Employees are not contended by just having a job. They want growth and individual development in the organization. An “assessment centre” is a multiple assessment of several individuals performed simultaneously by a group of trained evaluators using a variety of group and individual exercises.
Assessment centres are a more elaborate set of performance simulation tests, specifically designed to evaluate a candidate’s managerial potential. Line executives, supervisors, and/or trained psychologists evaluate candidates as they go through one to several days of exercises that simulate real problems that they would confront on the job. Based on a list of descriptive dimensions that the actual job incumbent has to meet, activities might include interviews, in-basket problem-solving exercises, leaderless group discussions, and business decision games. For instance, a candidate might be required to play the role of a manager who must decide how to respond to ten memos in his/her in-basket within a two-hour period. Assessment centres have consistently demonstrated results that predict later job performance in managerial positions.
The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) began experiments with Assessment Centre approach in the 1950’s as a part of a wide programme of management development. The AT&T Company designated a particular building where the Assessments were carried out. This building became known as Assessment centre and the name has stuck as a way of referring to the method. The method became established in the industry in the USA during the 1960’s and 1970’s and was introduced in UK during this period.
This method is now regarded as one of the most accurate and valid assessment procedures and is widely used for selection and development.
According to IPMA (The International Personnel Management Association), an assessment centre consists of a standardized evaluation of behavior based on multiple inputs. They are used to assess the strengths, weaknesses and potential of employees. The specific objective is to reinforce strengths, overcome weaknesses and exploit potential of the employees through training and developmental efforts. Several trained observers and techniques are used. Judgments about behavior are made, in major part, from specifically developed assessment simulations. These judgments are pooled in a meeting among the assessors or by a statistical integration process. In an integration discussion, comprehensive accounts of behavior, and often ratings of it, are pooled. The discussion results in evaluations of the performance of the assessees on the dimensions/ competencies or other variables that the assessment center is designed to measure. There is a difference between an assessment center and assessment center methodology. Various features of the assessment center methodology are used in procedures that do not meet all of the guidelines set forth here, such as when a psychologist or human resource professional, acting alone, uses a simulation as a part of the evaluation of an individual. Such personnel assessment procedures are not covered by these guidelines; each should be judged on its own merits. Procedures that do not conform to all the guidelines here should not be represented as assessment centers or imply that they are assessment centers by using the term “assessment center” as part of the title. The following are the essential elements for a process to be considered an assessment center:
a) Job Analysis
A job analysis of relevant behaviors must be conducted to determine the dimensions, competencies, attributes, and job performance indices important to job success in order to identify what should be evaluated by the assessment center. The type and extent of the job analysis depend on the purpose of assessment, the complexity of the job, the adequacy and appropriateness of prior information about the job, and the similarity of the new job to jobs that have been studied previously. If past job analyses and research are used to select dimensions and exercises for a new job, evidence of the comparability or generalizability of the jobs must be provided. If job does not currently exist, analyses can be done of actual or projected tasks or roles that will comprise the new job, position, job level, or job family. Target dimensions can also be identified from an analysis of the vision, values, strategies, or key objectives of the organization. Competency-modeling procedures may be used to determine the dimensions/competencies to be assessed by the assessment center, if such procedures are conducted with the same rigor as traditional job analysis methods. Rigor in this regard is defined as the involvement of subject matter experts who are knowledgeable
about job requirements, the collection and quantitative evaluation of essential job elements, and the production of evidence of reliable results. Any job analysis or competency modeling must result in clearly specified categories of behavior that can be observed in assessment procedures.
A “competency” may or may not be amenable to behavioral assessment as defined herein. A competency, as used in various contemporary sources, refers to an organizational strength, an organizational goal, a valued objective, a construct, or a grouping of related behaviors or attributes. A competency may be considered a behavioral dimension for the purposes of assessment in an assessment center if
i) it can be defined precisely
ii) expressed in terms of behaviors observable on the job or in a job family and in simulation exercises.
iii) a competency also must be shown to be related to success in the target job or position or job family.
b) Behavioural Classification
Assessment centre requires that Behaviors displayed by participants must be classified into meaningful and relevant categories such as dimensions, attributes, characteristics, aptitudes, qualities, skills, abilities, competencies, and knowledge.
c) Assessment Techniques
The techniques used in the assessment center must be designed to provide information for evaluating the dimensions previously determined by the job analysis. Assessment center developers should establish a link from behaviors to competencies to exercises/ assessment techniques. This linkage should be documented in a competency-by exercise/ assessment technique matrix.
d) Multiple Assessments
Multiple assessment techniques must be used. These can include tests, interviews, questionnaires, socio-metric devices, and simulations. The assessment techniques are developed or chosen to elicit a variety of behaviors and information relevant to the selected competencies/ dimensions. Self-assessment and 360 degree assessment data may be gathered as assessment information. The assessment techniques will be pretested to ensure that the techniques provide reliable, objective and relevant behavioural information. Pre-testing might entail trial administration with participants similar to assessment center candidates, thorough review by subject matter experts as to the accuracy and representativeness of behavioral sampling and/or evidence from the use of these techniques for similar jobs in similar organizations.
The assessment techniques must include a sufficient number of job related simulations to allow opportunities to observe the candidate’s behavior related to each competency/ dimension being assessed. At least one—and usually several—job related simulations must be included in each assessment center. A simulation is an exercise or technique designed to elicit behaviors related to dimensions of performance on the job requiring the participants to respond behaviorally to situational stimuli. Examples of simulations include, but are not limited to, group exercises, in-basket exercises, interaction (interview) simulations, presentations, and fact-finding exercises. Stimuli may also be presented through video based or virtual simulations delivered via computer, video, the Internet, or an intranet. Assessment center designers also should be careful to design exercises that reliably elicit a large number of competency-related behaviors. In turn, this should provide assessors with sufficient opportunities to observe competency-related behavior.
Multiple assessors must be used to observe and evaluate each assessee. When selecting a group of assessors, consider characteristics such as diversity of age, sex, organizational level, and functional work area. Computer technology may be used to assess in those situations in which it can be shown that a computer program evaluates behaviors at least as well as a human assessor. The ratio of assessees to assessors is a function of several variables, including the type of exercises used, the dimensions to be evaluated, the roles of the assessors, the type of integration carried out, the amount of assessor training, the experience of the assessors, and the purpose of the assessment center. A typical ratio of assessees to assessors is two to one. A participant’s current supervisor should not be involved in the assessment of a direct subordinate when the resulting data will be used for selection or promotional purposes.
g) Assessor Training
Assessors must receive thorough training and demonstrate performance that meets requirements prior to participating in an assessment center. The training should focus on processing of information, drawing conclusions, interview techniques and understanding behaviour.
h) Recording Behaviour
A systematic procedure must be used by assessors to record specific behavioural observations accurately at the time of observation. This procedure might include techniques such as handwritten notes, behavioral observation scales, or behavioural checklists. Audio and video recordings of behavior may be made and analyzed at a later date.
Assessors must prepare a report of the observations made during each exercise before the integration discussion. It is suggested that assessors must prepare the report immediately after the assessment is over otherwise they are likely to forget the details. Not only this, these reports must be independently made.
j) Data Integration
The integration of behaviors must be based on a pooling of information from
assessors or through a statistical integration process validated in accordance with professionally accepted standards. During the integration discussion of each dimension, assessors should report information derived from the assessment techniques but should not report information irrelevant to the purpose of the assessment process. The integration of information may be accomplished by consensus or by some other method of arriving at a joint decision. Methods of combining assessors’ evaluations of information must be supported by the reliability of the assessors’ discussions. Computer technology may also be used to support the data integration process provided the conditions of this section are met.
Uses of Assessment Centres
Data generated during the process of Assessment can become extremely useful in identifying employee potential for growth. This data can be used for:
a) Recruitment and Promotion: Where particular positions which need to be filled exist, both internal and external can be assessed for suitability to those specific posts.
b) Early Identification of Personnel: The underlying rationale here is the need for the organization to optimise talent as soon as possible. High potential people also need to be motivated so that they remain with the organization.
c) Diagnosis of Training and Development Needs: It offers a chance to establish individual training and development needs while providing candidates with a greater appreciation of their needs.
d) Organizational Planning: Assessment centers can be used to identify area where widespread skill deficiencies exist within organizations, so that training can be developed in these areas. Results can also be integrated with human resource planning data to provide additional information concerning number of people with particular skills needed to meet future needs.
ASSESSMENT CENTRES AND DEVELOPMENT CENTRES
Traditionally an assessment centre consisted of a suite of exercises designed to assess a set of personal characteristics. It was seen as a rather formal process where the individuals being assessed had the results feed back to them in the context of a simple yes/no selection decision. However, recently we have seen a definite shift in thinking away from this traditional view of an assessment centre to one which stresses the developmental aspect of assessment. A consequence of this is that today it is very rare to come across an assessment centre which does not have at least some developmental aspect to it. Increasingly assessment centres are stressing a collaborative approach which involves the individual actively participating in the process rather than being a passive recipient of it. In some cases we can even find assessment centres that are so developmental in their approach that most of the assessment work done is carried out by the participants themselves and the major function of the centre is to provide the participants with feedback that is as much developmental as judgmental in nature.
Assessment centres typically involve the participants completing a range of exercises which simulate the activities carried out in the target job. Various combinations of these exercises and sometimes other assessment methods like psychometric testing and interviews are used to assess particular competencies in individuals. The theory behind this is that if one wishes to predict future job performance then the best way of doing this is to get the individual to carry out a set of tasks which accurately sample those required in the job. The particular competencies used will depend upon the target job but one should also learn such competencies such as relating to people; resistance to stress; planning and organising; motivation; adaptability and flexibility; problem solving; leadership; communication; decision making and initiative. The fact that a set of exercises is used demonstrates one crucial characteristic of an assessment centre, namely; that it is behaviour that is being observed and measured. This represents a significant departure from many traditional selection approaches which rely on the observer or selector attempting to infer personal characteristics from behaviour based upon subjective judgment and usually precious little evidence. This approach is rendered unfair and inaccurate by the subjective whims and biases of the selector and in many cases produces a selection decision based on a freewheeling social interaction after which a decision was made as whether the individual’s ‘face fit’ with the organisation.
Differences between Assessment and Development Centres
The type of centre can vary between the traditional assessment centre used purely for selection to the more modern development centre which involves self-assessment and whose primary purpose is development. One might ask the question ‘Why group assessment and development centres together if they have different purposes?’ The answer to that question is threefold.
a) they both involve assessment and it is only the end use of the information obtained which is different i.e. one for selection and one for development.
b) it is impossible to draw a line between assessment and development centres because all centres, be they for assessment or development naturally lie somewhere on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes.
c) Most assessment centres involve at least some development and most development centres involve at least some assessment. This means that it is very rare to find a centre devoted to pure assessment or pure development. It is easier to think about assessment centres as being equally to do with selection and development because a degree of assessment goes on in both.
d) Development Centres grew out of a liberalization of thinking about assessment centres. While assessment centres were once used purely for selection and have evolved to have a more developmental flavour, the language used to describe them has not. Another problem with using the assessment – development dichotomy is that at the very least it causes us to infer that little or no assessment goes in development centres. While one hears centres being called assessment or development centres, assessment goes on in both and to that extent they are both assessment centres. The end result of this is that it is not possible to talk about assessment or development centres in any but the most general terms. A number of differences between assessment and development centres exist are presented below:
i) Assessment centres have a pass/fail criteria while Development centres do not have a pass/fail criteria
ii) Assessment centres are geared towards filing a job vacancy while Development centres are geared towards developing the individual
iii) Assessment Centres address an immediate organisational need while Development Centres address a longer term need
iv) Assessment Centres have fewer assessors and more participants while Development Centres have a 1:1 ratio of assessor to participant
v) Assessment Centres involve line managers as assessors while Development Centres do not have line managers as assessors
vi) Assessment Centres have less emphasis placed on self-assessment while Development Centres have a greater emphasis placed on self-assessment
vii) Assessment Centres focus on what the candidate can do now while Development Centres focus on potential
viii) Assessment Centres are geared to meet the needs of the organisation while Development Centres are geared to meet needs of the individual as well as the organization.
ix) Assessment Centres assign the role of judge to assessors while Development Centres assign the role of facilitator to assessors.
x) Assessment Centres place emphasis on selection with little or no developmental while Development Centres place emphasis on developmental feedback and follow up with little or no selection function.
xi) Assessment Centres feedback and follow up while Development Centres give feedback immediately.
xii) Assessment Centres give feedback at a later date while Development Centres involve the individual having control over the information obtained.
xiii) Assessment Centres have very little pre-centre briefing while Development Centres have a substantial pre-centre briefing.
xiv) Assessment Centres tend to be used with external candidates while Development Centres tend to be used with internal candidates.