An Assessment Center is an HR management process that consists in assessing the skills of individuals by confronting them to simulations exercises or skills assessment tests. This technique aims to complement more traditional assessment methods, such as assessment interviews or self-assessments with the end goal of improving HR decision-making. It may for example be used in both (internal and external) recruitment / selection processes (guidelines) and career development planning (guidelines) - for mobility, competency development, career path, etc.
Though it used to be limited to the selection and development of the company's "key-people" or "high potentials" (young graduates, for example) and top managers, the use of Assessment Centers is becoming more and more frequent with other categories of employees, independent of their hierarchical position.
Also note that, in some companies, this process can be initiated by employees themselves in order to meet their training needs and contribute to their professional development.
Assessment Centers (AC) rely on well-structured assessment tools. All simulation exercises and role plays contain two sheets: one for the candidate and another for the assessor.
1. Prerequisite form (sample): This document marks the beginning of the process and is used to validate the candidate’s access to the Assessment Center. It has to be filled in by the HR Manager during the 1st interview and then addressed to the Assessment Center Manager. It is the latter who will then forward it to all the assessors before the Assessment Center process begins, so that they may dispose of a common source of general data on the assessed person.
2. Reference profile with the job's required competencies (sample): Though generally omitted, this tool is essential in order for the Assessment Center to be successful, as it will yield the precise definitions of all the criteria that are absolutely necessary for the targeted position (technical, professional and language skills, experience, know-how, personal skills, values, etc.). The annexed table also details the tools that will be used to assess the diverse skills that are required for the position.
3. Calibrated and validated computer tests: Such tests aim to provide an objective basis for the orientation and structuration of the assessment interview, so that it may provide a comparison with the reference grid. Please note that, in order for them to be reliable, such tools will have to be calibrated and validated on the population of reference (U.S. or U.K., for instance) and measure the candidate’s degree of compliance with the test. This is for instance the case with the Sigmund Potential™ assessment tool.
4. Presentation exercise (sample): This is an exercise in which candidates are handed out a sheet that provides them with information on a real-life situation. They must understand it, extract its essential data and analyze it quickly, so as to present a solution to their manager. The limited preparation time should put the candidate under a certain amount of pressure, so as to be able to observe some of the criteria defined in the reference grid – such as the understanding of key issues, self-confidence or active listening, for instance.
5. Role play (sample): In its principle, this exercise is very similar to the presentation. The difference lies in the fact that, in this case, the candidate is confronted to another person (colleague, employee, customer…) rather than to a written statement. Here again, the limited preparation time shall allow for the observation of diverse criteria, such as: self-confidence, impact and influence, initiative, communication and negotiation skills.
6. Questions and Answers (Q&A) exercise (sample): This exercise takes the form of a structured interview in which the assessor asks a series of questions, in order to allow the candidate to discuss professional issues related to the position for which the Assessment Center is designed. The main aim of this exercise is to lead candidates to express themselves as much as possible, in order to observe such criteria as: active listening, market-orientation, the knowledge of the job, of the company, etc. In this case, the time pressure should allow verifying whether the candidate answers coherently and whether his/her level of resistance to stress is acceptable.
7. Final individual assessment form (sample): This sheet presents the synthesis of the assessors' observations. Every assessor individually consigns his/her appreciation of each candidate.
8. Final assessment form (sample): Finally, the individual assessments made at point 7 are discussed in common and regrouped onto the same sheet. This allows gaining a global vision of the whole assessment program by providing a ranking of all candidates and refining, if necessary, the appreciations. This sheet shall be signed by all assessors.
Assessment Centers are not isolated from the rest of the company’s workflows. This postulate is fundamental, as it shows that an Assessment Center is never an end in itself; it always implies a "before" and an "after". The methodology of an Assessment Center (illustration) is always the same, independent of the nature of the assessment; only the contents of the exercises and the assessment criteria may vary depending on the nature of the candidate's (future) position.
This process should however be deeply rooted in the company’s organizational culture and values. This is necessary, in order to be able to write a mission statement that specifies the context in which the Assessment Center takes place.
Another important point is that the reference profile with the description of the job's critical skills (see point 2), may be determined in different ways. It may indeed be written:
- By one single person (the manager or direct supervisor)
- By a group of colleagues/clients/suppliers
- By conducting a statistical analysis of a whole population of people who exercise the same activity, in order to bring the position’s discriminant criteria to the fore. (This can be done by using the database of a calibrated and validated computer test – see point 3).
Finally, note that, in an Assessment Center, you are confronted to a complex communication environment. In order to be successful, you will have to rely on reciprocity in the exchange of information - which itself implies the following values:
- Respect of others
- Active listening
The assessor’s mission statement may thus be formulated as follows:
- In the context of the Assessment Center/Development Center, assess every candidate by identifying his/her strengths and weaknesses as compared to the reference profile, with the aim of optimizing the available Human Resources, so as to ensure the company’s success and durability.
- To do so, adopt a frank, respectful and open attitude, in order to ease dialogue while preserving the confidentiality of exchanged data.
Here is, moreover, an example of values that may apply to an Assessment Center/Development Center (AC/DC):
- Win-win relationship
- Integration of the Assessment Center into the company’s organizational strategy
The Assessment Center's mission statement that results from these values may be formulated as follows:
- The Assessment Center/Development Center (AC/DC) aims to support the company toward the improvement of its competitiveness on the market and ensure its durability.
- This instrument will be used for all recruitment processes, job rotations and promotions, as well as for the personnel’s development and self-assessments. It may also be used for the development of the level of competencies in certain departments (e.g. Board of Directors, Finances, Sales, HR, etc.) and, finally, should represent a mean of encouraging the loyalty of employees.
- It is essential that this instrument be used with all the professionalism that can be expected. The assessors/observers should be well-trained, dispose of clear ethics and show a respect supported by transparency and confidentiality, while entertaining a win-win attitude towards all parties.