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Jan 31, 2011

About Bottom Lines...

Bottom lines matter.  The consideration of value and costs is important to both clients who use ACs and providers who deliver them.  On the one hand, clients want solutions that help them make better decisions about people and, in this way, add value to their bottom line.  On the other, AC providers want to deliver solutions to clients that offer value-for-money, but that also minimises the product cost component of AC services and, by implication, maximises profit from services delivered. In this lies a possible ethical dilemma: AC consultants are pressured to cut costs where necessary, but at the same time, maintain a service offering that yields the valued results promised to clients.

From the above, a number of interesting questions arise.  How do consultants practically minimise AC costs by means of creative solutions that deliver the same, or better, results, but without sacrificing the utility of the selection procedure or presenting a professional or ethical risk to themselves or their clients?

A number of theoretical inputs have been made regarding these issues.  First, the issue of selection utility comes to mind.  From the client’s perspective, selection procedures are needed that help them make better decisions about people, i.e., they show selection utility.  Selection procedures that demonstrate utility offer a positive return-on-investment (ROI) to clients, in other words, the benefits gleaned from the intervention surpass the costs of the AC intervention.  A number of approaches to estimating selection utility have been developed and have become established in personnel selection practice, for instance the Brogden, Cronbach, and Gleser (BCG) extension of Brogden’s (1949) classical utility model.  Many of these approaches propose that selection utility is largely a linear function of predictive validity, i.e., “do scores from the measure predict important outcomes like job performance?”  Some studies have investigated the selection utility of Assessment Centres directly and have shown that “…even assessment centers with validities as low as .10 showed positive gains in utility over random selection” (Cascio & Silbey, 1979).  Other studies have estimated utility by comparing the predictive validity of ACs in general with that of other selection devices.

Despite these comforting findings, we should critically ask how many practitioners know the degree of validity of the Assessment Centres they implement and, by implication, can calculate the return-on-investment of their services.  Is it ethical to assume that ACs “work” in all projects that are implemented without collecting evidence about their impact?  Further, what are appropriate ways to demonstrate return-on-investment to clients of Assessment Centres?

It should follow, then, that AC providers need to have the bottom line of clients at heart by demonstrating positive practical and/or financial results derived from AC interventions.  AC providers should also ask in what ways they can increase the selection utility of their procedures.  An interesting seminal article by Schmidt and Hunter (1998) shows other selection instruments that offer greater predictive validity (by implication, also selection utility) while costing far less than ACs. For instance, tests of general cognitive ability (GMA) were shown to predict job performance considerably better than ACs, while, at the same time, cost less to implement and were much quicker to execute. Moreover, Schmidt and Hunter’s (1998) results showed that adding ACs to tests of GMA added little (4%) improvement in prediction ability.  Coming back to the issue of the client’s bottom line, we should critically ask ourselves whether ACs are always in the best interest of the client?  The evidence suggests that perhaps AC practitioners should consider integrating assessments in such a way that capitalises on the prediction ability of tests of GMA (by pre-screening) and delivering focused AC interventions that measure constructs distinct from general cognitive ability.  In this way, maximal incremental validity of ACs could be expected.  At the very least, is it possible that practitioners sometimes sell ACs to clients when other solutions could have been more economical?  Do practitioners follow appropriate needs analyses for clients when determining whether ACs are the most appropriate solutions, and what are these?

Other ways are being implemented to deliver the same ‘product’ to clients that minimise costs, such as exploiting web-based technologies for e-ACs, webcam tests, and others.  How can these tests be used most effectively and what is the overall ROI when introducing these solutions to clients?

At the most practical level, we would like to know which practices have been implemented that save costs in an ethically and professionally defensible manner.  In contrast, which cost-reduction practices have been observed that “cross-the-line” of professional, ethical and legal standards that guide AC use?

We would like to invite your comments in this regard since we are aware that bottom lines matter. How do we simultaneously take ethical and professional care of both the client’s and our bottom lines?


Editor: Francois de Kock

26 January 2011

Aug 27, 2010

AC Blog - Let Us Talk

You have Facebook; LinkedIn; Twitter; and now also the AC Blog – a conversation forum dedicated to AC conversation.

Why Have the AC Blog?

Talking about Assessment Centres once a year is not enough.  Conference delegates expressed the need for continuous conversation about the various challenges and issues facing AC practitioners numerous times.  Support on AC related matters was called for, as well as the need to share frustrations and moments of pleasure around AC findings.  To satisfy these needs, we started the AC Blog.

What is the Purpose of the AC Blog?

  • The purpose is to be in continuous conversation with each other on Assessment Centre related issues;
  • To support each other in the ethical implementation of AC practice;
  • To help each other with challenges that might not be solved on our own;
  • To help us market ACs to people who might be sceptic or uninformed about ACs;
  • To have a forum where AC success stories can be shared with each other;
  • To have continuous access to each other’s knowledge and expertise.


How Does the AC Blog Work?

A discussion topic is posted quarterly on the Blog.  Each topic is introduced by one of the AC Blog Editors in the form of a theoretical (research supported) “article.”  All ACSG members participate in the ensuing discussion on the various issues raised.  Once a month, the respective Editor summarises the discussion and perhaps gives the discussion new impetus. 

But there is also a General Discussion section where any topic can be tabled for discussion.

The AC Blog is a new concept and will be refined as we continue with the AC Blog.

Who are the Editors?

The Editors are nominated every second year based on certain criteria.  The Editors can enrol other ACSG members to assist them in their duties. 

The first four brave Editors are: Prof Rian Viviers; Prof Petrus Nel; Prof Deon Meiring and Francois de Kock.

How Do I Participate on the AC Blog

Step 1: On the Home Page, click on New User? in the right column at the top (if you have not already registered as a user)
Step 2: Complete the Join Form that appears on screen
Step 3: Once you click the Registration button, a URL will be generated and e-mailed to you
Step 4: Follow the link to reach a page where you can change your password and complete the registration process
Step 5: Whola! – You are now a registered AC Blog conversationalist.  When you want to converse, click on the AC Blog Pull-Down Menu and make your contribution

General Discussions

Please observe web etiquette when posting and replying to discussions. The ACSG reserve the right to delete any discussions that are not deemed suitable

Jul 05, 2010

Ethical Issues and Challenges of AC in South Africa

The use of the Assessment Centre (AC) technique in South Africa has been around since the 1970s. AC use and application generally aligned closely to the Unites States model with a strong influence from the American experts, Doug Bray and Bill Byham who visited the country and introduced it to organisations. This trend continued in South Africa and soon other organisations adopted the AC model and techniques into their businesses (Meiring, 2008). Since the 1980s ACs and DCs have grown from strength to strength with the Assessment Centre Study Group (ACSG) leading the way in South Africa.  The main aim of the study group has always been to promote the professional and ethical use of the AC technique and to facilitate the exchange of experience and skills with regard to AC practice in South Africa.

In the middle of the 1980s, the ACSG started playing an active role with regard to the professional and ethical aspects of AC. Firstly, appropriate legislation to regulate the use of personnel assessment techniques was lacking and, secondly, consultants and HR practitioners who were not qualified to implement AC methodology were exposed. These issues were considered to be serious and it was decided to adapt the 1979 International Guidelines on AC and Ethical Practice for South Africa. It was furthermore decided to publish a document containing the amended guidelines, as well as the role of the ACSG in monitoring AC applications in South Africa.  Currently the ACSG has published three versions of the guidelines. The 2007 Guidelines is the latest published version and is aligned with the 2000 International Guidelines as well as the 2006 Professional Guidelines for global ACs.

In the absence of laws governing the practice of ACs in SA, the ACSG has assumed the unofficial mantle of “ethics and standards watchdog” in order to ensure that the highest standards of practice are shared with its members through workshops, conferences, an updated website, and now for the first time the AC Blog.

Ethical Issues and Challenges of AC in South Africa is the first discussion topic to be introduced to the AC Blog. The reason for the introduction is the overwhelming reaction and debate the topic generated at the 30th Annual Conference of the ACSG in March 2010 in Stellenbosch. AC practitioners indicated that the time during the conference was too short to have meaningful discussions on the critical ethical challenges thatwere introduced.

The ACSG wishes to open the debate again and give the AC Blogger the opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns and debate these issues. The way we would like to go about it, is to focus on only four (4) ethical AC challenges raised at the conference.

You are welcome to add your comments on these issues to the AC Blog and then follow the discussions as it unfolds. Once a month, the respective Editor (in this case Prof Deon Meiring) will summarise the discussion and perhaps give the discussion new impetus.



[Mis]application of Assessment Centre Results

  1. How do we manage the way AC results are being used by our clients?
  2. What about designing ACs for one purpose and then applying them for something else?
  3. What is our right to recourse if we know an ethical line has been crossed?



Using assessors and role-players who are not properly trained or only partially trained

  1. What role does assessor training play?
  2. How long should the training be?
  3. How frequently should assessor training take place?
  4. How do we manage assessor quality?




  1. When do assessors discuss candidate performance?
  2. Discussing candidates “in the corridors” may well affect how assessors rate them in subsequent exercises. How do we manage this?
  3. Who do we share AC results with?



Scope of Practice

  1. Can the AC not be seen as a psychological act?
  2. Can anybody perform this act, especially if we measure psychological constructs in the AC?
  3. Can everybody be trained to give feedback?



  • The purpose of the AC Blog is to encourage continuous discussion on relevant AC issues throughout the year.  All AC enthusiasts are invited to participate.
  • Please share your comments / ideas / suggestions / recommendations / research findings on the discussion topic with us on the AC Blog. We also invite our International AC enthusiasts to contribute to this discussion.
  • Please also own your contribution by clearly indicating your name and surname.
  • A topic will be on the AC Blog for three months. Once a month the appropriate Editor will summarise the discussion and perhaps provide new impetus to the discussion.
  • The current Editors are: Prof Deon Meiring; Prof Rian Viviers; Prof Petrus Nel; Francois de Kock. Please give your comments on the AC Blog and not directly to the Editors.
  • The Editor for Ethical Issues and Challenges is Prof Deon Meiring.
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