1. A Beginner’s Guide to Assessment and Development Centres
An Assessment centre is a detailed evaluation of an individual’s role fitment by assessing him or her on various aspects required to be successful on the job. It is not a physical location, but a process used by organizations to assess their workforce for various reasons, ranging from recruitment and internal training to promotion and succession planning.
An Assessment centre employs multiple tools to evaluate the extent to which a participant displays selected competencies. It comprises of behavioral simulation exercises in which multiple trained assessors observe participant's behaviors, categorize them according to behavioral competencies and rate those behaviors. Post the exercises, assessment ratings are compiled once the assessors arrive at a mutual agreement. The score is representative of the participants’ behavioral constructs or average overall assessment rating (OAR).
Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations published in Journal of Management
Did You Know?
- Assessment Centers were first used in World War I by Germany to shortlist officers. United States’ Office of Strategic Services also implemented assessment centers to select both military and civilian recruits for espionage activities in World War II.
- Assessment centers were initially known as Selection Assessment Boards when adopted by British Office of Strategic Services in WWII.2
'Spies and Saboteurs' by Dr W.J.Morgan (1955, London – Victor Gollancz Ltd)
- American Telegraph & Telephone (AT&T) became the first private sector company to use assessment centers as a method of assessing its managers’ potential in 1950s.
- AT&T Human Resource director Dr Douglas Bray undertook a 25-year study that tracked the careers of managers as they progressed in the hierarchy.
History of Assessment Centers
1.2 Benefits of Using Assessment Centres
Assessment centers operate more effectively as a part of an integrated talent management system. Assessment centers are generally used for three major purposes: (1) to predict future behavior for decision making, (2) to diagnose development needs, and (3) to develop assesses on behavioral constructs of interest.
To further accomplish the aforementioned purpose, assessment centers are popularly used for the following initiatives-
a) Identification of High Potential Employees
High potential employees are 91% more valuable to a business than non-high potential workers.
High potential employees can raise the performance bar of other workers. Simply adding a star performer to a team alone boosts the effectiveness of other team members by 5-15%. Assessment centres help organizations uncover the ability in someone to be an effective senior manager who drives performance, and the desire to move to the top within your organization. This creates a pool of managerial talent and multi-functional managers who would be available across the business group.
b) Identification of Training Needs
Companies that invest in employee training enjoy 24% more profit margin versus companies that don’t.
Training is an integral part of employees’ career growth. If not given the right training, they tend to leave jobs within the first year. To bridge skill gaps, assessment centres enable organizations to train their current employees and attempt to develop the skills within their staff. They also provide employees and organization with concrete data on areas of improvement. This report serves as a benchmark to further the cause of training the staff.
c) Leadership Development
82 percent of managers, peers and direct reports of trained people witnessed positive behaviors among leaders after they have been through a leadership development program.
Top talent and effective leaders are required to address a myriad of challenges to position the organization towards success. When a company improves their approach to training and developing managers and leaders, the results are astounding. The organizations that use assessment centres to develop their managers report higher sales, lower turnover, higher customer satisfaction and lower absenteeism.
d) Succession Planning
Unsuccessful role transitions lead to 20 percent lower employee engagement and 15 percent lower team performance.
Feedback from assessment centres help organizations identify if the person can handle the challenges offered in the next higher position. They act as a catalyst for change, as leaders learn about the gap between their mindsets and skills and what is required of them to lead effectively. At an organizational level, this information can target specific growth and development programs. This can lead to important information for succession planning by allowing the organization to see if it has the number of employees required to move into key roles in the future.
Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations’ published in Journal of Management enumerates 10 essential elements of assessment centers.
1. Job Analysis
2. Behavioral Categorization
3. Multiple Assessment Methods
4. Tool-Competency Mapping
5. Simulation-based Exercises
6. Certified Assessors
7. Assessor Coaching
8. Behavior Analysis & Rating
9. Data Consolidation
a) Job Analysis
This incorporates an extensive job analysis to determine knowledge, skills, attributes (KSA) for assessing the on-the job performance. It depends on the purpose of the assessment, complexity and the complexity and a prior knowledge about the job. Competencies are defined basis the organization’s vision, values and objectives.
Workplace behaviors demonstrated by participants during ACs must be categorized into relevant groups like competencies, related behavioral indicators, aptitude, ability, knowledge or broader performance groups.
Assessment centres incorporate multiple exercises, including either behavioral simulation or a combination of behavioral, psychometric, competency-based interviews, or situational judgement tests. Data points aid in evaluation and validation. However, the tools should undergo a pilot to ensure the techniques are reliable, precise and provide the relevant behavioral information.
Once the competencies are identified via job analysis, they are then mapped to different assessment techniques. As research demonstrates that assessing fewer competencies is a better predictor of performance, this tool-competency matrix measures four to six competencies for each exercise.
The Assessee is required to respond to work-related case while being observed by assessors. The wide spectrum of these exercises includes in-basket, group discussion, role play, case studies, presentations and fact-finding. Two simulation exercises are required for an in-depth understanding of the individual performance.
Assessors play a crucial role in observing and assessing participants. Assessors with diverse backgrounds and experience observe each participant in at least one simulation exercise. The assessor to participant ratio is minimized to decrease the cognitive load. To eliminate bias, assessors do not evaluate someone they know.
Before the assessment centre, assessors need to undergo two forms of training – behavioral and frame-of reference. In the behavioral training, assessors observe, record and evaluate the assessee's behavior during simulation exercises. In the latter form of training, assessors receive directives on calibrating scores according to pre-decided competencies and relevant behavioral indicators.
Assessors must follow a process to capture relevant behaviors during the AC exercises. This may comprise of making notes, behavioral checklists or behaviorally anchored rating scales. Observations may occur post hoc by accessing audio or video clips of assesses during behavioral simulation exercises.
i) Data Consolidation
Assessors evaluate the candidate's performance based on their observable behavior through various assessment techniques. During an integration discussion, assessors capture relevant behaviors. Overall assessment rating is used for selection while a combination of OARs and competency ratings are used for development purposes.
Procedures like exercise content and duration, role player behavior, number of participants in group exercises, questions asked by assessors, exercise sequence and scoring are controlled to give a fair change to assesses as standardization is crucial for selection and promotion. Exceptions in adherence to standardized procedures are permitted to accommodate assessees with disability.
2. How Can Organizations Successfully Conduct Assessment Centres
2.1 Define the Objective
The foremost thing that organizations should keep in mind is defining a clear objective before exposing its employees to an assessment centre. If there is a need to identify the skills required by the workforce to be effective in a target role, organizations should begin by analyzing the factors that aid in employee performance. These are the skills or behaviors required for a particular role like problem-solving, collaboration and others. If the organization-wide competency framework is not set-up in the first place, assessment partners can help in creating one. By having multiple discussions with the stakeholders, assessment partners not only create a comprehensive organization-wide framework, but also create job-role wise competency frameworks.
2.2 Zero-in-on the Job Levels
Since conducting assessment centres incur a cost for the organization, the human resources along with key stakeholders should narrow down the job roles against various assessment centre techniques. The methods to assess and develop individual contributors, first time managers, mid to senior-level management and leadership positions can vary. Ideally, the exercises must accurately reflect the variety and demands of the target role. Subject Matter Expertise is of the utmost importance to establish which roles are more suited for a certain technique.
Co-relating competency frameworks to relevant exercises goes a long way in bringing about reliable and credible outputs. When organizations try to map their competency frameworks without expert guidance, their return on investment may get affected. To avoid this, an expert in the domain should be consulted for competency-tool mapping. Assessment centre exercises include situational judgement questions, psychometric and cognitive assessments, case studies, group discussion, role play and the list goes on. However, if you do not have an in-depth knowledge of these tools, your assessment and development plans would fail to deliver quality results.
2.4 The Ideal Assessment Centre Process
Assessment centres can resolve a majority of learning and development needs of an organization, if implemented in the right manner. End-to-end management of the practice can be achieved by implementing the following steps with the help of an expert.
The sensing exercise involves understanding the role and levels under consideration. This step is executed by interacting with some of the key stakeholders who possess a detailed understanding of the organization-wide and role-specific expectations. Once SMEs build an understanding of the organizational requirements, a position analysis questionnaire is shared with the organization to capture relevant details. This is followed by focused group discussions and visionary interviews to understand competencies and critical incidences of role holders. SMEs then scan through the details captured in the sensing exercise and identify the tool composition basis the same. Post this exercise, a tool – competency matrix is shared with the client for content validation.
Competency-Tool Mapping in a Virtual Assessment Centre. Each competency is mapped by at least two tools.
b) Creation and Customization of Tools
Post finalization of the matrix, experts create assessment tools’ content specific to organizational needs. The tools are then validated by the psychometricians post which the content is sent to the client for validation from their internal stakeholders. The Assessment creation is based on the bluebook approved by the company. Additionally, the level of difficulty is associated with each question type and the number of questions ,for each level of difficulty are defined.
c) Administration & Management
Online proctoring enables participants to appear in the assessment from anywhere through laptops or personal computers. Test centres are either suggested by experts or the organization in the presence of a proctor. Since multiple tools are involved, different test links are created for different tools and are shared with participants. This also provides a break to test takers in-between sections.
d) Offline Activity (In Case of blended)
On the day of in-person activity, candidates perform tasks in the presence of trained assessors onsite. The assessors observe job-specific behaviors and give scores to participants accordingly. Towards the end of each exercise, assessors collaborate their ratings. This is followed by development feedback by the assessors. After the assessors have collaborated participant scores, assessor and online assessment ratings get consolidated in the form of a report.
e) Report Generation
Assessment centre reports serve as a benchmark for employee development plans since the evaluation is based on multiple inputs. Judgments about behaviors are made from specifically developed assessment simulations. These judgments are pooled in a meeting among assessors or by a statistical integration process.
2.5 Individual Development Plan
Individual development plans list the activities participants can incorporate to grow in their careers.
a) Offline Tools
Offline tools give a personal touch to the assessment centre approach and hence enable assessors to closely map relevant behaviors of participants. The offline tools are used in conjunction with online tests to offer a more comprehensive picture of the participants.
i) Case Study Presentation
Offline case study of real business-related dynamics enable candidates to have to look at multiple problems which they need to explain to assessors in a one-on-one presentation, followed by a Q&A round.
ii) Group Discussion
As a group plays the role of a think-tank that is assigned a task, assessors observe and evaluate candidates on the competencies under consideration.
iii) One-to-one Role Play
This exercise allows assessors to test how the candidates respond and behave with others when put on the spot or dealing with a conflict. It is a useful way of assessing a candidate’s social and communication skills, empathy and ability to influence others in job relevant situations.
iv) Competency Based Interview
It attempts to uncover past performance with questions that require candidates to describe in detail past experiences.It can provide good evidence for how candidates behave in real situations and what their values, attitudes and motivations are.
v) Group Activity
Group activity provides useful evidence of teamwork and the ability to interact and communicate with others.It can also assess the ability to flex their approach and style to others.
b) Online Tools
Online tools mirror real-world scenarios in a simulated environment. They enable participants to take assessments from the comfort of their homes ,since there is no physical element attached to the online version.
i) Psychometric Assessment
It gives the profile of an individual on Big 5 factors divided into 26 facet-like constructs, further mapped to competencies to know the candidate’s behavioral inclination. Psychometric assessment is a valid, standardized and structured way to identify personality traits and types in assessees.
ii) Cognitive Abilities
It measures the candidate’s intellectual skills like observation, memory, visual processing, mental flexibility, critical thinking, and decision making. It tests whether assessees have certain abilities that are required for the job.
iii) Situational Judgement Test
It is an online questionnaire that assesses judgement required for solving hypothetical and challenging situations that one might encounter at work.
iv) Case Study Simulator
In a case study simulator, candidates look through information folders, seek answers to a few questions and try to solve the problem within the available time and resources.
v) Inbox Exercise
Candidates receive background information about the role at hand, a series of e-mails in their mailbox and are expected to provide the best possible responses. It can assess a candidate’s ability to plan and prioritize their time management and problem-solving skills.
Measure a candidate’s behavior in real business situations by evaluating behavioral competencies and reasoning. Candidates are marked on the basis of their approach and decision-making skills. It is suited for junior to mid-level management.
3. How Assessment and Development Centres Are Revolutionizing The Assessment Space
For more than a decade, organizations have preferred going the traditional assessment way as it provides an element of human intervention. However, given the intense manual effort involved, there are several reasons why L&D and HR teams find it difficult to justify the use of physical assessments centres for business.
3.1 Present Scenario
As the talent management space continues to evolve and adopt modern technologies, human resource experts can now leverage technology to train and develop their workforce. To avoid the consequences of relying on a traditional assessment centre, organizations are gradually adopting online tools to speed up the process, in addition to giving as credible outcome as the physical approach. Virtual Assessment Centres can overcome many of the pitfalls of physical assessment, while greatly expanding the potential pool of applicants available to the organization.
With the advent of globalization, the market has become increasingly demanding and competitive. Organizations need to line up their strategic aim with market requirements to survive in this competitive environment. In such a scenario, virtual assessment is a more accurate and standardized process which is ,nowadays, used chiefly by medium and large-size organizations. It is a time and cost effective medium. The assessments can be taken from the comfort of your homes, on a laptop or a desktop. They provide an opportunity for employees to show their suitability and capability for a role in different ways and enable them to take a practical approach to an employer's expectations from a leadership role. It is one of the best methods to predict the on-the-job performance. Virtual assessment centres can be of immense help to goal-oriented organizations as recruiters have more time to focus on their core values. Meanwhile, blended assessment centres that incorporate both virtual and physical elements are increasingly becoming a go to choice of L&D experts.
Increased computational power enables the use of different statistical calculations that reveal different perspectives about issues such as the validity. Participants’ micro-behaviours such as eye-movement, perspiration levels, movement between items when dealing with issues can be captured and analysed by using technology. With the use of algorithms and Big Data, assessment results can be assimilated, and feedback reports generated within hours of completing an Assessment Centre. The possible advantages of the technological advances are manyfold: the accuracy of assessments can potentially increase through the combination of many data points, the speed at which assessment results are available increases, the richness of the feedback can increase. Additionally, organizations are gradually moving towards a blended assessment centre since it incorporates the benefits of both physical and virtual, thus giving an insightful and a data-backed outcome. Assessment Centres have become scalable –anywhere, anytime, for any number of participants.
3.3 Effectiveness of Assessment Centres
Our internal research team deep-dived into the various assessment methods available in the market. The analysis revealed that organizations that chose assessment centres over other methods of evaluation experienced better employee performance. The 'decision to performance' correlation proved to be highest for assessment centres. The following figure demonstrates how new-age methods are impacting the assessment space by enabling organizations to make better people decisions.
3.4 Reasons Why Organizations Are Increasingly Undertaking the Assessment Centre Approach:
a) Relevant Content in a Simulated Environment
As opposed to domain, cognitive and psychometric assessments, assessment centre prove to be more efficient since they effectively measure participants’ competencies in a simulated environment. Additionally, assessees can easily relate with the assessment centre content as the replication of real-world scenarios appear too real to them. Assessment centres prove to be a reliable solution ,specially while assessing mid to senior management, leadership roles and others with high stakes job roles.
b) Constructive & Actionable Feedback
Assessment centres stand out in other forms of assessments. A standard assessment centre is not only aimed at pre-assessment but employee development tool. The performance and their scores are collaborated by assessors ,post which they are given a constructive feedback. This is contrary to traditional forms of assessments where the task ends with the report generation. The one-on-one feedback sessions act as a mirror to assessees ,helping them in carving a development journey. A group-level analysis helps organizations in identifying the training needs of a particular department.
c) Assessment Centre Approaches
Traditionally, assessment centres were conducted offline in the form of a team building activity. However, with the advent of technology, assessment centres have evolved too and organizations are gradually moving towards newer and more convenient methods of developing their workforce.
d) Traditional Assessment Centre
As a part of assessment centres, organizations selectively send employees to an offsite, outside the confines of the office to disconnect from the day-to-day routine, to build employee engagement and become self-aware. There, participants undergo a number of activities like role-play, group discussions, behavioral interviews or case study presentations. Meanwhile, experienced assessors observe and evaluate the participants based on their demonstrative behavior. Towards the end of each activity, assessors collate their observations and discuss each participant’s performance. Once they reach an agreement regarding an individual performance, they create a manual report, based on which participants are given a one-on-one feedback.
Physical assessment centres are not rolled out to all job levels, considering the high stakes and cost involved. They are best suited for senior managers, CXOs and the likes. Also, since this method comes with a lot of inconvenience of managing the logistics, it is not recommended to use this approach.
e) Virtual Assessment Centre
Virtual assessment centre is the online version of traditional assessment centre that provides holistic understanding of a candidate without compromising on the quality and standard set by physical assessment centres. As employees undergo a number of activities in a traditional assessment centre, similarly virtual assessment centre provides a whole range of activities in a simulated virtual environment.
Just like physical assessment centres, virtual assessment centres have multiple tools mapped to behavioral competencies. The tools are administered online, followed by automated reports, thus eliminating the hassle of logistics, reducing manual effort and curbing the overhead costs in conducting an extensive in-person assessment; all this ,without hampering the standardization and accuracy of the results.
Virtual assessment centres are best suited for individual contributors to managers.
f) Blended Assessment Centre
Blended assessment centre is an alternate for traditional assessment centres. The blended approach is a mix of both physical and online tools. In a blended assessment centre, few competencies are mapped using online tools with life-like simulations while the rest are assessed basis physical exercises. While the physical part of assessment remains the same, the total score of assessee is calculated basis their performance in both physical and virtual assessments. Post the assessments, ratings are compiled to give a holistic view of the assessee. This is followed by a one-on-one feedback session by the assessors to further employee development goals.
Blended assessment centre is best suited for mid to senior-level and leadership roles.
Mercer | Mettl assessment centres are designed to help companies identify high potentials, spend on their training and create a succession pipeline. We follow a five-step process to deliver a successful assessment centre.
4.1 Our Approach
Mercer | Mettl is committed to the evolving needs of talent management and development. Which is why we bring on the table two methodologies for conducting hassle free assessment centres – virtual and blended. With a pool of experienced assessors on board, Mercer | Mettl caters to the training and development needs of your workforce.
4.2 Tool-Competency Mapping Matrix
The figure depicts the competencies being mapped with relevant tools in a virtual environment.
The figure depicts the same competencies being mapped effectively to existing tools in blended assessments.