Business Challenge

To drive engagement across the business, IBM Leadership Development aims to attract, identify, develop and promote candidates within the organization that are best suited to leadership roles—but how?


A new assessment process offers managers deep insights into the competencies and behavioral traits of leadership candidates—helping them close identified gaps and promote applicants with the best fit.



management candidates with the highest aptitude for first-line manager roles


engagement by showing transparent career paths to management positions


faster and more objective appointment decisions to support rapid growth

Business challenge story

Explosive growth and dynamic, ambiguous markets demand top talent

What separates a good manager from a great leader? IBM Leadership Development knows that when it comes to selecting the next generation of managers, a history of high-performance in individual contributor roles is only one part of a larger equation.

Alison Hartmann, Leadership Development Program Manager, Aspiring Leader Segment at the IBM Leadership Academy, explains: “Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO, has always emphasized the crucial role that leadership plays in our business transformation. Effective leadership is a gear that drives higher employee engagement, which in turn inspires people to go the extra mile for customers and deliver the kinds of high-quality experiences that produce great business results.

“For these reasons, it’s vital to make the right decisions about first-line manager appointments. In the IBM Manager Readiness Assessment Program, our role is to empower the business with the tools they need to identify, develop and promote candidates within the organization that are best suited to management roles.”

With some IBM business units going through rapid bursts of growth, IBM Leadership Development recognized an opportunity to enhance the selection process. The aim was to enable decision-makers to enhance their decision-making with data-driven insights in a scalable, user-centric format.

“One part of the business recently needed to bring onboard 500 first-line managers in just 18 months,” recalls Hartmann. “We were confident that creating assessments based on behavioral science would help make that process faster, more objective and effective.”

Sofia Lamuraglia, Global Leader Leadership Development Programs at IBM Leadership Development, adds: “Recruiting internally is often more cost-efficient than bringing in people from outside of the organization, as the training and onboarding processes are typically much shorter. As well as assessing leaders for immediately available positions, we were also keen to build a strong talent pipeline: offering our HR community a go-to resource for future management-level opportunities.”

We’re confident that the assessment data will empower our HR community to identify the next generation of business leaders.

Alison Hartmann, Leadership Development Program Manager, Aspiring Leader Segment, IBM Leadership Academy

Transformation story

Harnessing behavioral-science insights

To realize the vision, IBM Leadership Development embarked on a project to identify the behavioral and psychometric profiles that predict effective leaders, and build an assessment process to help identify them. The refreshed Manager Success Profile (MSP) is underpinned by a suite of customized IBM Talent assessments, including leadership preference, numerical reasoning and situational judgement tests. This assessment and development platform helps measure the traits and future skills fit of each leadership candidate, and offers them tailored development suggestions and action planning support.

“The kinds of skills, behaviors and personalities that make people effective in individual contributor roles don’t necessarily carry over into the leadership space,” continues Hartmann. “We wanted a way to objectively measure abilities like situational judgement, and put people into roles they were ready and well-suited for.”

As a first step, IBM Leadership Development rolled out its solution as a face-to-face assessment and development center (ADC) in geographies including India and Europe.

“Our India businesses were going through a period of explosive growth, which made them the natural place to deploy the ADC,” says Hartmann. “When the business identifies an employee they believe is a strong candidate for a management role, the employee is invited to an assessment center. Over a period of two days, candidates take part in a series of interviews and psychometric assessments, driven in part by IBM Talent solutions.

“At the end of the process, each candidate gets a debriefing session to discuss their results and gain insight into focus areas for professional development with a line manager acting as an observer in the center. They also receive a deep-dive session with an IBM Talent solutions specialist to identify the role that their personality and behavior plays in their leadership abilities. Young professionals in particular enjoyed the opportunity to understand more about how their natural preferences influenced their ability to lead others and assume a management role.”

To build on the success of its face-to-face assessments, IBM Leadership Development decided to digitize the process—making it available to prospective leaders working around the world.

“Many of our global business units were extremely interested in our assessment centers, but factors such as cost and travel time made it difficult to replicate the model exactly in every geography,” explains Lamuraglia.

Hartmann adds: “To solve the challenge, we decided to develop a digital version of the assessment center. From the outset, we embraced a design thinking approach that placed the user experience at the center. The aim was to mirror the personalized experience of one of our assessment centers with the speed and convenience of a digital platform.”

Today, IBM Leadership Development is in the final stages of developing the new digital assessment experience, and is making preparations for a launch across the global business.

“We wanted to offer something much more engaging than flat text and multiple-choice questions,” explains Hartmann. “Our digital assessment takes the form of a video-driven narrative exploring a day in the life of a first-line manager at a fictional company. Each module of the assessment takes place at a different point in the manager’s day, and presents the candidate with decisions that help measure areas such as cognitive ability and situation judgement.”

She continues: “An adapted version of the IBM Talent assessment we use in our face-to-face assessment process plays a key role in the digital assessment. By combining IBM Talent assessment data with metrics from decision-making simulations, we can build an accurate and well-rounded view of each candidate’s suitability for a leadership role.”

To help nurture prospective leaders, the digital process also offers candidates tailored guidance to help develop their skills. Emphasis on a growth mindset and allowing low-penalty exploration of a manager role means that participants can take the assessment up to three times over a two-year period. This policy supports IBM’s aspiration to put career growth and development into the hands of the individual.

“The penultimate module in the digital assessment guides the candidate through potential discussions to have with their manager at the end of the process,” says Lamuraglia. “Finally, candidates take part in an interactive module that suggests micro-learnings based on their skills, behavior and personality. Each person can drag and drop the development ideas that resonate with them most into their own digital action plan—helping them hone the skills they need to become great leaders.”

Hartmann adds: “Once our new digital assessment portal goes live, we will enable people who are keen to develop into leadership roles to nominate themselves. We’re already receiving questions from prospective managers asking when the platform will be available, and we think our work is tapping into an area that people are very passionate about.”

By combining assessment data with metrics from decision-making simulations, we can build an accurate and well-rounded view of each candidate’s suitability for a leadership role.

Alison Hartmann, Leadership Development Program Manager, Aspiring Leader Segment, IBM Leadership Academy

Results story

Identifying the next generational of leaders

Today, IBM Leadership Development is offering selected employees in IBM’s North America and Asia-Pacific businesses the opportunity to pilot the digital assessments. When the platform goes live worldwide, many other parts of the organization will be able to access the tool.  

“Numerous business units we’ve spoken with plan to make the digital assessment a mandatory aspect of their appointment process, which we see as a testament to the value of a behavioral-science-driven approach,” says Hartmann.

“We’re already starting to measure positive results of using more rigorous assessment approaches. Our user-centric approach is delivering high levels of satisfaction, and we measured net promotor scores [NPS] of 54 in a pilot population of more than 200 users. Engagement has historically also risen: managers evaluated at assessment centers in India using the face-to-face assessment option had engagement scores that were consistently higher than other managers—and up to eight percent higher than all managers in our India business. The process yields a strong correlation to performance, accounting for 30 percent of variance, and can confidently be assumed to be a strong predictor."

She continues: “The information we have so far also indicates a high degree of overlap between what our experts identify in face-to-face assessments and the predictions that the IBM Talent digital assessment makes. Our concurrent validation study of the manager success profile showed a strong correlation to performance, accounting for 30 percent of variance, and can confidently be assumed to be a strong predictor. We’re extremely pleased with the accuracy of the insights. Better still, running digital assessments costs 800 percent less than face-to-face assessments, which makes them highly cost-efficient to deliver at scale.” 

With digital tools to help more employees across its global business develop the skills they need to become a manager, IBM Leadership Development predicts that it will achieve its goal of building a strong pipeline of internal talent for management positions.

Hartmann concludes: “Becoming a manager involves a major behavioral and mindset shift—people must transition from their past role as an individual contributor and become an engine of not only their own growth and development, but that of others. We’re confident that the IBM Talent assessment data will empower our business leaders to identify the next generation of first-line managers—hopefully helping us lift employee engagement across the organization.”

IBM Leadership, Learning & Inclusion logo

IBM Leadership, Learning & Inclusion

Launched in 2015, the IBM Leadership Academy is a portal to all IBM’s leadership development content and activities. Open to all IBMers, this resource features cutting-edge content, micro-learning videos featuring IBM leaders and external thought leaders, practical tools to help IBMers draft goals they can share with their manager, and a personal bookshelf to save the resources most meaningful to them.

Solution components

  • Assessments

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