Under scrutiny

first_img Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Under scrutinyOn 13 Feb 2001 in Personnel Today Using assessment centres tocherry pick staff is fine if the assessors are up to the job. But with horrorstories aplenty, isn’t it time for a code of practice as well as moreinvolvement from employers? Caroline Horn reportsAssessment centreshave become one of the most popular tools in selecting new recruits, with morethan 30 per cent of companies now believed to use them. They are used to test arange of competencies among a group of candidates – or sometimes individuals –through a series of varied exercises, with candidates monitored and assessed bya number of trained observers. The process gives the candidates a number ofdifferent opportunities to demonstrate their strengths. In this way, a companyhopes it is getting the right person for the job.But what is sometimes forgottenduring the assessments is the candidates themselves. Roy Davis, head ofcommunications for SHL, which develops and provides assessment solutions, says,”Candidates are the most important person in the process. The first thingthey should be asking for is feedback, because that is how they learn from theprocess.”Sarah Macpherson, seniorconsultant with CGR Business Psychologists, adds, “If assessment centresare well managed, they can be a very positive experience and an individual canlearn a lot about themselves. Even if they don’t get the job,good feedback can help them to find out which areas they need to do more workon. But if the experience is negative, it can knock the candidate’s confidenceand knock back their job search.”Power of word of mouthWhen candidates leaveassessment centres feeling that the exercise and feedback have been poorlymanaged, that has ramifications for the potential employer, since thecandidates are quite likely to share the experience with friends andcolleagues. Macpherson explains, “Insmall communities, word goes around and other candidates will refuse to go to abadly-run assessment centre.” It is a poor advertisement for the potentialemployer.Should the candidate’simpression be correct, it will have also been an expensive mistake for theemployer – not just the wasted cost of the assessment itself but in thedevelopment of the company.While employers’ experiencessuggests that assessment centres are, on the whole, popular and generally wellmanaged, it is more difficult to find out about problem areas. Macphersonargues that the problem of poor assessment and feedback could be morewidespread than is generally realised: “People who have had a poorexperience tend not to complain because they are worried about being seen asdifficult, or because their complaint will be seen as sour grapes.”Material and methodologiesbeing used in assessment also need to be considered, says Iain Ballantyne,senior consultant at Assessment & Development Consultants, “As in theearly days of psychometric testing, people are publishing a lot of materialthat won’t do the job that it claims to be able to do. Meanwhile, people areselecting these exercises in good faith, and are not always fully aware of theramifications of the selection process.”There are, therefore, those inthe industry who argue that it is time to take a closer look at how assessmentcentres are being managed, and to consider whether the introduction of a set ofagreed standards or code of practice is appropriate.In the US, there are alreadyestablished guidelines relating specifically to assessment centres, and therehas been discussion in the UK among various bodies, including the BritishPsychological Society and Investors in People, about establishing standards inassessment. At this stage, the IIP could not provide any details concerning itsproposed module on recruitment and assessment, nor when it might be introduced.Angela Baron, employeeresourcing adviser at the CIPD, argues that recruitment surveys by theorganisation show that assessment centres are generally held in high regard.While the institute concedes that there may be problems – it points to a lackof focus by companies as being the most common mistake – Baron comments:”Assessment centres are still considered the most reliable andprofessional form of recruitment, although it is expensive.”She argues for self-regulation,rather than the imposition of external guidelines. “Anything thatde-professionalises assessment or detracts from the experience should be lookedat. But while we know that there are many examples of bad recruitment, we hopethat professional human resources departments would observe bestpractice.”Davis agrees: “We need tobe self-regulatory and people who design and run assessment centres must havebest practice at the back of their mind. I’d be loath to have externalpractices assess the centres because it is difficult to regulate a practice,rather than a product.”The nature of assessmentcentres makes regulation difficult, says Baron. “A code of conduct wouldbe difficult to regulate because assessment centres are tailored to eachrecruitment scenario and the techniques are designed to test people onparticular aspects.”The whole point ofassessment centres is that they are tailored to an organisation’s needs, so theorganisation needs to work very closely with the consultant. You can’t be tooprescriptive about how they operate because the success of the centre comesdown to the relationship between the organisation and the externalconsultant.”Ruth Colling, recruitmentspecialist at business psychology consultancy Nicholson McBride, points to theBritish Psychological Society’s codes of practice for its psychometric testswhich requires that practitioners need to be trained and qualified. But sheadds, “With something as broad and all-encompassing as assessment centres,it would be hard to say, ‘Does that particular part of the process fit into thestandard?’”Rather than looking at acode of conduct, what needs to be emphasised is how a company can get the mostfrom an assessment centre, and that includes putting in enough time and effortto make the centre work for them. There are plenty of guidelines around.”The CIPD points out that asuccessful assessment centre demands certain criteria, including: a high levelof involvement by the company and its managers; their involvement in the actualassessment process – for example, as observers; and for there to be a goodrelationship with the provider.”I wouldn’t dismiss out ofhand a code of practice, it could be helpful,” says Baron.”Generally, the evidence is that assessment centres are useful and we needto ensure that they stay that way. But it would be difficult to dictate whatpeople do. The whole point about assessment centres is that they are notprescriptive.”Ballantyne points out, however,that not every company appreciates the importance of structural issues ofassessment centres, which is why standards are needed. “For example, whenyou set up an assessment centre, you need to make sure you have pre-assignedcompetencies when you are selecting people. It is a common error not to havethe criteria in place. You should ensure that proper training has been given toassessors, that candidates have a number of opportunities to demonstrate theircompetency, and that there is consensus in the final decision made.”And he adds: “Where thereare standards in place, people can at least check their own performance againstthe standards and decide whether or not they are doing their assessmentscorrectly.”But even if official guidelinesexisted, as Dr Charles Woodruffe, director at assessment centre consultancyHuman Assets, points out, enforcing them is a different issue. “Youalready have standards for psychometric tests, for example, but are the buyersof psychometric tests sufficiently aware of the tests even to ask the question?Pseudo-psychometry tests are two a penny on the Internet.””Standards for assessmentcentres would not do any harm but they are not a surefire solution becausethere will be plenty of organisations that will not have heard of them, or whoare assured that what they are being given matches the standards, when itdoesn’t.”Training, he believes, is key.As the author of Development and Assessment Centers; Identifying and DevelopingCompetence, he says,  “I am oftenrung up by people who have read the book and say, ‘We have been asked to set upan assessment centre. Can you help?’ That is real kitchen table stuff. I knowyou have to start somewhere but in any other industry you’d start as anapprentice.””Common sense shoulddictate that the greatest weakness is observer training and people shouldunderstand better what is expected of assessment centres,” says Davis.”If that could be built into some form of best practice, that would befine.”Issues of training aresignificant – for an assessment centre to be accurate, the process needs to beunderstood. Yet in a survey conducted by A&DC, it was found that nearly 60per cent of companies give at most one day of training to its assessors, with14 per cent of those giving no training. “They might just as well stickwith interviews,” says Ballantyne.What it actually needs, says DrWoodruffe, is for customers of assessment centres to be more selective.”You have to ask the question, ‘Have you done this before and can I ring upthe person you did it for?’ It’s incredible that organisations will entrusttheir future to someone who is just one page ahead of that organisation. “It is fantastic that theytake on graduates for their future leadership and, for the sake of a few bob,jeopardise that.”Theatre ofabsurd: a recruitment tragedy in seven actsAct 1 An individualapplying for a consultant position found he was tested for mechanical reasoningand had to sit through various engineering tests using diagrams and pulleys, aswell as a further battery of tests in computingAct 2 The manager at acall centre decided to construct her own tests to see how bright applicantswere. Those applying for jobs had to undergo her version of televisionprogramme Catchphrase, as well as a range of puzzles from quiz booksAct 3 A trained psychologist,applying for a position as a consultant, was confronted with a psychometrictest in spatial reasoning, because, she was told, “You’re used to thetests, so we thought we’d give you something different”Act 4 A group of nursesin Coventry took their employer to court – and won – after an assessmentcentre, which they were told would be used for training and development, wasactually used to decide on candidates for redundancyAct 5 A group ofapplicants applying for external HR consultancy roles were taken to an isolatedcountry house and faced a series of irrelevant and traumatic tests, whichincluded working out complex statistical equations in front of the group. Theywere also told to “name their salary” in publicAct 6 One candidatefound that the results of her psychometric tests were judged against the viewsof her friend, who worked for the assessment centre. The assessor then askedher in-depth, and inappropriate, questions about her childhood “to explainthe discrepancies”Act 7 When applying fora position of consultant, an individual was put through an inappropriate anddifficult numerical reasoning test. She knew she would not do well at it – andin the event, the results were simply discardedMinimumstandards to qualify an event as an assessment centreAt least twomeasures of every competency that is being assessedAt least two work samplesimulations among the material that confronts participantsJob analysis that clearlydemonstrates the link between competencies and effective performance in thetarget jobAssessors complete theirevaluations independently, including any report form, before the integrationsessionThere are assessors who aretrained in the ORCE process, and its application in clear separation of thecomponent parts into discrete exercisesClear written and publishedstatement of the intent of the centre, how data will be stored, by whom, andrights of access to that data by any individualThere should be a statement ofthe limits of the validity of the centre in total and/or the limits for aparticular exerciseSource:Assessment & Development Consultants Previous Article Next Articlelast_img

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