The evolution of Assessment Centres
Assessment centres in their earliest form are nearly 90 years old, since their inception in the 1930s; when the German army introduced assessment techniques for officer selection. Psychologist Max Simoneit was appointed to run the assessments and introduced the original leadership tests. During WWII many nations used assessment centres to select officers, and they are still commonly used in military recruitment today; such as, the Admiralty Interview Board of the Royal Navy and the War Office Selection Board of the British Army.
Following the war, the multinational conglomerate AT&T created a building specifically for the recruitment of staff in the 1950s called ‘The Assessment Centre.’ This paved the way to the position we are in today, where 90% of FTSE and Fortune 100 organisations conduct assessments to assess their graduate population, and over 70% conduct in depth profiling for critical hires.
Although the principle of hiring the best people for specific roles has remained the same, the techniques used in these assessments have changed in the last 25 years. In the 1990s assessments were largely based around personality questionnaires, competency interviews, group exercises (which are the least valid of all situational exercises) and role play tasks.
More recently, organisations prefer using: strengths questionnaires, situational judgemental tests, card sort exercises, Emotional Intelligence questionnaires, gamification, and strategy papers.
The reason for this change is because 73% of organisations have moved towards a strengths-based approach, and 72% of organisations encourage their leaders to identify their own strengths. Strengths are a mixture of talents, knowledge and skills which we enjoy doing and perform better at when applied, and so identifying an individual’s strengths is an opportunity to discover and understand what excites and energises an employee at work.
In fact, an article in the Harvard Business Review (1999), “Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People”, stated that by matching people to jobs that resonate with the activities that make them truly happy, employee turnover decreases massively and productivity increases exponentially. Using assessments allows organisations to identify peoples’ characteristics and to match them with the work they do, by effectively matching key components between a role and an individual.
Whilst the premise behind workplace assessments and assessment centres has remained consistent since their conception in the 1930s, the methods used have shifted from seeking all rounded individuals to “spiky” individuals with outstanding strengths and allowable weaknesses. Organisations want to understand what makes people great and recruit people with unique strengths, rather than hiring an ‘average performer’.
Written by Rhys Connolly, Intern at BeTalent and Zircon Management Consulting