We’ve been pioneering a world of possibilities to bring surfaces to life for well over 200 years. As experts in making coatings, there’s a good chance you’re only ever a few meters away from one of our products. Our world class portfolio of brands – including Dulux, International, Sikkens and Interpon – is trusted by customers around the globe. We’re active in more than 150 countries and have set our sights on becoming the global industry leader. AkzoNobel employs more than 32,000 people worldwide, and with so many employees, efficient talent development – is essential.

What talent project are you most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of our Assessment-based Development Center, which was developed for the Marketing function, as it’s helping us to become a more effective marketing organization. This is important because in our businesses, marketing is expected to support in building effective strategies and contributing to the delivery of business results. Our people know what happens in their markets and are in close contact with customers; we need their expertise to be used highly efficiently.

Change is constant in the markets where we operate, so our marketing teams need to be able to respond to that in an agile way. To support this, in 2018, we implemented a new marketing competency framework – with eight functional and three leadership competencies that demand new and different skills from our people.

With this in place, we launched our new Assessment-based Development Center initiative with the support of Aon’s Assessment Solutions – called MADC Marketing Assessment & Development Center. By using the competence-based assessment, we can be specific and fact-driven, supporting the identification of high potential employees, as well as providing meaningful input on development opportunities at an individual level. Then, with this understanding, we can assign the best development opportunities for each.


We’re closing the gap between our competency framework and current proficiencies

By identifying strengths and development areas, we’re closing the gap between our competency framework and the current proficiency of the marketing teams. The program also supports our broader organization by allowing leaders to understand their teams and make fact-based decisions regarding talent and what skills they may need in the future.

It helps our marketers too. They better understand their talents and what they can do to improve. They gain control of the areas they want to develop, while understanding how to progress their own careers – building a sense of career ownership.


Measuring success: the key achievements

The program was initially aimed at senior marketing colleagues. We’ve created the opportunity for almost 100 marketers worldwide – from different businesses – to go through this experience so they can understand their strengths and weaknesses and work on their own personalized development plans.

People are taking true ownership of their careers

This has been extremely helpful for the business, HR and our marketers. Indeed, we now have great examples of people who developed themselves in new roles, taking true ownership of their careers: more than 10% of the people involved have been positively impacted. Four have moved to more senior or director level roles, while another six have moved to new roles or across business units.

Naturally, there was some skepticism at first; people don’t like being assessed and they fear the results that highlight improvement areas. However, after going through the process and helping each to understand the opportunities, the response has been positive and participants have enjoyed having new opportunities shown to them:


  • “I really enjoyed it, it was a great opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other business units and to spend time working on aspects of marketing that I ordinarily wouldn’t on a day-to-day basis.”


  • “It was a remarkable experience. It’s a way to test your skills in a very dynamic environment with very interesting challenges. The main highlight is the opportunity to identify your strengths, blind spots and development opportunities.”


  • “A highlight for me was being recognized as global marketing talent and being invited to participate in the first Marketing Assessment-based Development Center. Also, meeting like-minded professionals that I really connected with – and still talk to two years on.”


The pandemic created a big hurdle

The pandemic, however, created a big hurdle in terms of budget restraints and travel restrictions and forced us to create a virtual program. There’s a major upside, however.  People from around the world can easily join the program too. In our new virtual format, participants still gain a personalized report and coaching session. Overall, this works so well for observers and participants that we’re evaluating keeping it fully online from now on.

The assessment is also quick, so it’s a key tool for managing talent efficiently. In fact, because this has been a powerful program in the function and has a good track record, we’re now rolling it out across different levels of the marketing organization.


What did we learn?

A key part of overcoming skepticism was to onboard senior leaders first. They acted as ambassadors of the program and could influence others to see beyond any doubts. But as with any change being driven by new programs, it’s important to remind yourself that getting support from people can take time.


Keeping professional development alive in their conversations

It can be especially time-consuming when trying to get many people to help with the process. Although this program is for senior level marketers, we need others to support it too – our colleagues in HR, learning and development and talent management, for instance. So, although our marketing team leads the program, we learned that it has to be carried out in conjunction with other key teams to gain traction.

We’ve also learned that following up on the process is just as important as the process itself. We needed to look for feedback and ensure that managers kept the project alive in their discussions. By doing this, we continually provided support to our teams, improving the project to ensure that the theme of professional development is always alive in their minds.