Using Assessment/Development Centers to Develop 1st and 2nd Line Sales Managers

A rapidly growing global specialty biopharmaceutical company contracted with PCI to establish a career development process within the commercial operation.  Senior leaders had decided to implement an assessment center program for all current first- and second-line sales managers.  To emphasize the developmental goal of the program, they used the term “Developmental Mapping Program” instead of assessment center.

Several objectives were identified:

  • Identify the overall strengths and developmental opportunities of current regional directors and zone directors
  • Establish an objective baseline of skills
  • Design individual development plans for each member of the current regional director and zone director team
  • Identify developmental trends for the group as a whole and assist in building a long-term management curriculum
  • Demonstrate the company’s commitment to develop and retain key management talent

The “Developmental Mapping Program” sessions were conducted by PCI over a 6-month period.  A total of 14 zone directors and 83 regional directors participated in the experiential process.  Each session lasted a full 2 days and included group discussions, one-on-one role plays, inbox simulations, and analytical case studies.  Senior sales leaders were not invited to observe in order to maintain the developmental focus of the program.  Initial feedback was given to participants during the program, and more in-depth feedback (written report and telephone conference) was provided to each participant several weeks after the program.

The client company decided that the reports would only be given to the participants.  The participants were then free to share all, part, or none of the report with their managers.  Only composite data for the entire group was shared with senior leadership.  PCI compiled an analysis of the group performance (for regional directors and for zone directors) by exercise and by competency.  In addition, PCI showed how each of the three business unit’s mean competency ratings compared with industry means.

Given the goal of ongoing leadership development, the client company established a process for each participant to create an individual development plan.  Using information from the Developmental Mapping Program, each participant worked with their manager to create an IDP (Individual Development Plan) using an on-line system that allowed for ongoing updates.  Monthly email reminders were sent out to prompt managers to continue their IDP updates.


  • 40% of participants made “significant progress” on their IDP by updating their IDP, completing their objectives, and implementing feedback from their PCI coaches
  • Senior management reinforced expectations, incorporating the IDPs into performance management
  • During the talent review process, IDPs were used to show the developmental progress of high-potential regional directors and zone directors
  • Participating in a live assessment center process was well received; participants stated that they enjoyed the experiential learning
  • As word spread about the Developmental Mapping Program, directors were asking, “When is it my turn to go to PCI?”; there was a cultural shift of acceptance
  • As a result of mixing the groups across all 3 business units, sales managers started requesting that other meetings be “cross-pollinated”
  • The aggregate performance data supported the training department’s goal of creating one developmental curriculum instead of 3 separate ones
  • The aggregate performance data was instrumental in creating an 18-month strategy that was approved by senior leadership
Identifying and developing tomorrow’s... The Evolution of an Assessment Center...