Assessment and Development Centres

Assessment and Development Centres


An Assessment Center can be defined as "a variety of testing techniques designed to allow candidates to demonstrate, under standardized conditions, the skills and abilities that are most essential for success in a given job" (Coleman, 1987).

Assessment center concepts can be applied to any situation in which people need to be evaluated, including promotion, performance appraisal, and selection interviewing. Hiring or promoting an executive into a new role or more senior-level role requires great care and careful consideration of capabilities, attributes, experiences. It is critically important to know as much as possible about candidates, regardless of whether the situation involves selection or longer-term succession.

Perhaps the most important feature of the assessment center method is that it relates not to current job performance but to future performance. By observing how a participant handles the problems and challenges of the target job or job level (as simulated in the exercises), assessors get a valid picture of how that person would perform in the target position.

The assessment center approach offers the kind of comprehensive evaluation required for executive-level roles, with assessment platforms ranging from mid-level to CEO-level role requirements. Today, the assessment center method is used by organizations all over the world as a means to better select employees and identify their areas for development.

The assessment center method is an excellent diagnostic tool because it separates an individual’s abilities into specific areas (dimensions) and then seeks specific examples of good and poor behavior within each dimension. This helps the assessee and his/her boss determine more precisely what training and developmental activities are required.

The first use of assessment centers dates back to World War I when Germany used the method to select their officers. During World War II, the practice was adopted by the United States' Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to help them objectively select both military and civilian recruits for espionage activities.

In the 1950s, American Telegraph & Telephone (AT&T) became the first private sector company to use assessment centers as a method to predict the performance of their managers. The late Dr. Douglas Bray, in his role as director of human resources at AT&T, directed a landmark 25-year study that followed the careers of managers as they progressed up the company ranks. The study showed that the assessment center method could successfully predict organizational achieivement. Assessment centers were subsequently implemented throughout AT&T and the method later adopted by many other companies such as IBM, Sears, Standard Oil, GE, and J.C. Penney.

Assessment centres are commonly made up of a mixture of (but not all of) the following individual and group assessments.

Typical interviews used at an assessment centre:

  • Competency interview
  • Partner interview
  • Technical interview
  • Panel Interview

Typical individual assessments used at an assessment centre:

  • Aptitude tests
  • Personality tests
  • Case study
  • Presentation
  • E-tray exercise
  • In-tray exercise
  • Written exercise
  • Professional conduct questions

Typical group assessments used at an assessment centre:

  • Case Study
  • Group exercise
  • Group discussion
  • Group role play exercise
  • Group business exercise

Several trained observers and techniques are used. Judgments about behavior are made and recorded. These judgments are pooled in a meeting among the assessors or by an averaging process. The discussion results in evaluations of the performance of the assesses on the dimensions or other variables.

The assessment center method is a proven, valid technique that is extremely effective for making selection and promotion decisions and for diagnosing employee development needs.

The validity and effectiveness of the assessment center method can be credited to six basic underlying methodological concepts. The six methodological concepts that give the assessment center method its validity are:

  • Organize the assessment process around target dimensions
  • Use behavior to predict behavior
  • Have two or more individuals independently observe and evaluate
  • Develop a system that ensures all target dimensions are covered and that uses inputs from multiple sources
  • Organize a discussion so two or more assessors systematically share and debate their behavioral insights and relate these findings to each target dimension prior to reaching an overall decision
  • Use simulations to stimulate behavior to be observed

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