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1. Defining Terms

1.1 What is an Assessment or Development Centre?

Although the content may differ widely depending on the objectives of the programme, a formal AC or DC should consist of a standardised evaluation of behaviour based on multiple inputs.

  • Assessments are made on several dimensions. The programme should be based on a clearly defined set of dimensions or criteria. These should be identified using a variety of job analysis techniques to ensure their relevance to effective job performance.
  • A variety of assessment techniques are used. A breadth of techniques should be used to ensure comprehensive coverage of attributes and skills, and to increase reliability of measurement. The techniques can include tests, interviews, questionnaires as well as behavioural simulation exercises.
  • Several assessors or observers are involved. The involvement of a number of assessors increases objectivity and impartiality. The assessors should represent personnel specialists and line managers as well as psychologists. All must be thoroughly trained.
  • Several candidates or participants are observed together. This allows interaction between participants, both in the actual exercises and less formally, ensuring that the programme is more interactive as well as more economical. Assessments on individuals have also been done, but this procedure proves costly as the Assessor's consulting fee remains the same, and should the candidate prove to be unsuited to the position, time and money have been wasted.
  • The information is integrated. Any judgements or recommendations resulting from the AC/DC should be based on behavioural information which is drawn together at an integration session.

1.2 Uses of Assessment or Development Centres

Recruitment and promotion

Where particular positions which need to be filled exist, both internal or external candidates can be assessed for suitability to those specific posts.

Early identification of potential

The underlying rationale here is the need for an Organisation to optimise talent as soon as possible. High-potential people also need to be motivated so that they remain with the Organisation.

Diagnosis of training and development needs

Assessment and Development Centres offer the chance to establish individual training and development requirements, while providing candidates with greater appreciation of their needs.

Organisational planning

Assessment Centres can be used to identify areas where widespread skill deficiencies exist within organisations, so that training can be developed in these areas. Results can also be integrated with human resource planning data to provide additional information concerning the number of people with particular skills needed to meet future needs.

Development

Key Issues DURING EACH STAGE OF CENTRE DESIGN

Defining Organisational Objectives

  • Assessment or Development Centres (AC/DCs) need to be an integral part of a human resource strategy.
  • Define the objectives of the programme.
  • Draft a policy statement.
  • Conduct briefing sessions for key individuals in the Organisation to gain commitment to the procedure.

Job Analysis

  • Ensure that a representative range of jobs is sampled.
  • Use a combination of job analysis methods.

Defining Criteria

  • Summarise the job analysis information into a list of criteria (abilities and personality characteristics).
  • Ensure that the criteria are clear, measurable and acceptable to the Organisation.

Selecting/Developing Exercises

  • Each exercise must relate directly to the criteria.
  • Ensure that each exercise is of appropriate difficulty and content, and is a reliable and valid measure.
  • If designing new exercises, ensure that sufficient time is available for a thorough trial and review.

Designing the Assessment/Development Centre Programme

  • Design a balanced assessment matrix.
  • Development Centres should include elements of self and peer observation.
  • Reconfirm objectives, finalise appropriate procedures and produce a policy document.
  • Prepare a briefing document.
  • Design a timetable and produce an assessors' manual.
  • The Assessment/Development Centre can last from one to five days.

Assessor Training

  • The assessors should be selected from a representative set of functions.
  • The assessors should be familiar with all assessment dimensions and exercises and have detailed knowledge of the particular exercises they will be assessing.
  • They should receive training on the skills of behaviour observation, categorisation and evaluation.
  • Appropriate assessors should receive training on giving feedback and writing reports.
  • Newly trained assessors should have the opportunity of practising what they have learned as soon as possible after their training.
  • Assessors should be involved in two or three Assessment/Development Centres a year to "keep in practice".
  • Refresher training should be conducted for those assessors who do not participate regularly.

The Pilot Run

  • Set up the trial run using real assessors and participants who are as like the real participants as possible.
  • Collect as much feedback as possible from the pilot run and be prepared to make amendments.

Implementation

  • Ensure everyone concerned has been briefed appropriately. Open communication is the essence.
  • Adhere as closely to the timetable as possible.
  • Observations and comments on each exercise should be kept discrete until the integration session.
  • The integration session should be conducted immediately after all the exercises have been completed.
  • Sufficient time must be allowed for the integration to do justice to the amount of data collected.
  • The integration must be led by the evidence (observed behaviours) gathered over the event and not by ratings (numbers) or previous knowledge; reports and feedback of results must also be expressed in this manner.
  • An Assessment Centre should be followed promptly by feedback and action planning sessions.
  • At a Development Centre, feedback on exercises should be given during the programme; action plans should be initiated by the individuals.
  • Regular follow-ups should be made.

Review/Validate Procedures

  • Raw data should be maintained in confidential files for monitoring purposes.
  • Periodically, qualitative and quantitative reviews should be conducted.
  • Equal opportunities data should be monitored.
  • The performance of participants at the AC/DC should be compared with measures of job performance to assess the validity of the procedure.

Be prepared to make amendments.

3. Choice of Exercises

3.1 Selecting Exercises.

The exercises and techniques chosen for the Assessment or Development Centre must provide reliable, objective and relevant behavioural information.
Key criteria to be considered are:

  • The behavioural dimensions the exercise measures.
  • The difficulty level.
  • The content/scenario of the exercise.
  • Technical soundness e.g. reliability, empirical validity.
  • Practical constraints e.g. costs, time available for administration and exercise development.

3.2 Developing Exercises

A customised exercise is one developed especially for a particular user and therefore will be tailored to suit organisational needs. They have the following advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • The skill being measured, as well as the level and content of the exercise will be directly related to the job(s) in question. Therefore validity is enhanced.
  • The exercise is likely to seem fair and acceptable to most participants in that it reflects the content of the job.
  • The participants will not have been exposed to the particular exercise before.

Disadvantages

  • Customised exercises require time to design and trial before being available for use. The time required will depend on the type and complexity of exercise, but will range from approximately 5 to 20 days.
  • The initial outlay in terms of cost can be greater.

Should the job or participant population for which the exercise was designed change, the exercise may become obsolete.

3.3 Stages in Developing a Simulation Exercise

If the decision is taken to develop a customised exercise, the typical steps which must be followed are:

  • Research into background information.
  • Designing and writing of exercises.
  • Artwork and production.
  • Drafting of administration, scoring and evaluation guidelines.
  • Trailing of draft exercise.
  • Finalisation of exercise and guidelines.

4. Equal Opportunities

The use of multiple techniques in an Assessment or Development Centre (AC/DC) allows the weaknesses of any particular method to be compensated for by the strengths of another, increasing the overall validity and predictive value of the assessment. The multiple approach also compensates for the lack of skill in certain areas by allowing candidates to show strengths in other areas.

However, the following points should be considered to ensure that AC/DCs are as fair and objective as possible.

  • The possible inhibiting effect of being the only woman or individual from an ethnic minority group. The issue is particularly pertinent in interactive exercises such as a group discussion. The assessors may need to take this into account when evaluating the participant, but on the other hand, this could be a realistic situation. It is good practice to ensure that one of the assessors represents the minority group.
  • The relevance of the issues and scenarios of the exercises for all candidates. This is usually covered by careful design of the exercise.
  • The varying degree of experience that candidates have of participating in assessment programmes. This is usually covered by providing detailed briefing sessions or documents prior to the event.
  • The ability of the observers to judge participants against objective and job relevant criteria, without allowing their own biases and stereotypes to influence them. This is usually covered by appropriate training of assessors in the skills of observing and evaluating behaviours, as well as by enhancing awareness of personal biases.
  • Any background circumstances which may affect a candidate's performance on exercises e.g. disabilities, first language. These factors should be taken account of when planning the assessment and interpreting the results.
  • Equal opportunities data should be monitored and the relevance of the skills and procedures regularly reviewed.

5. Assessment or Development Centres on an International Basis

Multinational organisations are increasingly seeking to co-ordinate the assessment and development of staff across their international offices. The following are some points to consider in designing Assessment and Development Centres with participants from different countries:

  • The objectives of the centre.
  • The acceptability of techniques and activities to different cultures e.g. psychometric testing, feedback.
  • The applicability of content/scenarios of exercises; the exercises should be developed by multinational designers and the amount of verbal information should be minimised.
  • Careful consideration should be given to the pre-centre briefing and a pre-centre language practice session should be conducted with the group of participants.
  • Group sizes should be kept small and more individual exercises should be included.
  • More preparation time can be given for exercises and consideration should be given to allowing participants to complete written exercises in their own language.
  • Psychometric tests should be completed in the participants' first language when possible or the accepted business language.
  • Assessors representing the participants' countries should be involved.

6. Assessment or Development Centre Review

Once an Assessment or Development Centre has been successfully implemented, it merits periodic review to ensure that standards are being maintained and that the different components are working in the intended way.

Analysis should be conducted on the following areas through qualitative content analysis, statistical analysis, attitude surveys and empirical validation studies.

  • Quality of assessor evidence.
  • Balance of input from the individual exercises.
  • Use of rating scales.
  • Perception of participants of the fairness and relevance of the procedure.
  • Empirical validity of the centre.

Permission was kindly granted by SHL to copy sections out of the SHL Guidelines for Best Practice in the Use of Assessment and Development Centres (1993) p. 3-14. For more information visit www.shl.co.za

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