How to Succeed at Assessment and Development Centres

admin  -  Feb 26, 2013  -  No Comments


Assessment and Development Centres are based on a range of practical activities, exercises and tests that are evaluated by a team of assessors. When compared to interviews, the process has been found to be more reliable, and better able to predict success. It is therefore widely used for graduate and management selection and to identify future potential. However, to do well participants need to understand exactly what is required. This article, based on in-depth experience, describes the type of approach associated with high performance.

What are Assessment and Development Centres?

Assessment and Development Centres incorporate a range of activities or exercises, which may include psychometric tests. These are then evaluated by more than one assessor. The activities are designed to assess competencies that have been identified as important to performance in the role. The process is therefore looking at the approach (i.e. behaviour) and personal attributes contributing to effectiveness. A typical Assessment or Development Centre is held at a location with sufficient space to accommodate six to eight candidates / delegates and will run over a period of 1 or 2 days. Some Development Centres may be extended over a longer period to create an even more realistic, work-related scenario.

Activities included as part of the assessment process may include an in-tray or ‘in-basket’ exercise, a group discussion, business-related presentation and interview, one-to-one role play and various psychometric measures of ability, personality, work behaviour and motivation. The objective is to assess competencies (i.e. the ‘assessment dimensions’) across a range of activities, gradually building up a clearer picture of each person’s strengths and weaknesses.

What Contributes to High Performance

It is important for candidates at Assessment Centres (ACs) to be clear about what is being assessed. The same point applies to delegates at Development Centres (DCs). The key distinction between the two methods is the emphasis placed on feedback and follow-up. Whilst AC results may be used to support initial induction training and Personal Development Plans for those appointed, the DC process is far more focused on development. Feedback is a key element and this may start whilst the DC is running, with sessions linked to psychometrics (to start the process of raising self-awareness). Both AC and DC programmes provide an opportunity to assess future potential, and the overall scenario may well be based on a more senior level role. Some participants find it difficult to reconcile the distinction between current performance and future potential, so the initial communication and positioning of the process is important.

Although organizations will typically develop their own set of competencies, the underlying focus typically involves three broad clusters. These can be summarized in terms of the ‘Head’ i.e analysis, problem solving, planning and monitoring activities, the ‘Heart’ or interpersonal skills required to build relationships, engage positively in team activities and influence others, and the ‘Hands’ i.e. delivering results, taking the initiative in pursuing opportunities, personal resilience and conviction. We call this the 3H Model. Similar, personality related clusters of behaviour are sometimes described in terms of Thinking, Feeling and Doing. It is important to understand the specific aspects of behaviour that contribute to effectiveness. Leadership roles require capability in all three areas.

Other Issues to Consider

Preparation is essential if you are attending an AC or DC event. Have you taken time to understand the role and the culture of the organization? If it is a Development Centre, make sure you understand the focus. Is it part of a wider initiative to change the culture or strengthen Talent Management? The DC may well be contributing to a Performance – Potential, nine box matrix, also called the 9 Box Grid.

DCs are very useful in helping to clarify differences between current performance and future capability. They are therefore tapping into issues relating to Cognitive Flexibility and Learning Agility. To do well, delegates attending DCs need to be clear about the focus of each activity and be able to re-structure existing knowledge in new ways. This may, for example, involve balancing personal knowledge and professional expertise against the expectations of others, and particularly the changing requirements of clients and stakeholders.

There can be real value in reading books on leadership skills and the techniques that contribute to leadership effectiveness. Having the personal motivation to be a leader is not enough. The AC and DC methods are designed to see if you can make sense of challenging role demands, help set clear direction, develop performance capability – and build the commitment of others!

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