Dagmar Untermarzoner

Personnel selection and development are complex decisions. Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis (2007) consider them, together with decisions about strategy and crisis management, to be the three most central decisions of managers and advocate the following principles in making such decisions: recognize decisions as complex phenomena and design a decision-making process, establish explicit parameters for decisions, and develop a common language among all involved. Transferred into an organizational development-oriented system of potential assessment, this means primarily that potential assessment should be designed less as a diagnostic evaluation of the individual and more as a decision-making process. Doing justice to the accompanying complexity necessitates a multistage working process which makes the various perspectives clear and adequately involves everyone concerned.

This chapter results from authors consulting practice over a decade combining strategy, organization development, learning and potential assessment in different types of organizations, primarily in long-term contracts (Untermarzoner, 2011). This experience allows to see the consequences of different approaches to personal decisions for people, the organization design and corporate performance. Based on this we can conclude, that potential assessment and development occurs best when chief executives recognize the value of learning as the primary force to facilitate change. The paper discusses principles of an organizational development-oriented approach to potential development based on own casework applying tests and organization-design oriented settings.

Taking a look at the approaches commonly used in personnel selection in many organizations today: The job specification generally forms the starting point when it comes to filling a vacancy. This usually states the most important tasks of the job and the necessary "competences" to complete them, which—if a "competence-based management system" was taken as the basis for the whole—are probably broken down into "observable capabilities." Candidates are invited to take one or more tests which promise to "measure" the potential and to participate in one or more interviews. If an external consultant is commissioned with the assessment, then a report of the candidate is provided. Finally the responsible managers make their selection—with or without reference to the advisory opinions.

In addition to the potential for error inherent in this form of personnel diagnostics, which will be highlighted in this chapter, such procedures unintentionally promote a judging culture, which is diametrically opposed to an open learning organization. An organizational development-oriented system of potential assessment has to do with the creation of "dialog partnerships" (Deissler & Gergen, 2005) which can contribute as key elements to the establishment of a culture of appreciation. Realizing such a dialog-based process requires certain specific design principles, steps and organizational arrangements which will be explained in the following chapters.


We assume that the capability to assess potential will become a central competence for success of organizations. In many cases, however, it is no longer sufficient to employ external assessors and read their reports. Decision makers themselves need a stronger capability to assess potential in their everyday professional lives which is not limited to assessment procedures. It has much more to do with promptly solving temporary organizational problems: Why does a project not proceed, what are the structural and personal obstacles? Whom can I deploy for the handling of the nonfunctional processes? Whom can I involve in a strategy development project? Who has a special talent in bringing wayward projects back on track? Organizations and businesses must increasingly be in a position to get current problems under control, not through restructuring involving lengthy planning, but through concrete, prompt steering.

These challenges require an accompanying qualification of today's leaders.

Setting up an organizational development-oriented system of potential assessment includes the leader's diagnostic competence as well as appropriate structures for the assessment and decision making process.

Because such a process of qualification always begins with self-use, the decision maker can profit doubly: On the one hand his own diagnostic skills are increased; on the other hand, the long-term development of his own competences can be fostered.

Example: Illustrating the development of leaders' potential assessment competence.

A department head is looking for a new product manager. Several potential assessments had been carried out in the past for this client, for internal product managers as well as for new employees. Despite clear recommendations, he always chose people who had specific weaknesses in creating a good customer relationship. He himself is a person, who is more interested in the world of finance than in creating relationships. In this dimension the engaged employees were very much like him, yet he would not or could not realize and accept these weaknesses in himself.

On the basis of this case history we suggest to him this time that he (1) allow himself to be trained in the use of two self assessment tests, (2) evaluate the initial results in a first interpretation together with the consultant, (3) develop a question outline for the interviews with the candidates whose results would then be reflected on together with the consultant, and (4) make the final choice himself. This procedure places the bigger part of the responsibility back to the one who decides. And, what do you know? Suddenly he is in a position to clearly see the weaknesses or unsuitableness of applicants and to discover similar aspects in himself.

Today more than ever, potential assessment demands that the decision maker be made responsible while nevertheless making sure that he achieves an informed understanding of how he is to make the decision.

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