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5. Acceleration Centers improve the accuracy of the development needs diagnosis and are perceived as fair.

Modern-day assessment centers, which we call Acceleration Centers to convey that they are different in several ways from traditional assessment centers, play an important role in Acceleration Pool systems because they help provide an accurate diagnosis of people's development needs. Acceleration Centers force pool members to deal with issues and situations that are typical of general manager and executive positions while professional assessors observe them as they work through the simulations.

A truism of industrial/organizational psychology is that when multiple job-related methodologies are used for evaluation, and when multiple trained people involved in different parts of the evaluation systematically pool their insights to develop a "holistic" picture of an individual, more accurate predictions result. This is how an Acceleration Center operates. Different assessors observe the behavior or the individuals as they go through parts of a set of integrated simulations. The simulations are designed to mirror various challenges or issues appropriate for the target job level. In addition to very realistic, contemporary executive simulations, Acceleration Centers also use paper-and-pencil instruments and behavior-based interviews to round out the diagnosis of individual needs.

In essence, the Acceleration Center lets the pool member "try on" a senior role in a relatively risk-free, simulated environment. Before coming to the Acceleration Center, the pool member visits the Center's web site to find out how the Center will operate and to get information on the hypothetical organization he or she will be joining. A great deal of information about the simulated company and the job to be assumed—perhaps that of a key vice president—is provided. Also, on the Web the pool member provides background information about him or herself and takes some personality questionnaires. On a convenient day, the pool member arrives at the Acceleration Center facility, is given a desk, and is shown how to use the hypothetical company's e-mail and voice mail systems. As a "vice president," the pool member must prepare for a presentation about a new strategic plan to be given at the end of the day. And, in the meantime, numerous memos, e-mails, and voice mails demand attention, forcing the individual to prioritize tasks, organize work time, and make multiple decisions.

Throughout the day, the vice president is involved in meetings with individuals such as:

  • Two executives who are not cooperating with each other, thereby putting an important new system in peril.

  • The head of the Brazilian operation, whose sales goals are not being met.

  • A colleague at a working lunch to begin creating the strategic plan presentation.

  • An executive from another firm that could be a profitable strategic partner but that actually wants to buy the company's technology outright.

  • An irate major customer who's ready to jump ship.

  • A local TV reporter who's heard rumors that the company's product might be linked to pollution problems.

After the pool member delivers the strategic plan presentation to a group of other "vice presidents," a background interview is conducted and the pool member is asked about the reasons why various actions were taken.

All this activity is packed into a demanding, long day. In that time the pool member has developed a strategic direction, tested his or her strategic vision, and addressed vendor problems, personnel matters, diversity issues, and professional jealousies.

Acceleration Pool members who participate in this integrated set of simulations receive feedback from the assessors' observations of the behavior and decisions in the simulations, as well as from psychological inventories and interviews completed as part of the process. This wealth of feedback gives Acceleration Pool members a clear insight into their strengths and weaknesses relative to the target level. This insight is enhanced even further when 360° data based on the same competencies and derailers are also made available to the pool member.

Case Study: The Acceleration Center Finds a Diamond

A large global organization decided to put people with certain organizational titles through an Acceleration Center to help identify those with top-management potential. Coming to the center were leaders who managed up to 1,000 employees and a young man who was responsible for only three employees. He got to the center because he was the comptroller of a very small unit of the organization in Nova Scotia. The man had not gone to college, while most of the other managers being evaluated held MBAs from some of the world's leading schools. But the young man performed admirably in the center—indeed, he was one of the very best of the hundreds who went through it.

The organization jumped on the opportunity. It sent the young man to an executive-development program at Harvard, gave him some behavioral training, and promoted him. Every few years, it moved him to different key assignments around the world. In every job he exceeded expectations, and within a few years he was leading one of the largest sectors of the organization.

There are three lessons to draw from this story:

  1. All organizations have more good people than they think they do—the trick is to find them.

  2. The Acceleration Center method is a very good system for spotting high potentials.

  3. An Acceleration Center is an excellent tool for diagnosing specific development needs, which can then be met by targeted training interventions. The young man in the case study was given behavioral training based on needs identified through the center.

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