How do we go about designing an Assessment Centre?
It’s probably best to clarify what we mean by Assessment Centre – because others may describe them as development centres, others still as screening days. What we’re talking about here is taking a group of people and assessing their skills and behaviour against certain criteria.
It could be that you’re recruiting for hundreds of store managers, or you’re looking at the development needs of two or three senior law firm partners – the premise is the same (the execution is obviously different!)
So what does make a great performer in certain roles? Does ‘good performance’ mean the same thing if the role is say, externally or internally facing? How does geographic location effect performance – and the assessment?
And let’s make it super interesting, are there differences across the brands being represented if you’re working in a multi-brand organisation?
In order to better plan recruitment and development activity across your organisation, you’re going to have questions similar to these. You’ll probably have some baseline performance measures in place already – think competency framework here, but is that framework up to the job?
The outcome you’re looking for here is a clear understanding of the consistent and individual behaviours that differentiate high performance – leading on to a better selection or development process for every role under the microscope.
So where to start?
First up is understanding what good performance actually looks like in your organisation or a specific role. Start by reviewing any key metrics you use across the roles and then sense check them with a few key stakeholders. Take the time here to conduct a few exploratory interviews with line managers, regional managers etc – the feedback from these sessions will give you a deeper and more realistic understanding of where your exiting metrics are and aren’t working.
From this you will have a clear sense of how to identify the measures of great performance and where to explore specific behaviours and contexts. This will enable you to invite the right people to focus groups.
Which leads us on to step two, focus groups. Having identified high performers using the metrics from step one, you’ll need to run focus groups with these people to understand what they’re doing in more detail.
It’s a great idea to include high performers across brands, roles and locations (if applicable) in order to understand where there are consistencies and where there are important differences. It would also be ideal to meet with line managers of high performers to understand their perspective too.
Your role in these groups is to use a range of job analysis techniques to understand the what and how of high performance. What are people doing that’s delivering the strong metrics? How are they going about it? What are the behaviours that make a difference?
Now you’ve done the hard work, it’s time for step three and the design work itself. A good place to start is with a little job analysis.
Think of this analysis like a funnelling exercise. You need to filter through all the talk about what good looks like to find the highest differentiating characteristics that are consistent across roles, locations and brands.
Once you’re clear on these differentiators, you can begin choosing exercises that give the candidate or attendee the best opportunity to show the desired skills or behaviours. For example – if charming and disarming customer service is a key requirement for a role, give the candidate a role play exercise with a potentially awkward customer.
You could also choose from a more formal face-to-face assessment, an actual staff interaction or possibly some form of desk analysis if that is relevant.
Particularly in assessment centres, it’s vital to give individuals two opportunities to show the behaviour that you’re after. Sticking with the customer service role example – some individuals may perform poorly in a face to face environment, but excel in a contact centre environment so build this flexibility into your assessment centre.