Assessment and Development Centres

Research demonstrates that that there is no substitute for objectively observing and systematically measuring how people actually perform "on the ground". A well designed Assessment Centre is the most effective tool available for assessing individuals in both individual and group based environments for selection or development. We provide a complete range of Assessment Centre design and delivery services, from competency matrix design through assessor training, exercise design and the provision of psychometric testing. Even if an organisation has no prior experience of this most effective assessment method we can design and manage the whole process from scratch using either our own established procedures and assessment tools, or designing entirely new and highly organisationally relevant systems and exercises. From the most basic unassigned role exercises to highly complex assigned role problem solving and decision making exercises for senior managers/directors, we apply psychometric rigour to every centre we provide to ensure it is highly accurate, stable and job relevant. There is no such thing a 'standard' Assessment or Development Centre - some can last as little as half a day, while others can go on for three days or more. However, all demand considerable commitment from the host organisation. If you consider that an Assessment or Development Centre may be appropriate for your needs please contact us directly for advice. What is an Assessment/Development Centre? The term assessment centre does not refer to a physical place, instead it describes an approach. 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 fed 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 and are as similar to them as possible.

This new system resulted in a substantial drop in the proportion of officers being 'returned to unit' as unfit for duty. The use of Assessment Centres in The US In the United States assessment centres were initially used by the Office of Strategic Studies to select spies during the Second World War. Sears and General Electric. During the post war years this system was so successful that it was introduced for selection to the Civil Service and a variation of it is still used for officer selection in the armed forces to this day.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 judgement and usually precious little evidence. In the UK a greater emphasis was placed on group exercises with an appointed leader. A History of Assessment Centres The use of Assessment Centres in The UK We can trace the existence of assessment centres back to 1942 when they were used by War Office Selection Boards (Anstey. There are numerous possible competencies and the ones which are relevant to a particular job are determined through job analysis. decision making and initiative. IBM. group discussions and long written exercises whereas in the US more emphasis was placed on in-tray . communication. motivation. There were differences between the US and UK approaches which largely stemmed from the original background to their introduction. The tasks included leaderless group exercises. No wonder unsuitable people were chosen as officers and potentially excellent officers overlooked. 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. resistance to stress. problem solving. The assessment centre approach subsequently adopted was an attempt to accurately elicit the types of behaviour that an officer was required to display in order to be successful in their job. adaptability and flexibility.The particular competencies used will depend upon the target job but one will often find competencies such as relating to people. Even the criteria of 'achievement in the ranks' which one might imagine as being more job relevant included things like 'exceptional smartness'. selection tests and individual interviews by a senior officer. 1989). junior officer and psychiatrist respectively. This is hardly surprising when one considers that the system as it was relied on interviewing to select officers and had as selection criteria things like social and educational background. The fact that a set of exercises is used demonstrates one crucial characteristic of an assessment centre . planning and organising. leadership. Subsequently the use of assessment centres was taken up by the private sector especially the giant American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) which began using assessment centres for management selection in 1956 as well as Standard Oil Ohio. Their introduction stemmed from the fact that the existing system was resulting in a large proportion of those officers it had predicted would be successful being 'returned to unit' as unsuitable.

In 1986 Robertson and Makin reported that slightly more than one quarter of organisations who employed 500 people or more used assessment centres. The main reasons behind this have been the realisation that centres that have an element of selection decision making to them can have a demoralising effect on those individuals who have been deemed unsuccessful. in 1989 Mabey reported that more than one third of companies employing over 1000 people used them while most recently Boyle et al (1993) reported that 45% of organisations who responded used assessment centres and that their use was more prevalent in the private sector and by larger organisations. it is impossible to draw a line between assessment and development centres because all centres. secondly. Firstly. 1993). This has meant that rather than selecting new employees organisations are now investing more in their existing workforce. 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 final reason for the growth in use of development centres has been the widespread adoption of the idea of behavioural competencies in the human resource field. A development centre run as part of an integrated training strategy is an excellent way of ensuring that training is carried out in a context of organisational relevance. leaderless group exercises with assigned roles and two person role plays (Woodruffe. What are the 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.e. . This means that it is very rare to find a centre devoted to pure assessment or pure development. it is common practice for an assessment centre with internal candidates to be referred to as a development centre because of the negative implications associated with assessment. indeed many still do. one for selection and one for development. We have also seen a rise in the use of what we could term 'pure' development centres. The growth of the use of assessment centres in the UK has been rapid. Organisations have also come to realise that to be competitive they must constantly invest in the development of their staff in order to enable them to respond effectively to an increasingly uncertain marketplace. they both involve assessment and it is only the end use of the information obtained which is different i. The use of Assessment Centres in Industry Modern assessment centres in the UK tend now to follow the American format although there are still some which have their roots in the public sector Civil Service model. be they for assessment or development naturally lie somewhere on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes. Traditionally companies who wished to train their staff would send them on a training course external to the organisation. The issue is further confused by the political considerations one must take into account when running such a centre. but there has been an increasing emphasis placed on delivering training that is relevant to the organisation's needs and business objectives.exercises. because development centres are designed around the job simulation format which requires the participant to actively do something they are a naturally effective way of assessing competencies in individuals. thirdly most assessment centres involve at least some development and most development centres involve at least some assessment.

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. In these terms we can identify a number of differences between assessment and development centres that one might typically find: Assessment centres usually have a pass/fail criteria are geared towards filing a job vacancy address an immediate organisational need have fewer assessors and more participants involve line managers as assessors have less emphasis placed on self-assessment focus on what the candidate can do now are geared to meet the needs of the organisation assign the role of judge to assessors place emphasis on selection with little or no developmental feedback and follow up give feedback at a later date involve the organisation having control over the information obtained have very little pre-centre briefing tend to be used with external candidates Development centres usually . It is more useful to talk about the constituent parts and general processes involved in each.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 not have a pass/fail criteria y y y y y y y y y y y y y are geared towards developing the individual address a longer term need have a 1:1 ratio of assessor to participant do not have line managers as assessors have a greater emphasis placed on self-assessment focus on potential are geared to meet needs of the individual as well as the organisation assign the role of facilitator to assessors place emphasis on developmental feedback and follow up with little or no selection function give feedback immediately involve the individual having control over the information obtained have a substantial pre-centre briefing tend to be used with internal candidates . Another problem with using the assessment . While you will hear centres being called assessment or development centres remember that assessment goes on in both and so to some extent at least they are both assessment centres.development dichotomy is that at the very least it causes us to infer that little or no assessment goes in development centres. Development centres grew out a liberalisation of thinking about assessment centres and it is a historical quirk that 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.