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John Milsom

John Milsom



Cheshire Office
Tel: +44 1625 508100


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Maximising the Value of Assessment Centres

John Milsom was invited to speak at a recent assessment conference on the subject of maximising the value of assessment centres.  The following article summaries the key messages.

Optimising the value of assessment is something that we constantly do at Wickland Westcott, and it’s a hot topic in the Talent world as the need to accurately understand people continues to grow.

As organisations strive to take a strategic approach to recruitment, development and succession planning the premium on solid, reliable data to feed in to these processes continues to rise. The most robust talent and succession process is, after all, worthless unless it is supported by accurate information on the people being considered (‘garbage in-garbage out’).

Our approach to optimising the value of assessment centres focuses on four factors

  • Maximising the benefits that the process delivers
  • Minimising the costs
  • Matching the assessment approach to the specific situation
  • Managing the brand and reputation of the process

At its simplest, maximising the value of anything involves finding ways to increase the positive impact, whilst minimising the associated costs. Within the context of assessment there are a number of levers that can be pushed and pulled. For example, it is possible to increase value by making processes more accurate, by increasing their face validity, by making processes more forward-looking so that they measure potential as well as current capability, and by increasing the extent to which participants and senior leadership are engaged in the intervention and results. An efficient but powerful step that can be taken is to ensure that assessment data gathered in selecting candidates is used within the onboarding process to create a personal action plan with appointed candidates.

The list below includes ten ways of maximising the accuracy of assessment processes and increasing their value. These options have been developed based on our practical experience combined with a review of published literature. The list goes on to show six types of cost associated with deploying assessment centres. Finding ways to minimise these costs will also deliver an increase in value. Together this information provides a checklist for users to help them sharpen the value of their own assessment processes.

Maximising benefits and minimising costs of assessment processes

Ten ways of maximising accuracy/benefits

  1. Provide clear candidate instructions
  2. Tailor assessment criteria
  3. Invest in exercise design rather than criteria design
  4. Use a larger number of shorter exercises
  5. Develop clear marking guides
  6. Select assessors (use specialists in tandem with line managers)
  7. Train and brief assessors
  8. Implement a consistent process of integrating ratings (avoid the informal ‘washup’)
  9. Include peer evaluation
  10. Make the criteria explicit to those being assessed

Six factors that impact overall costs

  1. Time spent designing materials
  2. Time required to support the running of assessments (Assessor and Facilitator time)
  3. Inflexibility of a fixed process
  4. Risk of unintended systematic bias
  5. Candidate availability/withdrawal
  6. Expenses (venue hire, accommodation, travel etc)

Matching the assessment approach to the specific context involves making sure that processes are tailored to the way they are to be used. This includes considering the people they will assess. Where there is a wide variation between candidates, for example, and it is difficult to measure the variables that drive performance, then it will be worthwhile developing more robust assessment centre processes. This might sound obvious but it is easy to over-engineer assessment centres for relatively simple roles or where the supply of suitable candidates means the risk of making a mistake is low. Similarly, it is worthwhile considering the consequences of making an incorrect appointment when weighing up how much to invest in selecting a candidate. It is definitely worth considering the impact that a strong candidate will have on an organisation when determining the ideal level of assessment required.

The final factor to consider, that of the brand and reputation of the process, is easy to overlook, but can have a lasting impact upon the perceived value of the programme. Essentially, optimising value here hinges upon Talent and HR people making sure that the benefits of assessment processes (and associated downstream activities) are understood. A bit of marketing here is usually time well spent. The true value and impact of an assessment process is, of course, much harder to quantify than the costs. It is therefore critical that the benefits are understood and highlighted on a regular, consistent basis, to stakeholders beyond the Talent and HR functions. One practical tip here is for somebody to take responsibility for monitoring the themes and trends highlighted within assessment reports, and summarise this for discussion at executive level within annual talent review discussions. Identifying the patterns in the strengths or aspirations of shortlist candidates, or those up for internal promotion can reveal a lot about an organisation and where to target Talent management resources. This can also produce hard data around leadership capability and quantify the way in which external hires are enriching the gene pool within organisations and therefore provide a powerful catalyst for action.

In summary, assessment centres have been around for many years. This has led to an inevitable commoditisation of the product. On the upside, this means that client organisations can access assessment centres more cheaply, and from a wide range of possible suppliers. One downside, however, is that insufficient emphasis is often put upon tailoring the process to fit the specific organisational context, with the result that much of the real value is lost. This does not have to be the case though, and maximising value means finding ways to have the best of both worlds.

For more information on assessment process design, or for a conversation about reviewing and improving your current processes, please call John Milsom on 01625 508100.


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