Assessment Centers in Japan

Article excerpt

Assessment Centers in Japan

Wacoal Corporation, one of Japan's leading manufacturers and marketers of women's apparel, had a problem. Its human resource practices hadn't kept pace with its growth, and employee morale--and performance--began to suffer.

Working with Assessment Designs, International (ADI), an American consulting firm, Wacoal successfully met the challenge of revamping its human resource systems. This transformation mainly focused on assessment center principles, a rather conventional intervention. But along the way, both the Americans and the Japanese had to deal with some crucial cultural considerations.

Like many of Japan's successful companies, Wacoal was born during the rebuilding period that followed World War II, a time that saw Japan begin its drive toward competitive parity in the world economy. This rapid growth demanded dedicated and trusted workers, but as the organization grew, it encountered a human-resource dilemma familiar to Western big businessd highly qualified young professionals had few promotional avenues. To compound the problem, by 1983 the average age of the corporations' nearly 5,000 employees was only 29.

With opportunities for promotion rigidly tied to seniority and promotion, therefore, being an infrequent occurrence, most employees rotated from department to department about once every three years. Wacoal hoped this arrangement would help maintain interest and motivation and also foster a beneficial cross-fertilization of skills and knowledges.

The concept seemed sound, but Wacoal came to view it as potentially costly and harmful in the face of heightened economic competition and changing social values. Workers often found it difficult to acclimate to their new jobs, learn new skills and knowledges, and increase their productivity to the levels the company expected. In addition, Wacoal's younger workers increasingly wanted more personally interesting and meaningful work, and the rotation programs often failed to satisfy these aspirations. Despite these drawbacks, Wacoal still considered job rotation an important ingredient in human resource development.

The company believed it could benefit from revising rather than scrapping the system. To do this they realized they would have to improve their methods for selecting and placing employees in new jobs. For years managers had based selection, placement, and rotation decisions on subjective opinions rather than on objective performance and competency data. In addition, they rarely considered employees' aspirations. Corporate management began to examine alternatives.

An integrated assessment

solution

As a first step, Wacoal formulated a comprehensive human resource evaluation and management plan. The plan proposed integrating training programs, self-assessment processes for career planning, and management's assessment of employees' competencies. By storing employee information in a computer-assisted data base and using it as a mechanism for managing employee development and movement, Wacoal hoped to make their rotation program more objective and effective.

The proposed system called for two specific assessment tools. The first, a self-evaluation process, would help individuals discover their job aptitudes through self evaluation and help the company discover employees' potentials for placement in the most appropriate positions. The second tool, an assessment-center process, would let managers evaluate employee skills and abilities in a number of key areas.

Teamed with rigorous job analysis, these processes would help managers identify employee interests and skills that could be linked to the skills the company's major departments needed. The self evaluation and the employee-assessement process would guide recommendations for rotations. The plan encouraged career discussions between managers and employees to share evaluation data and discuss potential career paths, but the final decision on employee rotations would rest with managers. …