Awakening the desire for change


Today's development center is like a laboratory of the future for leadership work in transformation processes. It is an engine for change, renewal and self-managed learning. The focus is not only on learning processes for the participants, but also for the company.

In the past, the development center was regarded as an instrument for top-down identification of the individual development potential of a manager or specialist for more advanced tasks. The company had a clear idea of strategies, activities and jobs and then selected the people who matched the profiles defined for these.

Today, a development center can look completely different. Selection is no longer the main objective. Instead, the goal is to define and embark upon a learning path that is optimally tailored to the individual in terms of content and methodology: to the goals, potential, and current situation of the participant. This has also eliminated the need for a hierarchical perspective: In the past, a development center was the codified expression of a company's values, goals and objectives. The participants were tested on how well they matched a given set of values and corporate culture by means of exercises. In the new generation of development centers, participants are more than just participants. They are active agents. Through their involvement, they contribute to the company's learning culture. They discover their strengths, try out new roles, and explore their potential.

This makes a development center an important element of transformation. Because the input that the company management receives is every bit as important as the feedback for the participants: The answers and suggestions with regard to specific corporate strategy issues that the participants develop and present in teams.

The development center as a “future workshop”

When the tasks and content are tailored to the current and future challenges of a company as well as to the expectations of the participants, the atmosphere in the development center becomes that of a future workshop. Sometimes a connection also develops between the employees' personal ambitions and the company's goals. Characteristically, before employees embark on the journey of acquiring new competencies and enhancing their strengths through training and coaching, they usually experience opportunities for personal change and develop the desire to try something new. In this way, they anticipate the challenges of the future and develop the strength and desire to meet them.

What does this process look like in practice? Direct feedback on impact and behavior from external and (ideally) internal observers after each exercise is an integral component of the method – not as a judgement, but as a description of the action potential currently available to participants for mastering situations critical to future success.

The individual development reports are clear and transparent, thus providing a solid basis for decisions regarding the focus of future development measures. When discussing the results, participants and trainers meet as equals. Participants must be able to feel secure in the knowledge that they are not being judged, selected or ranked, but advised, coached and trained. Only then can they use the development center to set themselves smart goals, prioritize them and thus shape their future personal development.

Bringing challenges to life

A good development center gives the individual a sense of security, support and self-efficacy for subsequent learning phases, which vary according to the culture and size of the company. This is the best possible impetus for one's own learning career, which becomes necessary when the reality of everyday life, the uncertainties of change, and the daily pressure to succeed threaten to relegate one's own learning goals to the background. Agile, innovative, and future-oriented companies depend on their employees to continuously learn – autonomously, of their own volition, and on the job. However, managers often do not consider learning to be as important as management experts agree that it is. Individual learning is still often limited to classroom training and is often postponed or rescheduled in the hustle and bustle of everyday life – not only because it costs time, but also because it “hurts”: real learning is always an encounter with the possibility of failure. The development center makes future challenges tangible and makes theory come alive, thus also awakening the desire for development and change.

Self-Managed Learning

For companies and trainers, this requires empathy, open-mindedness and the absolute conviction that each participant is the master of his or her own development process. Because in the development center, participants help shape the content and goals for their development trajectory themselves by making their aspirations transparent. The trainers and consultants support them in designing a learning architecture that meets their needs: on the job and off the job. This is how target planning, outlines and content requirements for new development formats emerge. These can be short learning sequences – so-called learning nuggets – that can be completed in between other activities, or complete programs that span several days.

As experience has shown, this form of development center inspires participants to take ownership of and commit to their own development. They can also become involved in designing the tools and exercises for the next development center and can participate as role-play partners or observers. When attending their next training, participants can already bring along their personal learning “baggage”: Their lessons learned from the development center, the results of the personal reflections with the trainers and consultants, and the detailed report with the results of the written potential analysis. They are ready for the next step.


This article was written by Dr. Thomas Winkler (Managing Director of 5P Talent & Leadership Consulting, Munich) in collaboration with Lucia Sauer Al-Subaey (formerly Managing Director of Akademie für Führungskräfte der Wirtschaft, Überlingen; currently organizational consultant and 5P cooperation partner) and was published in the December 2018 issue of the HR trade magazine "Personalwirtschaft".

More information on "Personalwirtschaft" is available at www.

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