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MODULE 6 - Workforce Planning Assessment and Development Centers



The term assessment center does not refer to a physical place, instead it describes an approach. Assessment and development centers are events during which participants undertake simulations and other activities and are observed and assessed against a set of criteria. The term 'centre' is somewhat misleading as it dates from a time in the past when large organizations tended to dedicate a specific location; it has now come to be the label regardless of the venue. Although not everyone uses the same definitions, most assessment centers are focused on providing information on which selection and promotion decisions can be based whereas development centers use the results to devise development plans. It is also possible and quite common, to run a center for both purposes.

Traditionally an assessment center 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 center to one that stresses the developmental aspect of assessment. A consequence of this is that today it is very rare to come across an assessment center that does not have at least some developmental aspect to it, increasingly assessment centers 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 centers 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.

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 Center is the most effective tool available for assessing individuals in both individual and group based environments for selection or development. There is no such thing a 'standard' Assessment or Development Center - 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 organization.


  • Creating a competency based culture in the organisation

  • Identifying and building competencies of individuals as efficient and effective managers

  • To ensure that right people are identified and placed in the right jobs & employee potential is identified, developed and utilized to the fullest extent.

  • Help uplift the competencies of critical groups of managers by providing them insights into their competencies and developmental opportunities

Assessment/development centers typically involve the participants completing a range of exercises that 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. The particular competencies used will depend upon the target job but one will often find competencies such as relating to people; resistance to stress; planning and organizing; motivation; adaptability and flexibility; problem solving; leadership; communication; decision making and initiative. There are numerous possible competencies and the ones, which are relevant to a particular job, are determined through job analysis.

The fact that a set of exercises is used demonstrates one crucial characteristic of an assessment centre - namely that it is behavior that is being observed and measured. This represents a significant departure from many traditional selection approaches that rely on the observer or selector attempting to infer personal characteristics from behavior based upon subjective judgment and usually precious little evidence. 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 organization.

The War Office ran the original assessment centers many years ago as a quick yet reliable way of identifying that had officer potential. The method was picked up by the US military, and subsequently by US industry. Eventually it migrated back to UK industry. Much research was conducted in the USA by AT&T, who assessed people and then kept the results secret for years in order to check the validity of the assessments. This and later research has confirmed that assessment centers are indeed a reliable way of identifying potential.

Why use an Assessment / Development Center?

A well prepared and conducted Assessment / Development Center provides the best opportunity for making the correct recruitment selection and development decisions. The reason for this is that at an interview an applicant will tell an interviewer how good he/she is: during an Assessment / Development Center he/she will have to prove it.

What can Assessment / Development Centers include?

Having decided on the competencies required in the target job, exercises, such as those listed below, can then be used to help identify if the participant has those competencies:

§ Psychometric tests: verbal and numeric ability tests and a personality questionnaire

§ Questionnaires to test, for example, management knowledge; product knowledge; sales knowledge; company procedural knowledge.

§ In-tray exercise to help identify retail competencies such as: delegation, decisiveness, communication, planning, judgment, initiative, management control, problem analysis, and time management

§ Retail management skills inventory to ascertain the participant’s views on the competencies required to be successful in the job

§ Exercises to observe each participant’s leadership skills in group situations

§ Retail Management Trainee exercise to observe the participant's ability to seek out information, to make decisions, and then defend those decisions

§ Retail Business Consultant exercise in which the participants have to analyze a business proposition and decide on a course of action, which once chosen, they have to defend by logic and reasoning

§ Retail Customer Complaint exercise to assess the participant's ability to deal with very difficult and possibly aggressive customers.

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 that involves self-assessment and whose primary purpose is development. One might ask the question 'Why group assessment and development centres together if they have different purposes?' The answer to that question is threefold. Firstly, they both involve assessment and it is only the end use of the information obtained which is different i.e. one for selection and one for development; secondly, it is impossible to draw a line between assessment and development centres because all centres, be they for assessment or development naturally lie somewhere on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes; thirdly most assessment centres involve at least some development and most development centres involve at least some assessment. This means that it is very rare to find a centre devoted to pure assessment or pure development. The issue is further confused by the political considerations one must take into account when running such a centre; 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.

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 both. Development centres grew out a liberalization 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 flavor the language used to describe them has not. Another problem with using the assessment - development dichotomy is that at the very least it causes us to infer that little or no assessment goes in development centres. 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. 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. It is more useful to talk about the constituent parts and general processes involved in each. 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 organizational 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 organization

  • 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 organization having control over the information obtained

  • Have very little pre-centre briefing

  • Tend to be used with external candidates

Development centres usually

  • Do not have a pass/fail criteria

  • 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 organization

  • Assign the role of facilitator to assessors

  • Place emphasis on developmental feedback & follow up with little/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

In essence both types of Centre use the same methodology but with different purposes.

Assessment Centers are used for:

  • Selection

  • External recruitment

  • Internal promotion and usually constitute the end of a process

Development Centers are used for:

  • Identifying ‘fast track’ potential

  • Diagnosing job-related strengths & weaknesses represent the start of a process

Having said that, it is possible to have an event which has a mixed purpose. In terms of development for example, the Centre can aid an for the future skill requirements of the business and it can also allow certain individuals to be pinpointed as having potential for future promotion or succession.



There are a number of significant benefits that arise from running assessment or development centers:

  • They generally lead to significantly better decisions than would be made through interviews or where they are based on past performance. Candidates, who therefore feel the organization has treated them reasonably even if they do not get selected or promoted as a result, see it as ‘fair’.

  • They have high face validity, particularly when managers are the assessor’s -so the final assessments are readily accepted by line managers.

  • They provide the organization with up-to-date information on current and/or potential capabilities on which to base development activities and succession planning.

  • They give participants an opportunity to demonstrate their real potential -especially important if they have been discouraged or misunderstood by their present manager (assessment centre stars are sometimes the same people that are regarded as troublemakers by their bosses, because they show characteristics such as decisiveness that are unwelcome in junior roles).

  • They provide the organization with the chance to identify potential that has been deliberately or unwittingly hidden.

  • Involvement as assessors leads to increased skills of observation and assessment against factors which are directly related to performance,

  • Assessors learn skills at giving feedback; participants (and their managers if appropriate) learn skills in listening to and using feedback constructively.

  • Participants and assessors become more flexible because they are exposed to new ways of tackling familiar tasks.

  • Identifying the criterion forces an organization to investigate and focus on the behaviors that are really linked to effective performance.

  • The work involved in the various stages of designing and running centres signals that the organization is committed to developing its members.


Although the benefits may well outweigh the disadvantages, there are still a number of drawbacks to consider:

  • The most significant of these is cost, particularly in terms of time taken to:

    • Research the criteria

    • Design or choose the simulations and other activities

    • Brief all concerned

    • Train the assessors

Have participants and assessors there throughout the program, which is unlikely to take less than one day and may well take three days plus another two days for the assessors to pool their results and yet more time for feedback interviews that may also involve the managers of the participants. Additional problems may arise due to career or development aspirations being raised.

  • Participants may subsequently become de-motivated if promotions or training opportunities are not available and those who are assessed highly may leave the organization for better prospects elsewhere.

  • Those who receive poor assessments may also become demotivated and need support to come to terms with their results – it can be very discouraging to be forced to accept our limitations.


The following is an overview of the key steps in introducing an assessment or development centre:

Making the decision

  • What do you want to achieve - the best possible selection decisions or identification of potential so you can initiate development activity? Or is it participant-focused, so that people will recognize their own development needs?

  • Who will the participants be? How will they be selected for attendance? Beware of allowing managers to choose as this often defeats the purpose of having a centre.

  • Before you commit to a significant investment in centers, check how else you might attain what your organization needs. Will any of those be more cost-effective or culturally acceptable?

Selecting the criteria and the activities

  • Will you research your own or use an off-the-shelf set?

  • How will you ensure that these are truly relevant for your organization, now and in the future?

  • Will you need a steering group and if so, who should be in it so you get a broad spread of opinions?

Involving others

  • Who will need to know about the centers? How will you brief and enthuse line management? How will you brief and reassure employees (and their representatives)? How will you encourage employees to opt to participate or what will you need to tell external candidates?

  • Who will be the assessors? How will you train them - so they understand the activities, can observe and assess, give feedback, discuss development options with participants and their managers?

  • How will the results be used? Who will have access to the results? How will you ensure that only people who understand the assessment process use results? How will you avoid outdated results being referred to at some future time? What are the links to other systems such as appraisal and training?

Administering the centre

  • Who will be competent to administer a centre where you may have as many as 16 participants and 8 assessors, all operating to individual programmes, with masses of documentation to be distributed, completed, copied and collated?

  • Who will chair the discussion at which assessors pool their assessments? This will need to be someone competent to ensure all assessor views are noted, particularly if some assessors are more senior or more vocal.

Using the results

  • What arrangements will you have for feedback to candidates? For internal participants, what involvement will their managers have? (For example, the assessor might meet manager and participant to discuss strengths and development needs - preferably without sharing any ratings, as managers tend to confuse these with current performance appraisals.)

  • What systems will you need to ensure results are used only for agreed purposes, and how will you ensure they are destroyed once they are out of-date?


  • To evaluate the program design, ask participants and assessors about: the realism of the simulations the range of activities the perceived relevance of the criteria the accuracy of the feedback.

  • To evaluate the centre itself, wait a few months and then ask: how selected candidates are performing in the job how feedback was used what happened to the development plans what assessors and participants feel they learned from the process.

  • To evaluate the use of centres in general, observe: how the approach has impacted on the organizational culture whether people are taking more responsibility for their own development whether assessors are now more skilled at assessing performance and encouraging development generally and whether morale has improved.


In order to reflect the current or potential range of tasks and responsibilities, a centre is likely to include simulations such as:


  • These may be with or without a chairperson, with or without in-built conflict of aims, with or without an element of negotiation or influencing rather than simply giving information or directives, and as a team or as a collection of individuals with different priorities. It is sensible (and kinder) to start a centre with a conflict-free meeting so that participants have a chance to get to know each other and settle in.

  • A meeting where participants are given conflicting briefs is better run a bit later; otherwise participants will expect the whole event to be contentious!

  • If you want to assess chairing skills, you will need to arrange it so that each participant has the opportunity to be chairperson; you will therefore need a number of meeting topics.

  • Beware of assessing a participant who has been expected to chair the first meeting of the centre - they may be far unsure of the process than someone who takes the chair after seeing several others do so.


These are given with or without an element of persuasion, to a group or to an individual such as a senior manager who needs briefing. The group may consist of other participant’s and/or assessors, or may be a specially created audience. A range of topics will be needed if participants are to see each other's presentations - otherwise the last candidate has a major advantage.

One-to-one activities

These include selling or negotiating, dealing with customers or clients, counseling or coaching someone, conducting appraisals, handling disciplinary or grievance interviews.

Written activities

These include dealing with in-baskets of correspondence and messages, producing reports, minutes or briefing papers, or maintaining notes during specific periods of the centre.

Planning and organizing activities

These require participants to comprehend information, determine priorities, plan what to do and how to monitor it. Participants may be provided with fictitious teams and projects to see how they organize them.

Contingency activities

These deals with interruptions and changes in priorities. Where activities require the presence of someone other than the participants, these can be role-played by professionals, by the assessors, or by others who are unconnected with the assessment process.

Other activities that are typically included within centers are:

Tests and questionnaires

Such as for knowledge, ability, aptitude, intelligence, personality, team or leadership styles, occupational fit. It is essential that these are professionally chosen and administered to ensure they are valid contributions to the assessment process. There should be a proven link between any test results and the competencies that are being assessed.


These may be with assessors or with other professionals. For example, assessors can usefully interview participants to discuss how they handled a written activity; this will provide valuable extra information that often cannot be ascertained from the written notes alone. Interviews to explore candidates' previous experience and/or career expectations will also add to the process. Psychologists may interview participants as part of the process of administering and interpreting psychometric questionnaires. Participants may bring information with them for discussion, such as 360-degree feedback or their appraisal results.


Assessment Centres have an impressive pedigree. Primarily a British invention they were formulated During World War II by the War Office Selection Board (WOSB), as well as the American and German armed forces. Let us look at the initiation and growth of assessment / development centers over the period of time and their increasing popularity in chronological order:

Early Roots (“Pre-history”)

§ Early psychometricians (Galton, Binet, Cattell) tended to use rather complex responses in their tests

§ First tests for selection were of “performance” variety (manipulative, dexterity, mechanical, visual/perceptual)

§ Early “work samples”

§ World War 1

§ Efficiency in screening/selection became critical

§ Group paper-and-pencil tests became dominant

German Officer Selection (1920’s to 1942)

§ Emphasized naturalistic and “Gestalt” measurement

-Used complex job simulations as well as “tests”

-Goal was to measure “leadership,” not separate abilities or skills

§ 2-3 days long process

§ Assessment staff (psychologists, physicians, officers) prepared advisory

report for superior officer no research built-in

§ Multiple measurement techniques, multiple observers, complex behaviors

Harvard Psychological Clinic Study (1938)

§ Henry Murray’s theory of personality

§ Sought understanding of life history, person “in totality”

§ Studied 50 college-age subjects

§ Methods relevant to later AC developments

§ Multiple measurement procedures

§ Grounded in observed behavior

§ Observations across different tasks and conditions

§ Multiple observers (5 judges)

§ Discussion to reduce rating errors of any single judge

British War Office Selection Boards (1942 . . .)

§ Sir Andrew Thorne had observed German programs

§ WOSBs replaced a crude and ineffective selection system for WWII


§ Clear conception of leadership characteristics to be evaluated which were:

-Level of function

-Group cohesiveness


§ Psychiatric interviews, tests, many realistic group and individual


§ Psychologists & psychiatrists on assessment team—in charge

was a senior officer who made final suitability decision.

§ Lots of research

§ Criterion-related validity incremental validity over previous method

§ Spread to Australian & Canadian military with minor modifications

British Civil Service Assessment (1945 . . .)

§ British Civil Service Commission—first non-military use

§ Part of a multi-stage selection process

§ Screening tests and interviews

§ 2-3 days of assessment (CSSB)

§ Final Selection Board (FSB) interview and decision

§ Criterion-related validity evidence

OSS Program: World War II

§ Goal: improved intelligence agent selection

§ Extremely varied target jobs—and candidates

§ Key players: Murray, McKinnon, Gardner

§ Needed a practical program, quick!

§ Best attempts made at analysis of job requirements

§ Simulations developed as rough work samples

§ No time for protesting

§ Changes made as experience gained

§ 3 day program, candidates required to live a cover story throughout

§ Used interviews, tests, situational exercises such as follows:

-Book exercise

-Wall exercise

-Construction exercise (“behind the barn”)

-Obstacle exercise

-Group discussions

-Map test

-Stress interview

§ A number of personality/behavioral variables were assessed

§ Professional staff used (many leading psychologists)

§ Rating process:

-Staff made ratings on each candidate after each exercise

-Periodic reviews and discussions during assessment process

-Interviewer developed and presented preliminary report

-Discussion to modify report

-Rating of suitability, placement recommendations

§ Spread quickly...over 7,000 candidates assessed

§ Assessment of Men published in 1948 by OSS Assessment Staff

-Some evidence of validity (later re-analyses showed a more positive picture)

-Numerous suggestions for improvement

AT&T Management Progress Study (1956 . . .)

§ Designed and directed by Douglas Bray

-Longitudinal study of manager development

-Results not used operationally

§ Sample of new managers (all male)

-274 recent college graduates

-148 non-college graduates who had moved up from non-management jobs

§ 25 characteristics of successful managers selected for study based upon research literature and staff judgments, not a formal job analysis

§ Professionals as assessors (I/O and clinical psychologists)

§ Assessment Techniques


-In-basket exercise

-Business game

-Leaderless group discussion

(Assigned role)

-Projective tests (TAT)

-Paper and pencil tests (cognitive

and personality)

-Personal history questionnaire

-Autobiographical sketch

§ Evaluation of Participants

-Written reports/ratings after each exercise or test

-Multiple observers for LGD and business game

-Specialization of assessors by technique

-Peer ratings and rankings after group exercises

§ Presentation and discussion of all data

-Independent ratings on each of the 25 characteristics

-Discussion, with opportunity for rating adjustments

-Rating profile of average scores

-Two overall ratings: would and/or should make middle management

within 10 years

Michigan Bell Personnel Assessment Program (1958)

§ First industrial application: Select 1st-line supervisors from craft population

§ Staffed by internal company managers, not psychologists

-Extensive training

-Removed motivational and personality tests (kept cognitive)

-Behavioral simulations played even larger role

§ Dimensions based upon job analysis

§ Focus upon behavior predicting behavior

§ Standardized rating and consensus process

§ Model spread rapidly throughout the Bell System

Use expands slowly in the ‘60’s

§ Informal sharing of methods and results by AT&T staff

§ Use spread to a small number of large organizations such as IBM, Sears, Standard Oil (Ohio), General Electric, J.C. Penney.

§ Bray & Grant (1966) article in Psychological Monographs

§ By 1969, 12 organizations using assessment center method closely modeled on AT&T which included research component

§ 1969: two key conferences held

Explosion in the ‘70’s

§ 1970: Byham article in Harvard Business Review

§ 1973: 1st International Congress on the Assessment Center Method

§ Consulting firms established (DDI, ADI, etc.)

§ 1975: first set of guidelines & ethical standards published

§ By end of decade, over 1,000 organizations established AC programs

§ Expansion of use:

-Early identification of potential

-Other job levels (mid- and upper management) and types (sales)

-U.S. model spreads internationally

Use of Assessment Centres in The UK

We can trace the existence of assessment centers back to 1942 when they were used by War Office Selection Boards (Anstey, 1989). 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. 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. Even the criteria of 'achievement in the ranks’, which one might imagine as being more jobs relevant, included things like 'exceptional smartness'. No wonder unsuitable people were chosen as officers and potentially excellent officers overlooked. The assessment center approach subsequently adopted was an attempt to accurately elicit the types of behavior that an officer was required to display in order to be successful in their job. The tasks included leaderless group exercises, selection tests and individual interviews by a senior officer, junior officer and psychiatrist respectively. This new system resulted in a substantial drop in the proportion of officers being 'returned to unit' as unfit for duty. 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.

Use of Assessment Centres in The US

In the United States assessment centers were initially used by the Office of Strategic Studies to select spies during the Second World War. Subsequently the use of assessment centers was taken up by the private sector especially the giant American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) that began using assessment centers for management selection in 1956 as well as Standard Oil Ohio, IBM, Sears and General Electric. There were differences between the US and UK approaches which largely stemmed from the original background to their introduction. In the UK a greater emphasis was placed on group exercises with an appointed leader, group discussions and long written exercises whereas in the US more emphasis was placed on in-tray exercises, leaderless group exercises with assigned roles and two person role plays (Woodruff, 1993).

Use of Assessment Centers 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. The growth of the use of assessment centres in the UK has been rapid. In 1986 Robertson and Makin reported that slightly more than one quarter of organizations who employed 500 people or more used assessment centres, 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 organizations.

We have also seen a rise in the use of what we could term 'pure' development centres. The main reasons behind this have been the realization that centres that have an element of selection decision making to them can have a demoralizing effect on those individuals who have been deemed unsuccessful. Organisations have also come to realize 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. This has meant that rather than selecting new employees organisations are now investing more in their existing workforce. Traditionally companies who wished to train their staff would send them on a training course external to the organization, indeed many still do, but there has been an increasing emphasis placed on delivering training that is relevant to the organization’s needs and business objectives. 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 organizational relevance. A final reason for the growth in use of development centres has been the widespread adoption of the idea of behavioral competencies in the human resource field, 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.

Going forward let us understand assessment and development centers in detail separately.


What is an Assessment center?

An assessment center is a method of predicting future performance by using simulations and other techniques to measure a candidate's ability to handle future responsibilities. Because it looks at future, rather than past or present performance, a centre is particularly suitable for establishing who has capabilities that they have not been called upon to use so far. It is particularly useful, therefore, when people are about to move into a different kind of work, such as into supervision or management for the first time.

Usual process involved in an assessment center is as follows:

1. Identify the criteria associated with successful performance (this may of course require considerable research into competencies).

2. Select simulations and other appropriate ways to measure candidates (again, this may require research to be confident of a good match).

3. Select assessors, who should normally be the people who are responsible for judging performance at the target level, i.e. who will appraise the candidate should they be given the new responsibilities.

4. Train assessors - so they know the activities and the assessment process - and ensure they will assess consistently with each other.

5. Run the centre, during which assessors observe participants as they engage in a series of activities and collect evidence to assess them against the agreed list of criteria.

6. Pool the various assessments and any other information (e.g. test results, personality profiles).

7. Optionally provide feedback to participants.

8. Use the results as a guide when making selection, promotion or succession planning decisions.

An assessment center is one of several selection devices used to determine a candidate's qualifications for a particular supervisory or managerial position. Individual and group exercises are administered under standardized conditions, which simulate the skills and abilities most essential for successful performance. The candidate's behavior is observed by a team of trained assessors, qualified individuals who are familiar with the requirements of the job and the format of the assessment center. They have been specifically trained in group and interpersonal skills, observation of behaviors, and the exercises used during the center.

Assessment center exercises include but are not limited to:

  • In-basket Exercise: This consists of a variety of memos, letters, and documents of varying importance, which the candidates respond to and prioritize.

  • Leaderless Group Discussion: In this exercise, candidates are given a specific problem in which they are instructed to try and reach a group consensus within a specified amount of time. This exercise measures qualities such as decision making, cooperation, and interpersonal skills.

  • Oral Presentation Exercise: With this exercise, candidates give an oral presentation in which they must defend their positions and recommendations to a specific issue.

  • Role Play Exercise: In this exercise, a candidate deals with a subordinate, irate citizen, or member of the community. This exercise measures such skills as communication, problem solving, and interpersonal skills.

  • Written Report/Analysis Exercise: With this exercise, a candidate is presented with a job-related topic and is instructed to write a report, position statement, or outline of a new policy.

Who should use the assessment center?

Any local government or nonprofit organization which feels that standard tests and oral interviews do not measure a candidate's managerial potential. Assessment centers may be used to select candidates for upper-management positions within various departments such as the Administrative, Service, Finance, or Safety Departments. The assessment center approach offers the municipality an additional dimension to the entire selection process.

Advantages to the Organization

The assessment center offers an additional opportunity to assess those skills, which do not surface on a written test or oral interview. The assessment center rates candidates on how well they perform during job-related exercises. With the problems organizations face these days, it is important that qualified individuals are appointed to supervisory or managerial positions.

Assessment Center Cost

The basic cost for an assessment center provided by the Center for Public Administration and Public Policy at Kent State University is $2500 (three to six candidates), plus $400 for each additional candidate. The fees listed represent typical project costs. However, because each project is designed to the specific client request, all fees are negotiated at the time the contract for services is designed. Services included in the cost are: one-day session, all materials used during the assessment center session, the honorarium fee for all assessors, refreshments and a luncheon for all participants, mailing of information to participants and assessors prior to the assessment center.

Essential Features of an Assessment Center

§ Job analysis of relevant behaviors.

§ Measurement techniques selected based on job analysis.

§ Multiple measurement techniques used, including simulation exercises.

§ Assessors’ behavioral observations classified into meaningful and relevant categories (dimensions, KSAOs).

§ Multiple observations made for each dimension.

§ Multiple assessors used for each candidate.

§ Assessors trained to a performance standard.

§ Systematic methods of recording behavior

§ Assessors prepare behavior reports in preparation for integration

§ Integration of behaviors through:

§ Pooling of information from assessors and techniques;

§ “Consensus” discussion - Statistical integration process

Implementing an assessment center

Once a need has been identified for an Assessment or Development Centre, the organizer must obtain commitment to the process from other individuals in the organization, especially senior management and The Board. Following this a policy statement should be issued, outlining the purpose of the Centre, Assessors, how the results will be used and the type of feedback that will be given. Once the policy statement is in place, job analysis must be conducted to identify the criteria required for successful job performance. This information is used to help design the content of the Centre including exercises, which seem to replicate job tasks.

A good Assessment Centre exercise should simulate the nature and demands of the target job being assessed, so there is a requirement for the exercises to have Content Validity and Face Validity. Put in simple terms they are about ensuring that the content of an exercise broadly reflects what an individual would do in the target job (Content Validity) and that the exercise appears to be relevant to the target job (Face Validity). Once the exercises themselves have been designed, the program of the Centre and the assessor training should be designed. Further, if any role-playing exercises are being used the role-players, who could be actors or line managers, need to be trained and briefed. Once the participants have undertaken all of the exercises, the assessors come together and discuss the judgments they have made. The aim of the discussion is to reach a consensus regarding the performance of the participants in relation to the competencies.

This information is used to generate a report that may include a summary of their overall performance and comments about their performance on specific exercises. Subsequently recommendations are made regarding recruitment, training or development, depending on the purpose of the Centre. Finally, and especially in a Development Centre, feedback should be given to participants regarding their performance and the outcome of the Centre.


What is a Development Center?

Development centers are run in a similar way to assessment centers, although the focus is on producing feedback as a guide to future development and training needs. Thus, a development centre is still a series of simulations and related activities, with multiple assessments against a predefined set of criteria. In many cases, a developmental aspect is included within an assessment centre anyway and participants are given detailed feedback about their results and helped to draw up development plans. However, development centers may also be run to assess current, rather than potential, performance. When this is the case, peer assessors are often used. This has the benefit of reducing the cost, as peer assessors tend to have lower salaries than senior assessors do. They are also likely to be better able to find time for the centre, especially as they will in turn be being assessed during the event. Another key advantage to peer assessment is that it has greater impact on individual participants, who will often believe and act on feedback from colleagues but would have doubted or ignored it if it came from their manager.

Unlike a pure assessment centre, where participants are given no feedback until the end (and sometimes not even then), development centers are often designed so that feedback can be given after each activity. This allows participants to incorporate it as they go along. If the feedback reflects lack of a competence, the participant can at least begin thinking about the sort of behavior they need to use even if they cannot yet display it. In this way, a development centre may be similar to an experiential training event.

The key principles for development centers are similar to those set out above for assessment centers, with some significant additions if peer assessment is used:

  • Participation must be voluntary. People cannot be 'forced' to assess their colleagues; nor will the centre function well if participants are unwilling to accept feedback from each other.

  • The results must be 'owned' by the individual participant, who decides how much to share with management. Without this protection, peer assessors will be unlikely to offer genuine assessments about the weaknesses of their colleagues (unless they want to become unpopular!). An amendment to the principles may also be needed whether peer or senior assessors are used.

  • The activities may be selected to reflect the current rather than promotional level of tasks and responsibilities. For current level assessment, it may still be useful to include tasks that are not currently within the remit of the participant. For example, the same level of work within a department might involve attendance at meetings even though a participant might currently work in a section where meetings are rare.


It is quite common in both the private and public sectors, for line and HR managers to work together as assessors, with the latter providing a different perspective to the more operationally focused line manager. External consultants may often also be involved in the process to provide independent and expert advice. The assessors will observe, record, classify and evaluate candidate’s behavior against the organization’s competencies (the criteria that are considered relevant to the target job). Objectivity is paramount. Being an assessor is a very skilled and demanding job. Best practice advocates a minimum of 2-3 days for Assessor Training (Ballantyne and Povah, 1995) and quite possibly as many as 5 days, if feedback skills need to be practiced and developed. In the US, guidelines for assessor training are included within the ‘Standards and ethical considerations for Assessment Centre operations’. These standards are regularly reviewed and whilst they are not enforceable, they provide a helpful framework. Some of the skills they recommend

Assessors be required to display include:

  • Thorough knowledge and understanding of the assessment dimensions, definitions of dimensions, relationship to job performance, examples of effective and ineffective performance etc.

  • Demonstrated ability to observe, record and classify behavior shown during the Centre.

  • Thorough knowledge and understanding of evaluation and rating procedures including how

  • The Assessment Centre staff integrates data.


Centres provide a valid and highly credible source of information about candidates. It is therefore essential that the criteria against which they are assessed are truly associated with successful performance. If the wrong criteria are used, the process will systematically lead to the wrong decisions and the impact on the organization may not become apparent until it is too late. There are basically two ways of selecting a suitable competence framework: use an off-the-shelf list or research your own. The key factors for either approach are:

What does effective performance look like?

You will need to identify some effective and less effective performers so that you can compare their behaviors and identify those associated with success. Note that these may not be the 'textbook' answers - in real life it is rarely that simple. Note also that a 360 degree perspective adds accuracy - what seems effective from below may not even be evident to those above, and what colleagues think is important may be different again. Identifying key competencies is, of course, even more difficult if you are creating a new role. In that case, you may have to settle for collecting as many views as possible and then carefully monitoring the results.

How will assessments be made against the criteria?

Good assessments are based on observable behavior or results and not on interpretations. The criteria therefore need to be stated in behavioral terms that will be understood and applied consistently by different assessors. This needs to be checked even when you have identified in-house criteria; people often use identical words in different ways. For example, integrity has been found to mean variously: working long hours without being asked; never being caught out in a lie; and wearing a suit and tie to meetings. The problem of meanings will be even more acute if you use a list of criteria developed elsewhere.


There is a wealth of empirical data demonstrating the validity of Assessment Centre findings. For example, one of AT&T’s studies compared 40 employees promoted through the use of Assessment Centres with 40 who had been selected by other means. They discovered that two thirds of the former group was found to be more than satisfactory in their job performance compared with only one-third of the latter group.

There are several key principles, or ethics, that must apply if a centre is to be fair and valid.

The simulations and other activities must represent the future tasks and responsibilities - this should include matching the environment and working conditions (for example, there should not be a time limit on a task that could normally be taken home overnight). · Simulations should, however, be based in fictitious organizations or situations -if you use familiar circumstances participants are likely to give learned responses or copy what they have seen others do. For example, someone with an ineffective manager may nevertheless act in the same way because they believe this is what the organization wants.

· Performance in one simulation should not be dependent on or influenced by performance in another (for example, poor decision-making at one stage should not mean some candidates are disadvantaged at a subsequent presentation of their ideas).

· There must be multiple assessments - assessors/participant combinations are rotated so that several assessors see each participant. This counteracts the risk of having an incompetent assessor.

· There must be separate assessments - to avoid bias the assessors should not discuss their opinions with each other until the end of the programme.

· There must be multiple opportunities to display competence - because people often behave differently in different circumstances, there should be overlap between activities so participants have more than one chance to demonstrate what they are capable of.

· All participants should go through the same experience - they should have the same workload, undertake activities in the same order, where this might be significant. A common mistake here is to have one participant do a presentation after a break while another comes immediately into their presentation from another activity. The first participant has the opportunity to relax beforehand; the second does not.


The multiple assessment process is being applied to a wider range of people as its benefits and validity are becoming more recognized. Where its primary use was for selection and training of graduates and managers, it is now being applied to those on the shop floor and other levels. The concept is also moving into areas of industry that had not previously explored the advantages of the process. The Assessment Centre principles can also be applied to training in terms of self-development. The work together to make decisions about work-related situations or scenarios. There are also two types of group discussion: Assigned Roles and Non-Assigned Roles. In the former the participants each have different roles and often competing interests and they may represent different functions of an organization. Their objective is to reach decisions that will benefit both themselves and the organization. In Non-Assigned Role Exercises participants are all given the same brief and must co-operate with each other. We have also seen many companies doing assessment centers as part of their selection procedure in management institutes across India. This has been a major change from the selection procedures followed earlier by these same companies as companies feel that this is the most effective way of judging the students and getting the right fit. On the other hand, some students are in favor of it saying that it gives a fair opportunity to people short-listed for the process whereas others feel that it is not a good mechanism of selection. Whatever the case maybe, assessment centers are here to stay and will increasingly be adopted by more companies.


1.Ballantine, 1. and Povah, N. (1995), Assessment and Development Centres, Aldershot: Gower.

2.Woodruffe, C. (1990), Assessment Centres: Identifying and Developing Competence, London:

3.Thornton, G. C. (1992). Assessment centers in human resource management. Reading, MA:


4.Thornton, G. C., & Byham, W. C. (1982). Assessment centers and managerial performance.

New York: Academic Press.

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