For an upcoming book on competencies, I recently reviewed the famous, and classic, AT&T Management Progress Study.
More than 5 decades ago AT&T, borrowing techniques first tried by the US spy agency OSS (now the CIA), began a grand experiment and created industry's first "assessment center" to measure behaviorally defined competencies. AT&T began with a now model, and often cited, very successful experiment, the Management Progress Study. It is remarkable to note that this was a 25 year longitudinal double-blind study of 422 managers at AT&T making it unique in research history.
It was a bit sad to reflect that this kind of persistence is rare in today's organizations, in either programmatic applications or in research. For many reasons it seems that HR programs and processes rarely persevere beyond a few years in today's environment of fads and rapid turnover.
Fighting this trend, one of OSI's strategic partners, Rhonda Weyer, of Midland, Michigan was able to influence a customer (a regional bank) to implement an extremely successful almost decade long program of leadership and organization development. The program was built on a common language for talent management and leadership development, and then on repeat 360's with all of the top leadership in the company.
To learn more about this unusual longitudinal success story we recently interviewed Rhonda:
Give us a little background on this program? How did it start? What inspired the project?
I was approached by a large regional bank headquartered in Michigan. Initially they requested leadership training, but as is often the case when asked "why" the conversation broadened into a more holistic and systematic view of their needs. Eventually the project involved first licensing the Polaris
® competency model, which they discovered was really a good tool for aligning all their talent systems. They recognized that competencies could provide general talent criteria and be a part of a larger picture, e.g., used in performance appraisal, hiring, succession management, and also be relevant for ALL their development. It provided overall alignment and became a common language, and eventually part of their culture.
Describe the actual work.
After installation of the competency model, which involved a lot of work making sure it was consistent with their strategic plans, we embarked on a multi-year leadership development initiative; a large part of which was a survey guided development program. It was driven by the Polaris
® 360 and was mandatory for leaders in key positions. Over a seven year period there were up to 4 iterations of the 360 in 18 month increments. I provided personal face-to-face feedback for most of the participants as well as a written summary of their results within the context of their culture. I also met with their direct and second level managers to apprise them of results at a very high level. In special circumstances (e.g., either a challenging feedback or a high performer with high potential that the bank wanted to retain) I would meet with the participants manager first. Developmental plans and actions were an expectation. Decision making authority for development was strictly delegated to the participants with their manager's input and support and the organization's commitment to provide resources.
How did you motivate the bank to continue? What was in it for them? Any tips for practitioners to keep clients interested over time?
Part of the success for using the 360's was for use for development only. Initially the bank wanted to use the feedback for performance appraisal - a tool to assess retention. But we followed best practice and kept the process one that was strictly for personal leadership development. This built up trust and acceptance. I also think the relatively smaller size of organization allowed for more personal relationships; less bureaucracy meant it was easier to get things approved. I built up an internal referral network that was useful in follow up and development. Over time peer pressure also provided motivation to improve - if other leaders were acting on their feedback maybe I should too?! It became obvious when an individual was ignoring a development need.
What were the tangible outcomes? Successes?
Highest potential people took their feedback and development most seriously and people who needed the help most often initially did not put in the work. But it was the managers in the middle of the ratings pack who made the biggest impact, and the greatest gain from survey to survey. You could see measurable improvement in their management and leadership competence. In the last several years we broadened the process to include early career high potential employees. I am aware of several individuals who made decisions to stay with the bank versus taking positions with competition because of the feedback they received on their 360's. As it turns out, their loyalty to the company increased when they discovered how they were perceived by their co-workers. The retention of those employees paid for the cost of the entire leadership development effort many times over.
Observations? Take aways?
It takes time! And the best way to ensure commitment is to give participants ultimate authority over acting (or not) on their feedback. Taking a punitive approach to negative 360's or to development plan non-action might result in short term results, but it failed to give success long term. Letting participants own their own process gained the trust and commitment needed for the program to persist and to foster a spirit of development.
In comparing the results from 360 to 360, I learned to be less formal and not have side-by-side rating contrast, but rather do the comparisons more holistically. This avoided getting caught up in the minutiae of rating to rating comparisons that could be meaningless statistically, and kept the participant focused on continuous development, no matter what the ratings.
Thanks Rhonda! Great insights. We've included a link to an OSI article on The Power of a Development Plan (
The Power of a Development Plan
) that reinforces, and expands upon, Rhonda's observations.