Why assessment centre is a positive exercise?

Assessment and Development centres are very popular in large enterprises who wish to explore the potential in their employees by exposing them to various professional tools run by experts, which may include (but not limited to) in-basket exercises, analysis of case studies based on some real situations, behaviour event interviews (asking the participants about events where they achieved something or were part of some initiatives that brought change). The outcomes of such exercises can lead to some participants going into new opportunities within the company and perhaps get promoted into the next level of work. And for those employees who cannot make it to the next level, this exercise makes them aware of many important facts about themselves and hence it is essentially a positive exercise. 

Let us first understand how an assessment centre works. Let us say there is a company called John Doe Ltd., and they have recently taken over another company and their total employee strength is 10000.  Post the acquisition of another company, they engaged an Organizational Development consultant who identified 1000 employees with great potential to be future leaders. Further, the company’s top management agreed to understand these 1000 employees in a better way, to see if they can showcase higher potential. So John Doe Ltd hired an agency, which had expertise in curating assessment centres. Assessment centres are now called
“Assessment and Development centres” or in short, ADC. 

Following is a generic format of ADC activities;

  1. In basket-exercises: The participants of the ADC were given a list of challenges which they would have to respond to in a day. Let us assume that one challenge was about a large customer who was thinking of moving their investment to another agency. Similarly, there would be 8-10 items in the basket. The assessors would see how the participant would manage time well, what would be the response to that challenge or situation and so on. On this basis the participants or the employees are rated. Basically the accessors are looking at the “evidence” that the participants are addressing these challenges well. Sometimes these exercises happen in a group setting and sometimes in an individual setting.

  2. Group activities: Sometimes in an ADC, the employees are made to be part of a few groups where they are given a task. For example, they would be given some sheets of paper and they have to make a tower without glue or tape. It would be an impossible challenge but the assessors observe factors like creativity, response time, group cohesion, understanding of the situation and so forth.

  3. Behaviour Event Interview: Also known as BEI, the assessors interview the participants and ask them specific questions which can test a few behaviours (like growth mindset, business acumen, leadership skills etc). One of the examples would be - Tell me about a moment in your experience, where you went out of the way to help a customer. This helps the participants in recalling such moments where they did take some initiatives which helped the business in certain ways.

  4. Psychometric Tests: Participants go through some kind of Psychometric tests. It could be an MBTI or Character Strengths survey (a positive psychology tool), to test what they score on different parameters and what are their strengths. It is useful for both the assessors and the participants.

So, roughly the above is a template of an ADC. The question here is if this is a positive exercise. Yes, it is. The reason is that the participants feel empowered when they hear feedback about their diverse abilities. Secondly, an ADC generally does not lead to layoffs. It makes people who score less, create a strategy in coordination with their managers, for a better outcome in the coming years. They are encouraged to have 1:1 meetings with their managers frequently to follow up on the outcomes of the assessment process. 

ADC processes also generate reports for the participants so that they become aware about their strengths and capabilities and the actionable items where they can become better.