Collier-based workplace talent pioneer DDI plans to extend its reach
By Alex Nixon
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The collection of paintings, sculpture and other art inside two nondescript office buildings visible from Interstate 79 in Collier surreptitiously tell a tale about Development Dimensions International.
The art was collected by CEO William Byham as he traversed the globe, building the company he co-founded four decades ago into an international powerhouse that helps businesses make better hiring and promotion decisions — especially in management and executive positions.
DDI is a pioneer in a business known as talent management. Since its founding in 1970, the company has grown to 1,100 employees in offices around the United States and in 26 other countries.
The success of DDI is based on a simple idea, Byham explained: “If you want to hire a basketball player, you don't interview him: You put him out on a court and watch him play.”
DDI has worked with 400 of the Fortune 500 largest companies, including PPG Industries, General Motors, Caterpillar and Dell Computers. The company has created software systems for screening Wal-Mart job applicants.
The company continues to grow by innovating and forecasts 10 percent sales growth this year, Byham said. Much of that growth is coming from outside America. Half the company's sales, which totaled $170 million in 2012, are generated internationally.
DDI's pioneering role in the field is thanks to Byham's innovation of bringing the science of organizational psychology out of the university and into the boardroom.
“He's helped develop the whole model of how we assess executives,” said Rick R. Jacobs, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Penn State University.
“He and his partner, Doug Bray, were the leaders,” Jacobs said, referring to DDI's other co-founder, the late Douglas Bray. “We owe them a big debt of gratitude.”
International growth is a trend that started early, Byham said. Two years after founding DDI, Byham opened an office in Tokyo.
“We got into the Japanese companies before they started to grow around the world,” Byham said during a recent interview in his office, accompanied by his daughter, Tacy Byham, who is a senior vice president. “So when Toyota wanted to expand around the world, they called us.”
In their offices around the world, DDI hosts executives in “assessment centers,” where they simulate various work situations to evaluate their skills and train them to be better leaders. The company said it performs thousands of these sessions a year, and businesses use this process for making promotion and hiring decisions for 3,000 senior executives every year.
Companies need a way to systematically observe people so their strengths and weaknesses can be gauged. Basing those decisions on answers to questions in an interview won't yield optimal results, Byham said.
“No one had ever done it before,” he said.
Another major innovation in the early 1970s was when DDI began offering training for supervisors, which treated “training like a skill,” he said, by providing coaching and practice in managing people.
That part of the business has since been extended to middle managers, Tacy Byham said.
“We've seen huge growth in that area in the past couple years,” she said. “The middle level was the forgotten generation, the middle child, shall we say.”
Middle managers, such as the regional supervisors in a retail operation who oversee many store managers and report to executives, face bigger challenges and need stronger interpersonal skills, she said.
The result of DDI's training and screening is “more rewarding for employees” because they have the proper skills for their job, she said. And it “pays dividends for companies” because they have the right people in the right positions to grow the business.
As the Internet and technology have changed many industries, DDI has had to adapt. Computer simulation is becoming a bigger part of DDI's business, the elder Byham said. The company has had to invest in technology, such as mobile apps, and while the lower cost of training remotely via computer can extend DDI's reach to more companies, it eats into revenue, he said. “It's shaking the business.”
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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