Working life has changed profoundly over the past two decades: on the one hand employers are expected to provide their workforce with 'transferable skills', on the other hand employees are expected to drive their own development and take charge of their careers.
Therefore, management development continues to be one of the 'hot topics' within occupational psychology research and human resource practice. The furthering of employee potential is one of the primary concerns of many organisations in order to:
A number of methodologies have taken hold recently, including the prevalence of multi-source or 360 degree feedback and multi-modal techniques, often referred to under the umbrella term development centres (DCs). Both are used in a variety of formats and contexts. 360 degree feedback is usually used for developmental purposes only and tends to concentrate on interpersonal skills (Fletcher & Baldry, 1999). Such multi-source feedback has been readily embraced by industry, either employing off the shelf products or custom made instruments, delivered via pen and paper forms or with pc or web-based software. Development centres, which could briefly be defined as comprising the core elements of a) multiple exercises (such as group exercises, role plays) and b) multiple facilitators. Development centres are commonly used as a diagnostic process but also as a development experience in their own right (Goodge, 1994). Traditional one-to-one relationships still also have an important role to play, be it in formal appraisal meetings or through coaching and mentoring. Indeed, the comparatively largest body of research has concerned itself with one-to-one appraisal, but has traditionally been focused on the assessment of performance, rather than development outcomes. Past research on 360 degree feedback has perhaps been largely equivocal, with some studies highlighting possible methodological shortcomings of particular systems (e.g. Fletcher, Baldry, & Cunningham-Snell, 1997). Judgement is also still out on the effectiveness of development centres, particularly given how cost intensive they are.
Thus, a study into the viability of different development methodologies is currently under way comparing:
In a nutshell, the purpose of the study is to evaluate which of these processes affect development outcomes, such as the fulfilment of personal development plans, career activity, development motivation, the amount of development activity taken up or the focus of development. Moreover, individual differences will be considered, for instance whether development has an effect on people's self esteem, on their insight into their strengths and weaknesses and their belief in their own capabilities. Another focus of interest concerns whether different development strategies have an effect on how employees feel about their organisation. In addition, we will consider how interpersonal relations at work 'fit into the equation', as it has recently been argued that very formal processes need to be supplemented or indeed replaced by a supportive environment and 'on the spot action'.