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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 …