Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Secrets of Assessment Centre Design

An Assessment Centre is an excellent tool for identifying leadership potential, executive development or succession planning.

Assessment Centres can be made up of job simulations alone or combined with other tools such as psychometrics, 360-degree feedback and a competency-based interview.

Where the aim is development only, self-report questionnaires and periodic feedback during the program are also useful.

To be effective, an Assessment Centre needs to mirror a target job or level in the organization. It needs to present participants with stretching challenges similar to those they would face in that job or at that level. Assessment Centre exercises are simulations of the most critical challenges that must be dealt with effectively at the target level.

Assessment Centres can simulate any job, including sales or customer service roles and all levels of management. For the latter, maximum benefit is obtained when the first level of management is the target. This is where we get the classic problem: "When I promoted Jim, I lost my best sales person and gained a poor manager."

The challenging transition from individual contributor to manager

To decide how best to assess the potential to move successfully to a first management role we need to explore why failure is so common in this context.

Usually, employees are promoted because they excel at their current jobs. Following orthodox wisdom, they like to play to their strengths. Under the pressure of a higher profile role, many revert to type and continue to do what they do best, failing to realize that they need new skills for an entirely new role. Being good at their individual contributor roles means having high standards of performance. This positive work ethic, however, can combine negatively with their need to prove themselves in their new role as manager, leading them to do too much, be too directive and over use their formal authority.

With the pressure to prove themselves, it is tempting to manage the newly inherited team too closely, thus working more as a lead hand than as a leader. When their controlling approach runs into resistance, the frequently used way out is to "sweep aside" inherited team members, hence the widely used label: "new broom". This is a huge waste of talent and money.