Traditional assessment centres comprise a blend of activities conducted at an offsite for a day or two, under a proctored environment. Generally used for the existing workforce, companies use development centres to assess employees’ training needs, efficiency, hi-po identification and other aspects required to be successful on-the-job. However, physical assessment centres are not rolled out to all job levels. They are best suited for first line managers, senior managers, CXOs and the likes.
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, build employee engagement and to 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 individual employee performance, they create a manual report, based on which participants are given one-on-one feedback.
Drawbacks of Using Physical Assessment Centres
For almost 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 to business. To deep dive into the limitations associated with assessment centres, we interviewed two senior assessors who have developed intel over years of experience through their on-ground support and subject matter expertise.
Akhilesh Bhandari PhillipGabriel
Executive Coach Senior Independent Assessor
1. Logistical Hassle
Physical assessment centres are long and cumbersome. The HR or L&D department has to juggle multitudes of information and tasks to make the process a success. It starts with selecting a vendor since assessment centres are outsourced and a consulting company is the one that provides assessors and suggests the right blend of exercises after discussing with stakeholders. The next comes making all the reservations pertaining to flight and accommodation. Lastly, the availability of relevant employees and assessors needs to be synced so that the assessors and assessees can participate in the offsite activities.
Traditional assessment centres incur heavy investment for organizations, which is why they are typically restricted to certain job-levels where budgets have been pre-approved. The overheads cater to the logistical requirements like the need of experienced assessors, venue and flight reservations. When conducted outside the office premises, traditional assessment centres turn out to be cost-ineffective.
3. Tendency of Bias
Physical assessment centres tend to be somewhat biased towards extrovert employees. Extroverts are good at expressing their views to strangers, cutting in quickly to get their views heard and often dominate group discussions. This is why they get an edge over introverts who are good at listening, absorbing and processing information and expressing views to acquaintances. Additionally, if they have a nervous breakdown due to criticality of the process, the assessment will fail to reflect true picture of the participant’s potential. A half-hearted attempt will yield poor scores, meanwhile, the cumbersome process leaves no scope for re-assessment.
4. Lack of Tool-Competency Mapping
Akhilesh revealed that sometimes he comes across poorly written case studies. The reason can be many ranging from involvement of people who lack the tool knowledge to creation of a case study without mapping it to the right set of competencies. He mentions, “Sometimes, the case study that aims at assessing problem-solving, ends up focusing on a different competency. Unless the case writer looks at all the behaviors and sub-behaviors as a part of competencies which are being assessed for a role, the assessee will not have the opportunity to demonstrate expected behavior.” There seems to be a mismatch between the activity and behavior being captured. Akhilesh’s experience also depicts that sometimes, people with a corporate background are unable to understand and analyze lengthy information. Additionally, poorly written case studies lack the balance between complexity and ease of understanding. Such a mismatch negatively impacts individual ratings as the assessor is only able to give general feedback.
5. Untrained Assessors
Akhilesh notices that some assessors struggle to understand the tools and competencies they map. Since they are not a part of the organization whose employees are a part of the development centre, they somewhat lack understanding of the job role and function at hand. “While many organizations put their assessors through a short training program before the assessment, a few organizations fail to do so,” he adds. Consequently, the assessors become casual in giving ratings to participants.
6. Lousy Scheduling of Exercises
According to Phillip, 60% of the time, the scheduling of different exercises is all over the place. The reason can be attributed to either shortage of time or limited understanding of assessment centre on part of people who create these schedules. “While creating the schedule, vendors tend to put the exercises back-to-back, which leaves no time for assessors to gather their thoughts,” he shares. If the assessors miss out on an issue while observing the assessee perform in a certain exercise, he may not be able to recall it at a later stage. This directly impacts the ratings.
7. Language Barrier
Quite recently, Phillip has started facing a new challenge. He says, “It is surprising to see that even at a manager and senior manager level, people struggle with English language.” He further adds, “While Hindi could be an alternative, it again becomes problematic for people in South India and West Bengal.” Managers employed specially in the manufacturing industry suffer hardship during assessment centres, because their day-to-day conversation is in a local language. Similarly, people in Gujarat find it comfortable to communicate in Gujarati or Marathi. According to Phillip, the problem typically arises in geographies that have a strong local language in place. In such a case, even assessors face difficulty in understanding their lingua. “While the assessee is reading business documents in English, he interprets it in a different language, which is why his comprehension ability also gets hampered,” he mentions.
8. Assessor Bias
A study suggests that assessors judge performance comparatively rather than against fixed standards. Ratings assigned to next in line participants were found to be biased by previously seen participants’ performances. Findings suggested that instances were easily influenced. Few biases directly impact participant scores. The halo and horn effect, a cognitive bias causes assessor to allow one trait, either good (halo) or bad (horn), to overshadow other traits, behaviors or actions. Assessors may also tend to give average scores to participants (central tendency bias).
Assessment centers are difficult to administer, and things may not always go as per the HR’s expectations. The above mentioned issues can create adverse impact on the company’s work culture.
To avoid the consequences of relying on a traditional assessment centre, organizations are gradually adopting the blended approach.
A blended assessment centre is a mix of online and offline tools. Both kinds of tools are scientifically mapped to job-role and related competencies. In the blended mode, each competency is tested by means of two tools which makes this approach more credible. The online assessment involves personality, aptitude, situational judgement and inbox exercises spread over 2-3 hours. The reports are auto-generated.
Around 4-5 days after the online test has been conducted, candidates go through online activities in the presence of trained assessors who observe and rate candidates on the online platform. Towards the end of the offsite activities, assessor rating and online assessment rating get consolidated in the form of a cumulative development report. This report serves as a stepping stone to meeting your learning and development needs as the report can be generated either on individual or group level.
To further your employee development needs, HRs should begin considering a blended approach, instead of the traditional one since it is a cumbersome process that burns a hole in the company’s pocket, in addition to being unable to generate the expected ROI.