not everybody managed to fully complete their plan.

Thus, this case study illustrates that a properly conducted competency assessment procedure provides valuable information about an employees’ capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. It also shows that the employees’ ability to successfully complete their individual development plans, benefit from being created and executed by the employee in conjunction with his/her manager. This results in the employee demonstrating an improvement in their ability to display job-related competencies, which enables them to achieve higher levels of performance in their work. We cannot of course claim any statistical evidence, due to the very limited sample of just three people. But we can point to the fact that this seems to provide some indication that there is a good argument for doing personnel assessment properly and there also appears to be an obvious impact of involving the manager in developing his/her subordinates’ competencies and thus increasing their effectiveness.