Assessment & Development Centres

Best Practice: Assessment & Development Centres

Assessment and development centres have received mixed reactions over the years, and for good reason, as they are often poorly designed and deployed. Here are some best practices to observe.


What exactly are assessment and development centres?

Simply put, they are a highly systematic and rigorous means of behaviours for the purpose of talent identififcation, selection, promotion and development. They are essentially multiple assessment processes.


How is an assessment centre different from a development centre? 

Whilst their might be a lot of similarities between assessment centres and development centres, they are in fact quite different, and its important that you know the difference.

  • Assessment centres are designed to assess the extent to which a person's aptitude, behavior, personality and skills match a particular role or organisation. They are used predominantly for recruitment selection, and should result in an objective and unbiased assessment of a persons suitability.
  • Development centres are designed to assess a person's potential, and to provide insight into their strengths and development areas with the help of trained 'assessors', who are focused on the identification of competencies that participants need to acquire or develop. They should result in a well documented individual development plan for each participant.


What are the criteria for designing an effective assessment or development centre?

There are a myriad of different criteria to consider when designing an effective assessment or development centre, but here are some of the more important ones:

  • The purpose and objectives of the assessment or development centre should be clearly defined (talent identififcation, selection, promotion and development).
  • A success profile should clearly demonstrate the link between competencies and effective performance in the target role. This is usually achieved by assessing cohorts of high-performers.
  • Each competency should be measured by a minimum of two assessment exercises. This is to ensure that each competency is measured in a fair and reliable fashion.
  • Each participants should be assessed by a minimum of two impartial assessors. This is to ensure that each participant is assessed in a fair and reliable fashion.
  • Assessors would be trained to Observe, Record, Classify and Evaluate (ORCE) participants equally and fairly without bias or pre-judgements.


What are the different types of assessment or development centre activities? 

There are a host of different activities that can be used during and assessment or development centre, but here are some of the more commonly used ones:

Activity Description
Psychometric Assessment There are a variety of psychometric assessments that can be used to assess behaviour, personality and motivation, but its important you select one that is both valid and reliable.
In-Tray Exercise In-Tray Exercise are designed to assess aptitude and various competencies by getting the participant to read through items that might be found in an in-tray and prioritise them based on their importance and urgency. 
Group Discussion Group Discussions are designed to assess business acumen, communication, critical thinking, decisiveness, interpersonal skills and leadership by getting a group of participants to discuss a particular business issue / scenario.
Role Play Role Plays are designed to assess a variety of competencies by getting participants to play the role of a specific character as they have an interaction with either the assessor or an actor.
Written Exercises Written exercises are designed to assess business acumen and a variety of analytical competencies, as participants have to analyse and report on findings. They are often used as a leader to a presentation exercise.
Presentation Exercise  Presentations are designed to assess an individuals communication, knowledge and understanding of a topic. They can be conducted as an individual or group activity.


Stage 1: Assess & Identify

Steps Description
Needs Assessment A needs assessment should be conducted to identify departmental / functional / organisational requirements for now, and in the not too distant future. Where are the important gaps?
Establish Business Case A business case should clearly identify the departmental / functional / organisational need for the assessment or development centre. In other words, do we really need one?
Define Objectives The purpose and objectives of the assessment or development centre should be clearly defined (talent identififcation, selection, promotion and development).
Stakeholder Commitment Relevant stakeholders need to be identified and educated on the business case and objectives of the assessment or development centre. There needs to be a clear committment!


Stage 2: Design

Steps Description
Develop Success Profile Select and rigerously assess a cohort of high-performers to clearly identify the competencies required for success in the given role. You may use an assessment centre for this purpose.
Identify Assessment Tools Using the success profile, identify and select appropriate assessment exercises to adequately assess the required competencies. Assessment centre activities can be purchased off-the-shelf, whereas development centre ativities should be developed from scratch.
Design the Format Identify the required resources (time, # of assessors, administrators etc.) to effectively deploy the centre and design the format, timetable and logistics.
Develop the Centre Develop all the required assessment or development centre manuals (AG - Administrators Guide, IFA - Instructions to Assessors, IFP - Instructor to Assessors and EFA - Evaluation Form for Assessors).


 Stage 3: Deploy

Steps Description
Train Assessors Ensure that administrators and assessors have been adequately briefed on how to administer and assess the assessment or development centres in a fair and consistent manner.
Pilot Centre Depending on the importance of the assessment or development centre, and if time permits, conduct a pilot to confirm whether the centre design is fair and operates according to the time table. Refine where necessary!
Deploy Centres Deploy the assessment or development centres in accordance with the administrators guide to ensure they are done in a fair and consistent manner.
Monitor & Adjust Monitor the outcomes of the assessment or development centre and adjust when necessary. Ensure that outcomes are consistent with the objectives.


There are many other factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing and developing assessment or development centres, but these few points will help to keep you on the right track.