Assess What Needs Assessing

Assessment Centers are used in many large organizations for recruitment and promotion but do they really assess what needs to be accomplished by individuals once they pass?  It’s often quoted that assessment centers are the best indicators of future performance and this may well be true but only if what is assessed is truly representative of what lies ahead for the new recruit or promoted individual.  Herein lies the difficulty when developing and arranging centers that assess an individual’s performance over perhaps one day or two.

First of all it’s worth remembering that assessment centers don’t, for the most part, assess an individual’s knowledge.  There are easier ways in which to do this such as examinations or interviewing to confirm what’s written down on an application.  Assessment centers are meant to gauge an individual’s behavior and ability to deal with complex problems and most importantly how they interact with others.

So, before embarking on the expensive operation of an assessment center for recruitment or promotion there are a number of questions that have to be answered that will determine how it is to be approached.

What’s Needed In Future

Do you really know the kind of person that you need in the future?  Seems a strange question I know and in terms of filling a vacant position it’s likely that you will have a Job and Person Specification that fits the bill in describing what’s needed.  But does it?  Consider the situation where an organization is looking to move into a new sector or start providing additional services over and above the products it sells.  The type of individual looking to be brought in may well need to have a different ‘style’ and set of behaviors to those already in the business but crucially they must fit in and work together with existing employees. 

Looking ahead at the type of organization that is desired is even more important for larger businesses who may use large assessment centers for graduate recruitment or promotion schemes (often favored by public sector bodies).  Assuming you want more of what you’ve always had is very rarely correct and senior leaders must be consulted for their views – that is senior leaders from the value adding part of the organization and not from HR.  A few questions to pose to those senior leaders would be:

  1. How would you describe our business culture in 5  to 10 years time?
  2. What markets and sectors will we be competing in 5 to 10 years from now?
  3. Geographically speaking where will we be operating in 5 to 10 years time?

It might be possible to collate this information from a business plan or strategy document and these might help but it’s always best to speak directly to those at the top to get their views direct.

Get The Right Assessors

A well designed center is useless unless it is managed by appropriate assessors who are familiar with the materials and fully cognizant of the future requirements in terms of organizational culture required for the business.  Becoming familiar with the materials is easy enough but assessor selection has to look carefully for individuals who:

  • Come from the value adding parts of the business,
  • Represent and demonstrate the desired future culture of the business, and
  • Are overtly supported by the senior leadership of the business, CEO or equivalent.

Getting such individuals will of course be difficult but if a business is serious about getting the right people for the future it will ensure its current crop of leaders and managers are made available to assist in this critical activity.  Of course the assessors from the business need to be backed up by professionals who are able to manage the whole process and perhaps those qualified in psychometrics.

The use of external assessors may be appropriate but only if they really can be shown to provide a real benefit maybe in terms of understanding where the business may be going or for very specialized roles.  The use of recently retired senior managers from the organization may be appealing in terms of their availability but their experiences, behaviors and attitudes may not be aligned with what is required going forward.

Assessment Centres can and do deliver excellent results but only if they are designed with the correct criteria in the first place and with the full and unconditional support of senior management.