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THE ASSESSMENT

CENTER METHOD
AND METHODOLOGY
NEW APPLICATIONS AND TECHNOLOGIES

A MONOGRAPH BY
WILLIAM C. BYHAM, PH.D.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

I. ASSESSMENT CENTER METHOD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4


1. How an Assessment Center Works . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2. Validity and Fairness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3. Adoption of the Assessment Center Method Outside the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
4. New Applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
5. New Simulations,Tests, and Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
6. New Technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

II. ASSESSMENT CENTER METHODOLOGY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21


7. What is Assessment Center Methodology? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
8. Targeted Selection®: Obtaining Behavior in Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
9. Targeted Observation: Obtaining Behavioral Information from
Direct Observation of Performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
10. Third-party Evaluations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
11. Developing Integrated Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26
12. The Future of Assessment Centers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27
13. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27

REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29

© Development Dimensions International, Inc., MCMXCIV-MMIV. All rights reserved under U.S., International, and Universal Copyright Conventions.
Reproduction in whole or part without written permission from DDI is prohibited.
1
INTRODUCTION In recognition of these two thrusts, this
monograph is divided into two sections:
The “assessment center method” is the name I. Assessment Center Method,Applications,
given to the formal assessment approach and Technologies
pioneered by AT&T in the United States and
II. Assessment Center Methodology
now used by thousands of organizations
worldwide. In the most common application Since 1970 I have written, co-written, edited,
of this method, three or more line managers or co-edited more than 60 books and articles
observe a group of six assessees participating about assessment centers. This monograph
in a series of exercises that simulate tasks will make no attempt to repeat or even
related to the job or job level for which they summarize the information in those published
are being assessed. After participants have materials. Instead, it will overview new
completed the exercises, assessors meet to developments and provide a glimpse of
consider each participant against a predeter- the future.
mined list of job-related dimensions to reach The reader is advised to follow up on specific
an overall evaluation. (See How an Assessment interests through the supplemental reading
Center Works for a complete description.) suggestions provided after many sections of
Twenty-one years ago the Harvard Business the monograph. Additionally, the following
Review published an article I authored books and monographs are suggested as
entitled “Assessment Centers for Spotting background reading:
Future Managers” (Byham, 1970). This was > Ashe, L.,Todd, K., & Byham,W. C. (1991).
the first article that described the assessment Employee evaluation for the 1990s:
center method for a general audience. Since Paper-and-pencil tests, assessment centers,
that time it has been widely reprinted and performance appraisals, and interviews.
quoted. This monograph is an update and A review of court cases and discussion
expansion of that original article. of future prospects. Pittsburgh, PA:
Development Dimensions International.
Two thrusts have characterized assessment
> Byham,W. C. (1987). Applying a systems
centers in the last 21 years:
approach to personnel activities
1. Applications of the classic assessment (Monograph IX). Pittsburgh, PA:
center described in the Harvard Business Development Dimensions International.
Review article have expanded widely and
> Byham,W. C. (1989). Targeted selection:
new technology has increased validity,
A behavioral approach to improved
reliability, and efficiency of application. hiring decisions (Basic concepts and
2. The key components that produced the methodology) (Monograph XIV, rev. ed.).
validity of the assessment center method Pittsburgh, PA: Development Dimensions
have been applied in many other personnel International.
functions, including selection interviewing, > Hauenstein, P., & Byham,W. C. (1989).
reference checking, resume screening, Understanding job analysis (Monograph
and observing and evaluating on-the-job XI). Pittsburgh, PA: Development
performance. Dimensions International.

2
> Thornton, G. C. III, & Byham,W. C. (1982). These books and monographs are available
Assessment centers and managerial from Development Dimensions International
performance. New York: Academic Press. (DDI).
> Wellins, R., Byham,W., and Wilson, J. (1991).
Empowered Teams: Creating self-directed
work groups that improve quality,
productivity, and participation.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

3
I. ASSESSMENT each simulation and take notes on special
observation forms. After participants have

CENTER METHOD completed their simulations, assessors spend


one or more days sharing their observations
and agreeing on evaluations. If used, test
HOW AN ASSESSMENT CENTER WORKS
and interview data are integrated into the
The assessment center method involves
decision-making process. The assessors’ final
multiple evaluation techniques, including
assessment, contained in a written report,
various types of job-related simulations, and
details participants’ strengths and development
sometimes interviews and psychological tests.
needs, and may evaluate their overall potential
Common job simulations used in assessment
for success in the target position if that is the
centers are:
purpose of the center.
> In-basket exercises
Perhaps the most important feature of the
> group discussions assessment center method is that it relates
> simulations of interviews with not to current job performance but to future
“subordinates” or “clients” performance. By observing how a participant
> fact-finding exercises handles the problems and challenges of the target
job or job level (as simulated in the exercises),
> analysis/decision-making problems
assessors get a valid picture of how that person
> oral presentation exercises would perform in the target position. This is
> written communication exercises especially useful when assessing individuals who
hold jobs that don’t offer them an opportunity
Simulations are designed to bring out behav- to exhibit behavior related to the target position
iors relevant to the most important aspects of or level. This is often the case with individuals
the position or level for which the assessees who aspire to management positions but
are being considered. Known as “dimensions,” presently hold positions that don’t give them
these aspects of the job are identified prior to an opportunity to exhibit management-related
the assessment center by analyzing the target behavior on the job.
position. A job analysis procedure identifies
the behaviors, motivations, and types of In addition to improved accuracy in diagnosis
knowledge that are critical for success in the and selection, the organization that operates
target position. During assessment, the job an assessment center enjoys a number of
simulations bring out assessees’ behavior or indirect benefits. Candidates accept the
knowledge in the target dimensions. fairness and accuracy of promotion decisions
more readily and have a better understanding
A typical assessment center involves six of job requirements. Training managers to be
participants and lasts from one to three days. assessors increases their skills in many other
As participants work through the simulations, managerial tasks, such as handling performance
they are observed by assessors (usually three appraisals and conducting coaching and
line managers) who are trained to observe feedback discussions.
and evaluate behavior and knowledge level.
Assessors observe different participants in

4
VALIDITY AND FAIRNESS ensuing years, but a second assessment also
In 1970 the assessment center method was conducted eight years after the first
was unique in that extensive research had (Howard & Bray, 1988). Table 1 shows the
established its validity before it came into validity of both assessment predictions. The
popular use. The assessment center method, criterion used was advancement to the fourth
in its modern form, came into existence as a level of management in a seven-level hierarchy.
result of the AT&T Management Progress Study The eight-year prediction is more valid—an
(Bray, Campbell, & Grant, 1974). In this study, expected finding since most individuals would
which began in the late 1950s, individuals have begun to consolidate their management
entering management positions in Bell skills after eight years in management. Yet the
Telephone operating companies were assessed original assessment ratings were still valid—
and, from then on, their careers were followed. even after 20 years.
The study was unusual in that it was pure
Thornton and Byham (1982) reviewed 29
research. Neither the individuals assessed
studies of the validity of assessment center
nor their bosses were given information about
methodology. The authors found more support
their performance in the center. Nor was
for the assessment center method than for
this information in any way allowed to affect
other selection methodologies, while lamenting
participants’ careers. Participants were
the fact that most of the studies were done by
assessed soon after they entered management
a few large organizations (AT&T, GE, IBM,
as new college recruits or after they were
SOHIO, and Sears).
promoted from the ranks. The 1970 Harvard
Business Review article presented the results In 1985 Thornton and his associates at
from the first eight years of the study. Colorado State University processed 220
validity coefficients from 50 studies using a
Additional data from this landmark study are
statistical approach called meta-analysis.
now available. Not only have researchers
They estimated the method’s validity at .37
followed participant advancement during the

Ratings at Original Assessment and Eight Years Later and Management


Level Attained at Year 20

Attained Fourth Level


Orginal Assessment Rating of Potential N
Predicted to Achieve Fourth Level or Higher 25 60%
Predicted to Achieve Third Level 23 25%
Predicted to Remain Below Third Level 89 21%
137
Attained Fourth Level
Eighth Year Assessment Rating of Potential N
Predicted to Achieve Fourth Level or Higher 30 73%
Predicted to Achieve Third Level 29 38%
Predicted to Remain Below Third Level 76 12%
135

Table 1

5
(Gaugler, Rosenthal,Thornton, & Bentson, Adverse Impact
1985). Working independently of Thornton, One area the 1970 Harvard Business Review
Wayne Cascio of the University of Colorado article did not address was the fairness of the
arrived at the same figure (.37) in studying the assessment center method relative to women
validity of first-level assessment centers in an and minorities. The method seemed uniquely
operating company of the Bell System. Cascio’s fair because of its emphasis on actual behavior
main interest, however, was in measuring the rather than psychological constructs, but no
“bottom-line impact” of promotion decisions confirming data were available. That has
based on assessment center information changed—considerable data exist today.
versus decisions based on criteria extracted Compared to other selection methodologies,
from other methods (Cascio & Ramos, 1984). the assessment center method generally is
To determine the dollar impact of assessment seen as more fair and objective in terms of
centers, Cascio needed more than validity gender, race, and age than other methodologies.
information; he needed cost data (fully loaded Some differential performance has been found
costs of the assessment process), plus job but this usually is the result of differential
performance data expressed in dollars. applicant populations.
Over a four-year period he developed a simple There is consistent research showing that
methodology for expressing in dollar terms assessment centers are unbiased in their
the job performance levels of managers. predictions of future performance. These
Using information provided by more than studies considered a candidate’s age, race, and
700 line managers, Cascio combined data on gender and found that predictions by assessment
the validity and cost of the assessment center center methodology are equally valid for all
with the dollar-valued job performance of candidates. (See Thornton & Byham, 1982,
first-level managers. With this data he produced for a complete discussion of these issues.)
an estimate of the organization’s net gain in
Federal courts have viewed assessment centers
dollars resulting from the use of assessment
as valid and fair. Indeed, they often have
center information in the promotion process.
mandated assessment centers to overcome
Over a four-year period the gain to the company
selection problems stemming from the use of
in terms of the improved job performance of
paper-and-pencil and other selection instruments
new managers was estimated at $13.4 million,
(e.g., James C. Edwards v. City of Evanston;
or approximately $2,700 each year for each
Frank J. Macchiavola v. New York City Board
of the 1,100 people promoted in first-level
of Examiners). A case in point involved a
management jobs.
valve company whose use of paper-and-pencil
As stated 21 years ago, the assessment center tests to select supervisors was struck down
method is not a perfect predictor of success, by a federal court of appeals. As part of the
but it is the single best aid for making settlement, the judge allowed the company
promotion decisions. Its validity is enhanced to substitute the assessment center method as
when coupled with other methodologies, the principle means of selecting supervisors—
such as behavioral interviews and appropriate even though a slightly higher number of whites
paper-and-pencil tests. (See New Applications.) than blacks succeeded in the centers. The
judge ruled that a sufficient number of black
candidates was found to possess acceptable
potential for supervision to meet the
company’s affirmative action goals.
6
One final bit of evidence suggesting the are translated and adapted, the methodology in
acceptance of the assessment center method each of these countries is virtually identical to
comes from the use of the method by the Equal that used in the United States.
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The chief reason the assessment center
in 1977 and again in 1978. They used the
method is valid in so many different countries
method to evaluate executives from both inside
is that it is an easily adaptable evaluation system,
and outside the government to fill high-level
not an evaluation instrument. Users need not
positions that resulted from a reorganization.
adopt dimensions or standards of performance
In most situations, an assessment center is that are important in the U.S. but perhaps
the best method available to organizations unimportant in their country; they merely
whose aim is to make accurate selection adopt a systematic procedure for evaluating
and promotion decisions while minimizing candidates against job-related dimensions that
adverse impact. are specific to their particular organization and
environment. For example, the dimension
Ashe, Todd, K., & Byham, W. C. (1991). Employee Interpersonal Sensitivity is shown in vastly dif-
evaluation for the 1990's: Paper- and-pencil tests, ferent ways in Japan than in the United States,
assessment centers, performance appraisals, and
interviews. A review of court cases and discussion but the method by which the dimension is
of future prospects. Pittsburgh, PA: Development assessed works just the same (and as well).
Dimensions International.
Howard, A., & Bray, D. W. (1988). Managerial lives in While the same types of assessment center
transition: Advancing and changing times. New York: exercises seem to work in most countries
Guilford Press.
(with appropriate translation and cultural
adaptation), this is not always so. A case in
ADOPTION OF THE ASSESSMENT CENTER
point is the assessment center run in 1972 by
METHOD OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES
Edgars, a large department store chain in South
In 1970 U.S. assessment center methodology Africa. In this, the first center used to identify
had barely spread to Canada, and only a few blacks for supervisory and management
applications of the somewhat different British positions, pretesting revealed that blacks had
assessment center methodology could be difficulty with In-basket exercises because
found (e.g., in South Africa and Australia). they couldn’t easily visualize the people and
Since that time the U.S. version has been situations described.
adopted more widely. In 1971 American
To overcome this, innovative assessment center
assessment center methodology was introduced
exercises were developed. Assessees did not
in Japan; now at least 150 organization in
receive an In-basket full of items to handle, in
that country are involved. U.S. assessment
writing, that were “left over” from a previous
methodology has become predominant in
incumbent. Instead, they sat at desks in their
Australia and South Africa and accounts for
“offices” and roleplayers brought problems and
more than 50 percent of the method’s
concerns to them just as employees would in
applications in the United Kingdom. The
real-life situations. They were faced with new
methodology can be found in nearly every
items, problems, and demands on their time
industrialized or industrializing country in the
throughout the day, both on the phone and in
world, with other growth areas including West
face-to-face interactions. This live, large-scale,
Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the
multifaceted simulation was a precursor of
Philippines, and Singapore. Although exercises

7
the single-setting assessment centers that difficult to find qualified high-level, in-house
have achieved popularity recently in the people who can take the time to assess and
United States. evaluate candidates objectively.

NEW APPLICATIONS Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) is a


Although the primary focus of assessment typical example of a governmental application.
centers is to select candidates for first-line NPPD put mid-managers through a one-and-a-
supervisory positions (e.g., factory supervi- half-day assessment center to evaluate candidates
sors, clerical supervisors, sales managers, tech- for higher-level management positions. The
nical managers), applications have expanded center was administrated by NPPD staff using
far beyond the typical business domain. Cities consultants as assessors. Results from the
like New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, and assessment center were also used to make
Philadelphia have used assessment centers to career development recommendations.
make promotion decisions in their police and In an assessment center developed for
fire departments. School systems in 34 states Frisch’s, a team of outside assessors developed
use the methodology to select high school an assessment center process for evaluating
principals in a program run by the National candidates for vice president positions and for
Association of Secondary School Principals. the CEO position.
Applications by agencies of the federal
At Burroughs Wellcome, outside assessors
government are numerous and varied (e.g., FAA,
conducted an assessment center to identify
NSA,FBI,IRS). In addition,many new applications
developmental needs of candidates for upper
of the method—other than supervisory skills
management positions throughout the
evaluations—have developed. These applications
organization. This center combined dimensional
have taken the method far beyond what one
questionnaires with the assessment process to
would have predicted 21 years ago.
generate specific career development plans for
Selection and Placement of Candidates each person.
for Higher Levels of Management
The federal government’s interest in high-level
In the early 1970s organizations began using assessment has been spurred by the creation
the assessment center method to help select of the Federal Senior Executive Service.
and place individuals in higher levels of Individuals who attain these executive
management. Assessment centers have been positions are entitled to special performance
used to help evaluate candidates for presidencies bonuses and other perquisites. Assessment
of organizations (Readers’ Digest of Canada), centers have been used widely by government
plant managers (Ross Labs), general managers agencies to qualify individuals for these
(H. H. Robertson, Chessie), and many senior opportunities.
government positions (Office of Management
and Budget, Department of Agriculture, As applications have expanded, so have the
National Transportation Safety Board, Federal variety of exercises: top-level executives are
Trade Commission, Home Loan Bank, Federal evaluated in simulated press conferences;
Reserve). As predicted in the 1970 Harvard long-range planning and organization design
Business Review article, most of these exercises are used; and there is more emphasis
assessments were made by a team of outside on larger social issues.
“professional” assessors (consultants). It is

8
Selection and Placement of Empowered The adaptation of self-directed teams drastically
Personnel changes the role of supervisors and managers.
The greatest growth of assessment centers from Supervisors (often called group leaders) have a
1985 to 1991 has taken place in connection very large span of control, with as many as 100
with organizations moving to an empowered subordinates. Because teams and team leaders
workforce. These organizations are giving take on many of the normal supervisory functions,
employees: the supervisors become more managerial in
function, concentrating more on budgeting
> Responsibility for their designated areas
and planning. This, in turn, affects the role of
or outputs.
middle managers. The multiple-level changes in
> Control over resources, systems, methods, job functions have forced organizations to use
and equipment. new methods in connection with selection,
> Control over working conditions and promotion, and placement decisions. Because
schedules. assessment centers worked so well at supervi-
> Authority (within defined limits) to commit sory and managerial levels, it was natural to
the organization. turn to assessment centers as a methodology.

> Evaluation by achievements. Hundreds of manufacturing plants have used


assessment centers to select employees, team
Most also are organizing employees into self-
leaders, and group leaders. To accomplish this,
directed work teams. The teams are made up
many new processes have been developed,
of team members and a team leader (the team
especially in connection with “greenfield” plant
leader is a working, nonmanagement member
start-ups where large numbers of applicants
of the team). Teams take responsibility for:
must be processed. Toyota assessed 22,000
> Improving quality and productivity; applicants to staff their 3,000-person plant
job rotation. in Kentucky.
> Planning and scheduling. At the employee level, exercises involve
> Who works on what. applicants in problem-solving group exercises,
simulations of the manufacturing process,
> Quality audit.
and one-to-one interactive exercises.
> Equipment adjustment,maintenance,and repair. Supervisor exercises provide opportunities
> Housekeeping, vacation planning, absenteeism, to demonstrate coaching, leadership, and
tardiness, and performance issues. decision-making skills.
> Choosing the team leader.
Wellins, R., Byham, W., & Wilson, J. (1991). Empowered
> Many other areas. Teams: Creating Self-directed work groups that
improve quality, productivity, and participation.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

9
Selection and Placement of Candidates Diagnosis of Training and Development
for Other Nonmanagement Positions Needs
The use of assessment centers also has Quick, easy training methods don’t change
expanded to other entry-level and individual people’s skill levels. Skill acquisition requires
contributor positions. Applications include intensive, time-consuming classroom training
the selection of U.S. foreign service officers, and must be coupled with opportunities for
police officers, sales people, trainers, quality on-the-job practice and feedback so new
circle facilitators, and customer service behaviors are set in the individual’s repertoire.
representatives. Because skill development takes a lot of time
and effort, everyone cannot be trained in every
Candidates for vocational counseling positions
skill. The assessment center method provides
conduct simulated counseling sessions as part
an effective means to determine training or
of their selection procedure. Psychologists
developmental needs. Individuals then can be
trying to achieve board status from the American
placed in the most appropriate program.
Board of Professional Psychology are evaluated
using an interview, a work sample review, an The assessment center method is an excellent
oral fact-finding case, and an analysis of a video- diagnostic tool because it separates an
taped, therapist-client interaction. Applicants individual’s abilities into specific areas
for apprentice positions are taught basic skills (dimensions) and then seeks specific examples
and observed by professionals who evaluate of good and poor behavior within each
their ability to learn the technical job skills. As dimension. This helps the assessee and his/her
far back as 1967, validity studies were conducted boss determine more precisely what training
showing the effectiveness of assessment center and developmental activities are required.
methodology for evaluating entry-level position
Almost all organizations using assessment
candidates (Bray & Campbell, 1968). Research
centers for selection or promotion also use
showed that using assessment centers for
the information obtained to diagnose training
selection could increase the performance of
needs. However, a major shift in focus has
sales representatives considerably.
become more prevalent in the last 21 years:
The use of assessment center methodology for A large number of firms now use assessment
entry-level selection or placement has fostered centers solely to diagnose training needs. An
the development of some unique exercises. article describing the use of assessment cen-
For example, interesting new exercises have ters as a diagnostic tool was published first in
been developed for Japanese companies seeking the Training & Development Journal in 1971
engineers who have more creative abilities. and later was updated (Byham, 1980).
The exercises were developed to assess the
Table 2 shows a profile of two individuals who
brain dominance of young engineers to find
were assessed in a training-needs diagnostic
“right-brained” or “whole-brained” engineers
program. One had extensive needs in inter-
who could fit into assignments requiring
personal skills, the other in decision making.
innovativeness. Six Japanese companies are
As a result of these profiles, very different
using these specially designed exercises for
training prescriptions emerged. Such
placement purposes.
information saves the individuals and their
organizations a great deal of time and effort
by getting them into the right training program
at the most appropriate time.

10
Dimensional Profiles of Two Middle Managers

Much Less Much More


than Acceptable Acceptable than Acceptable
1 2 3 4 5

Oral Communication

Oral Presentation

Written Communication

Meeting Leadership

Group Leadership

Sensitivity

Planning & Organizing

Delegation

Control Manager #1

Development of
Manager #2
Subordinates

Analysis

Judgment

Initiative

Motivation
to Work

Table 2

Most diagnostic assessment is done within Another way of obtaining developmental


an organization using in-house assessors or insights is through peer and self-assessment.
consultants. (See New Technology on the use A few organizations, such as Xerox and the
of videotape.) The major exception, however, United States Army War College, train assessees
is the “Looking Glass” simulation used by the to evaluate themselves. First, the participants
Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, are videotaped as they work through assess-
North Carolina. The Center uses professional ment center exercises. Then they are trained
psychologists to analyze information from to evaluate the exercises so they can evaluate
assessment center exercises and extensive their own and their peers’ performance.
paper-and-pencil tests. They produce profiles The participants, with input from their peers
of participants’ strengths and weaknesses, and instructor, determine their strengths and
which are used to work with the individuals developmental needs and then consider
in planning developmental activities. specific developmental plans.

11
Peer assessment is particularly prevalent in Diagnosing Management Skills and
Japan, where more than 50 companies use it. Assumptions as Part of a Corporate
Because peer assessment relies heavily on the Culture Change Strategy
use of videotape equipment (so individuals Individual assessments in a plant or department
can view their own performance), it is not can be combined to form an integral part of
surprising that a major user of this technology an organization’s culture change strategy. After
has been Matsushita Electric Industrial an organization has decided on the desired
Company, the world’s largest supplier of culture, the next logical step is to define the
videotape equipment. behaviors necessary to implement that culture
However, the accuracy of peer and self-assess- and evaluate incumbents’ skill levels in these
ment has yet to be proven fully. While peer behavioral areas. For example, an essential
assessments at Ezaki Gliko Company (Japan) ingredient of a participative culture is the
were found to be related to concurrent ability to run a meeting so all participants
supervisor evaluations (Thornton & Byham, can speak their minds and have a sense of
1982), and many organizations have reported a ownership in decision making. A leader’s
strong relationship between peer and assessor skill in accomplishing this can be determined
evaluations, the National Association of in an assessment center. Table 3 shows the
Secondary School Principals and DDI have distribution of assessment center ratings of
found little validity in self-assessments four management levels in the dimension
obtained as part of their large-scale assessment Group Leadership. The percentage rated
center applications. “less than acceptable” is shown on the left,
“more than acceptable” on the right.
Byham, W. C. (1980, June). The assessment center as an
aid in management development (rev. ed.). Training &
Development Journal, 34 (6), pp. 24-36.
Byham, W. C. (1982, February). How assessment centers
are used to evaluate training's effectiveness. Training
Magazine, 19 (2), pp. 32-38.

XYZ Manufacturing Company


Group Leadership Using a Participative Style—Frequency Distribution

Less Than Acceptable - % More Than Acceptable - %


100 80 60 40 20 0 0 20 40 60 80 100

Top Management

Middle Management

Supervision Level #2

Supervision Level #1

Table 3

12
This kind of diagnostic information is extremely then trained, then assessed again. Table 4
useful in developing a culture-change strategy. shows the results of an application of the first
Individuals who lack the skills needed to method of evaluation. This is an evaluation of
manage participatively cannot implement a the Interaction Management® supervisory
participative strategy even if they want to— training program at the Lukens Steel Company.
they must increase their basic skill level first. The assessment center results show that
In addition, research shows that the easiest there were marked changes in individuals’
way to change a person’s attitudes or basic performance after training.
assumptions about people is to change the
person’s behavior first. This represents a Research Designs
marked departure from the previous strategy for Training Evaluation
in which organizations tried to change attitudes
1. Post test only with Control Group
and hoped that behavioral change would follow.
With the new strategy, individuals are identified Treatment Training Assessment
Group: Program Center
whose attitudes or basic assumptions about
Matched Assessment
people can be considered out of line with the Control Group: Center
desired culture. Their behavior is changed
through an effective training and developmental 2. Pre/Post Evaluation
program. This addresses their attitudes and Assessment Training Assessment
Center Program Center
assumptions through the position reinforce-
ment they receive for improved behavior. In
time, management effects the desired culture 3. Pre/Post Evaluation with Control Group
change throughout the organization.
Treatment Assessment Training Assessment
Group: Center Program Center
Evaluating the Effectiveness of
Training Programs
Matched Assessment Assessment
The American Society for Training and Control Group: Center Center
Development (ASTD) estimates that U.S.
companies spend $212 billion each year on Figure 1
training (Carnevale & Goldstein, 1990). The
fastest-growing portion of this amount is for In addition to Lukens Steel, organizations such
sales, supervisory, and management training, as SOHIO,AT&T, Central Telephone Utilities
yet most companies have not evaluated the Corporation, and the New York Metropolitan
effectiveness of their training programs properly. Transit Authority have used assessment center
technology to evaluate training programs
Assessment center methodology is an excellent (Byham, 1982). The advent of video technology,
method for establishing the validity and which allows the relatively inexpensive
effectiveness of training programs. Three evaluation of individuals, has increased the
research designs commonly are used (see application of assessment center methodology
Figure 1). In the first design, a group of dramatically in this area. (See New
individuals is trained while a matched group Technology.)
is not. Both groups then are put through an
assessment center. The second and third
designs have a group of individuals assessed,

13
Schools of Business (AACSB), which encouraged
Overall Ratings of Performance in Three
six schools to use the technology as part of
Assessment Center Simulations by
Trained and Non-trained Supervisors an exploratory project attempting to evaluate
the “value added” of business schools. Table 5
Ratings:
shows the skill level in three dimensions of
Non-trained 21%
Excellent undergraduate business majors entering the
or Above
Acceptable six schools, as well as that of graduating
Trained 58%
undergraduates,students entering MBA programs,
and graduating MBAs.* In rough terms, a “3”
Non-trained 37%
Acceptable rating equates with what most organizations
would consider acceptable performance.
Trained 21%

Because of this research, interest has developed


Below
Non-trained 42% in the use of assessment center methodology
Acceptable to evaluate and document a wide range of
or Poor
Trained 21% college and other educational outputs. For
example, the University of California at Berkeley
is using an In-basket exercise in a longitudinal
Table 4
study of MBAs. Indiana University of
Pennsylvania measures the competencies
Evaluating the Output of Educational of graduates of their teacher training program.
Institutions
A summary of applications of assessment
Just as the assessment center method can be centers in education can be found in “Using
used to evaluate the effectiveness of training the assessment center method to measure life
programs, it also can be used to evaluate how competencies” (Byham, 1988), a chapter in
well undergraduate or graduate schools impart Performance and judgment: Essays on
specific skills to their students. For example, a principles and practice in the assessment
business school can determine the extent of of college student learning (pp. 255–278).
skill transfer by putting incoming and outgoing (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
students through assessment centers designed Office, 1988).
to measure the skills in question. The primary
application of the assessment center method * DDI’s Skills Diagnostic Program (SDP), which collects
in the educational sphere has been promulgated data via videotape and written outputs, was used to
collect and evaluate data in this research. (See New
by the American Assembly of Collegiate Technology.)

14
Skills/Personal Characteristics Scores
5

4
3.41

3 2.83 2.73
2.58 2.55 2.59 2.63
2.42
2.25
2.14 2.0
2 1.75

0
Decision Making Infromation Gathering/ Leadership
Problem Analysis

Incoming
Incoming MBAs
Undergraduates

Graduating
Graduating MBAs
Undergraduates

Table 5

Evaluating the Effectiveness of College Evaluating Students as a Criterion for


Recruiting and Other Selection Activities Graduation
The normative data obtained from more than If assessment center methodology is as accurate
1,000 students in the AACSB and similar studies as it seems in evaluating life skills such as
allow organizations to evaluate the effectiveness leadership, interpersonal relations, presentation
of their recruiting and selection systems in a skills, and decision making, it would make
way never before possible. By administering sense to use assessment center evaluations as
the same assessment center exercises used in one criterion in determining readiness for
the AACSB study to a sample of recent college graduation. Few universities have adopted this
hires, an organization can determine whether philosophy, although a number are looking
it is getting the best students available. Almost into it. One major example is Alverno College
every organization says it hires only top-quality in Milwaukee,Wisconsin, which uses assessment
graduates, but every organization can’t be getting centers throughout its entire curriculum as
the best. One company that took a look at its the primary method of evaluating a student’s
college hires relative to the AACSB norms progress. Faculty members and business people
found that they were, in fact, getting people from the local community serve as assessors.
who were average or below average in the
most important dimensions, such as Leadership Cromwell, L., Loacker, G., & O'Brien, K. (1986).
and Decision Making. The only dimensional Assessment in higher education: To serve the learner.
In C. Bennett (Ed.), Assessment in higher education:
areas where their new hires exceeded national Issues in contexts (pp. 47–62). Washington, DC:
averages were Personal Impact and Oral U.S. Department of Education.
Communications. Obviously, their interviewing
procedure needed to be improved.

15
NEW SIMULATIONS, TESTS, AND METHODS led to the high intercorrelations of dimensions
Simulations such as In-basket exercises, group found in early research. The assessors, no
discussions, management games, and analysis matter how well trained, could not distinguish
exercises described in Byham’s 1970 Harvard behavior among that many dimensions.
Business Review article are still the bedrock Exercises now are designed to elicit information
of assessment center methodology. However, on only one or two dimensions, thus making
they have been supplemented by new types assessor ratings more reliable and assessor
of exercises, most importantly the interaction training easier and quicker.
simulation. In this exercise the assessee is
A growing number of organizations, such as
given background information about the need
the Civil Service Commission of Canada and
to interact with an individual (subordinate,
The Center for Creative Leadership, have
peer, or customer) and personal information
adopted a “total simulation” approach to
about the individual. After the assessee has had
assessment. Instead of having a number of
an opportunity to prepare, he or she conducts
distinct and independent exercises, these
a simulated interaction with a person trained
organizations have integrated their exercises
as a role player. The “interviewee” follows a
into a common scenario. Characters introduced
well-defined role and makes standard responses
in the In-basket exercise are seen in later
to all issues that might come up. A trained
simulations, and candidates play the same role
assessor observes the assessee’s behavior.
throughout the assessment process.
Although leaderless group exercises still are
The total simulation approach is not without
used commonly to assess leadership, one-to-one
problems. Some practitioners are concerned
interaction simulations have become more
that information—or psychological “sets”—
popular. This change reflects a general feeling
developed in one exercise will contaminate
that individual leadership skills are not
performance in another and thus negate
necessarily correlated with group leadership
the important advantage of independent
skills. Another reason for the switch is that
observations. Proponents feel that this
people going through the same group exercise
problem can be overcome through exercise
may have quite different experiences. Group
design and that the realism is a major positive
interactions depend on the nature of the
feature. A compromise employed by several
people involved. Sometimes the group is highly
organizations involves using a common setting
competitive; other times it is quite cooperative.
and roles, while using independent exercises
Sometimes several people vie for leadership;
(information in one exercise does not necessarily
other times only one person takes charge. This
depend on information in other exercises).
lack of consistency has caused organizations
especially concerned with EEO issues to opt Using Videotape to Stimulate Behavior
for the more standardized interaction simulations A somewhat controversial new development
or different forms of group exercises. involves the use of videotape to stimulate
Simulations now are shorter and more often assessee behavior. An assessee watches a
targeted to a few dimensions. Most 1970 video of a situation he or she will face on the
exercises were omnibus exercises in terms of job (e.g., an interaction with a subordinate).
the dimensions being evaluated. It was not Periodically the tape stops and the assessee
unusual for an assessor to attempt to evaluate is presented with four choices of what to do
eight dimensions from a single exercise. This or say. A score is calculated based on the

16
assessee’s responses to a number of these exercises and explaining how the assessment
situations. The scoring system is developed center operates. These videos are becoming
based on a validity study. increasingly popular, especially in large-scale
assessment center applications. The introduction
While such exercises may appear to be
to the assessment center often is linked to a
assessment center exercises, they are not.
video job preview that shows what the target
They are related more closely to paper-and-
job will be like, and that shows employees the
pencil tests and are thus best used as part of
values that will guide the organization. If given
screening prior to an assessment center or as a
a realistic job and assessment center preview,
supplement to an assessment center.
applicants can make informed decisions about
Orientation Simulations and Videos whether or not they want to participate.
Many organizations are using “minisimulations” Outstanding examples of such videos have been
as part of an orientation program for employees produced by Toyota and Southwestern Bell.
who are interested in becoming supervisors
Psychological Inventories and
and who may attend an assessment center.
Projective Tests
During the orientation participants experience
The original AT&T research assessment centers
scaled-down versions of the simulations they
used psychological inventories (e.g., the
would face in the assessment center. For
Edwards Personal Preference Schedule) and
example, they spend one-half hour doing a
projective tests (e.g., the Thematic
seven-item In-basket, participate in a 15-minute
Apperception Test) to supplement observations
group discussion, and observe a videotaped
of assessees’ behaviors as they progressed
interaction simulation. An orientation
through assessment center simulations. AT&T
program will:
dropped these instruments after they converted
> Ensure that participants have complete their research assessment centers to operational
information about the assessment center. assessment centers run by the Bell operating
> Clear up any concerns people may have companies. AT&T dropped the tests for two
about how it will operate and what the reasons: (1) the operational assessment centers
simulations will be like. used managers (rather than psychologists) as
> Dissuade employees from seeking “inside” assessors, and (2) paper-and-pencil instruments
information from friends who already have were disputed during this period (1960s)
been participants. because of possible adverse impact on protected
groups. Most organizations that adopted the
> Ensure fairness to minority groups who may
assessment center methodology followed
have less exposure to evaluation situations
by providing them with a thorough AT&T’s lead, concentrating on behavioral
explanation of the assessment process. exercises rather than paper-and-pencil tests.
Most even dropped intelligence tests because
> Provide participants with a realistic job
of the common finding of adverse influence
preview that helps them make informed
on blacks. However, the Bell companies
decisions about the job; often participants
retained these tests.
will decide not to pursue the opportunity
once they obtain this information. Today some of these tests,particularly intelligence
Another way of providing effective orientation tests (general ability tests), are being used
to an assessment center is to make a video again in conjunction with assessment centers.
showing assessees participating in the various Research data show that the combination of

17
intelligence data and behavioral observations Self-Report, Boss, and Workplace Peer
provides a markedly better means of evaluating Evaluation Instruments
people than either used alone (Thornton & An assessment center provides insights into
Byham, 1982). The problem with using many job dimensions, but usually not all
paper-and-pencil intelligence tests and other dimensions. Dimensions such as Work Standards
psychological instruments is that they require and Energy are not evaluated well in assessment
very careful validation efforts, and assessors centers. To fill in these gaps and to get
must be specially trained in both data interpre- additional insights to dimensions that are
tation and how to integrate that data with assessed in assessment centers, many
behavioral data. organizations supplement their assessment
The dimension Need or Desire to Lead Others, centers with self-reports and with evaluations
which is evaluated through psychological by the assessee’s boss and workplace peers
instruments, has achieved considerable attention or subordinates. Usually, assessee is given six
in the last few years as a result of work by questionnaires that list the target dimensions
Howard and Bray. They found a precipitous with definitions. The assessee completes one
drop in this dimension when comparing Bell and gives the other five to his/her boss, peers,
company college recruits of the 1950s to or subordinates. All questions are sent to a
recruits of the 1980s. Confirmation of this central location where a computer summarizes
decline was also obtained from the DDI-AACSB the data and prepares a report.
study. Table 6 shows the results of these The combination of assessment center, self-,
three studies. Because of these findings, and boss/peer/subordinate evaluations of a
many organizations are interested in using common set of dimensions makes a powerful
psychological inventories to collect information impact on assessees. The feedback counselor
from assessees regarding this dimension. and the assessee can compare and contrast
A large number of organizations have adopted each dimension’s ratings from each source
an inventory developed by DDI and called the (self, others, and the assessment center).
Job Fit Inventory (JFI). The JFI measures desire Based on these insights, they can define
to work in an empowered organization and developmental actions more accurately.
desire to empower others. NEW TECHNOLOGY
The biggest drawback in the ongoing use of
Ratings on “Disposition to Lead” assessment centers is the amount of managerial
from Three Different Studies time required. In a typical assessment center,
0% 50% 100% a manager leaves his/her job for two or three
days to observe participants’ performance in
AACSB
(1985) 28%
simulations, and then spends an additional day
N=600
or two meeting with other observers to make
AT&T
(late 1970s) 32% final evaluations. Although managers recognize
N=344
the importance of selection and promotion
AT&T
(late 1950s) 50%
decisions, they are often reluctant to devote
N=266
this much concentrated time to assessment.
A related problem is the formality of the
Table 6
traditional assessment center, which tends to

18
make the center an event. This may build meetings with these managers over a period
expectations and call attention to who is of several weeks, according to the schedules of
being assessed and who has not been asked all parties. The managers involved fit the time
to participate. The traditional assessment for the exercises into their usual activities.
center also forces organizations to put people
During these meetings the managers put the
through the process in groups; the method is
assessee through the same job simulations
useless when there are only two candidates
used in formal assessment centers. For example,
for a position.
one manager might interview the assessee
These constraints have limited assessment center about why he or she took certain actions in
method applications in some organizations to the In-basket exercise; another might have the
only a few selection or promotion decisions. assessee present findings from an analysis and
As a result, many important and effective planning exercise; and a third might observe
applications, such as defining training needs, the assessee in a one-to-one interaction with
have not been utilized widely. Although another manager who role-plays a subordinate.
organizations recognize the increasing
At an appointed time the managers (assessors)
importance of accurately diagnosing training
meet to hold an assessor discussion that works
needs before sending people to training
exactly like such discussions in a traditional
programs, the problems associated with
assessment center. The assessors give actual
staffing developmental assessment centers
examples of the participant’s behavior to back
often make their use prohibitive, even though
up their ratings on each of the dimensions
assessment center methodology is the best
they evaluated. After sharing all their
available diagnostic instrument for many
observations, the assessors reach consensus on
positions. Managers agree on the importance
the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in
of thorough and accurate diagnoses, but are
each dimension. Then, if the purpose of the
reluctant to spend the time needed to produce
assessment center is to provide the basis for
the excellent diagnoses that the assessment
selection or promotion decisions, the assessors
center methodology yields.
make an overall evaluation. If the objective of
Deformalizing the Method assessment is to diagnose training needs, the
assessors’ final step is to develop a profile of the
A number of organizations in the United States
assessee’s strengths and developmental needs.
and overseas have overcome the implementation
problems noted earlier by making their All key components of the assessment center
assessment centers less formal and rigid while method are present: multiple job simulations;
keeping the basic components that provide use of behavior observed in simulations to
validity. Organizations do this by incorporating predict future behavior in the target job;
the assessment center method into an organization of observed behavior around
organization’s day-to-day activities, rather job-related dimensions; and a systematic data
than by having their managers go off to a integration session involving several assessors
designated place, or to a “center.” who have observed participants independently
in the simulations. Only the rigidity is removed.
The individual to be assessed is given a list of
This allows even the smallest organization to
managers responsible for filling the position.
apply the assessment center method in making
The assessee then schedules his/her own
selection/promotion decisions.

19
Using Videotape to Record Behavior AcceleRATE
Another increasingly popular technology is the The AcceleRATE software program expedites
use of videotape equipment to capture assessee the assessment process, and is therefore
behavior. Rather than having managers observe advocated by many assessors and administrators.
individuals in simulations, participants’ behavior With AcceleRATE, assessors input their
is recorded on videotape. The tape and the observations directly into computers. The
assessees’ written output then can be sent computer organizes behavior by dimension
virtually anywhere and assessors can view and and feeds it back to the assessor in a way
evaluate the taped and written performance at that facilitates the rating of each dimension.
their convenience. After each assessor has The computer, using an expert system, then
observed and evaluated the assigned simulation, checks the rating and if it differs from that
a standard data integration session can be held, of the assessor, a second assessor reviews the
or the data can be integrated by a computer data and shares his or her insights with the
using an expert system. assessor. Together, they make a decision on the
dimension rating for the exercise.
The most popular application of this technology
is DDI’s Skills Diagnostic Program (SDP). At the integration meeting, a computer integrates
More than 100 organizations use the SDP all the behavioral observations across exercises
as a substitute for, or as a supplement to, and presents the data in a convenient way
the traditional assessment center. These for assessor analysis and decision making.
organizations send In-baskets or videos of In some organizations, an expert system
interactive exercises to DDI to be scored. substitutes for the integration meeting.
This mathematical data integration is possible
The SDP uses a special version of the AcceleRATE
because of the high reliability of the assessor
program described below. The output consists
exercise dimensional ratings, where reliabilities
of behavioral descriptions of performance on
of .90 and higher are common.
each dimension and percentile rankings
relative to as many as three normative groups. The computer prints out a detailed final report
The organization chooses the normative groups. giving dimensional ratings with behavioral
For example, the performance of a middle examples. AcceleRATE decreases assessor time
manager might be compared with other middle by more than half and dramatically decreases
managers in the company, in a nationwide assessor and administrator training time.
sample of middle managers, or a nationwide
sample of middle managers with M.B.A.s, etc.
One of the largest applications of SDP technology
was the evaluation of more than 600 business
school graduates as part of the AACSB-sponsored
research project. Students from six
representative universities worked through
four assessment center exercises administered
by the staff of the institution. Participants’
written outputs, along with their videotaped
performances, were then sent to DDI where
they were evaluated and the data were integrated
via computer to arrive at dimensional ratings.

20
II. ASSESSMENT 2. Use behavior to predict behavior.
Assessors in assessment centers make
CENTER decisions based on behavior; they don’t

METHODOLOGY
try to psychoanalyze the individuals they
observe. They connect behavior in the
assessment center exercises and behavior
WHAT IS ASSESSMENT CENTER required on the job. If the assessee’s
METHODOLOGY? behavior is similar to that required in the
The validity and effectiveness of the target job, that assessee receives a high
assessment center method can be credited to rating. If the candidate does not use
six basic underlying methodological concepts. behaviors required in the target job, he
During the past 21 years, many organizations or she receives a low rating.
have used these concepts to improve the
effectiveness of personnel procedures outside 3. Have two or more individuals
the traditional assessment center. Assessment independently observe and evaluate.
center methodology has been applied in Observations made by two or more trained
interviewing, job observation, and obtaining observers provide multiple perspectives
third-party information (reference data.) on the meaning and importance of an
The six methodological concepts that give assessee’s behavior. This reduces the
the assessment center method its validity are: chance that an assessee’s performance
in one exercise will influence assessor
1. Organize the assessment process evaluation in others.
around target dimensions.
4. Develop a system that ensures all tar-
One of the two keys to the job relatedness get dimensions are covered and that
of assessment center methodology is the uses inputs from multiple sources.
focus of assessment center observations
on dimensions that have been defined Assessment centers are organized to force
as important to success (or failure) in the the evaluation of all target dimensions.
target job. Dimensions are defined through Exercises are selected to provide the most
an analysis of the target job. This job analysis complete coverage possible, with overlap
procedure usually involves interviewing built in for the most important dimensions.
incumbents and their supervisors to But simulations may not provide information
identify common factors that have a direct on all dimensions. Very seldom is a job so
bearing on success and failure. See: unidimensional that a single source of data
can predict future behavior. In reality, most
Byham, W., & Associates (1990). Dimensions of effective
jobs are extremely complicated in terms
performance for the 1990s: What they are, how they of the activities and dimensions necessary
differ among levels, how they are changing
(Monograph XV, rev. ed.). Pittsburgh, PA: Development
for success. For this reason, a variety of
Dimensions International. assessment sources, such as interview data
Hauenstein, P, & Byham, W. C. (1989). Understanding job and reference checks, are needed.
analysis (Monograph XI). Pittsburgh, PA: Development
Dimensions International.

21
5. Organize a discussion so two or TARGETED SELECTION®: OBTAINING
more assessors systematically share BEHAVIOR IN INTERVIEWS
and debate their behavioral insights About 1,000 organizations throughout the
and relate these findings to each world are using assessment center methodology
target dimension prior to reaching with no simulations at all. They include
an overall decision. Citicorp, Alcoa, Caterpillar, Hoffmann-LaRoche
Inc., Imperial Chemicals, McGraw-Hill, and
Research evidence and practical experience
PepsiCo. These companies are using a
clearly indicate that, in most situations, a
technology known as Targeted Selection®,
group process where data are shared and
wherein applicant behavior is not gathered
the judgments of several knowledgeable
through job simulations but through a series
individuals are polled enhances decision
of behaviorally based interviews. Just as
making. The assessment center really is an
assessors are trained to observe and evaluate
organized group decision-making process
behavior in simulations,Targeted Selection
that allows assessors systematically to
interviewers are trained to ask questions
collect data, organize it, share observations,
that elicit clear examples of past behavior
and come to a consensus.
in interviews, and to use these examples to
The integration session in assessment predict future behavior. Groups of target
centers forces individuals to substantiate dimensions are assigned to two or more
their ratings with examples of actual interviewers who use special questioning
assessee behavior, thus keeping subjective skills to obtain the required behaviors.
elements out of the discussion. The
After the interviews, interviewers meet and
process also helps assessors focus on
systematically share data on each dimension
each key job dimension prior to reaching
until they can reach a consensus rating for
overall decisions.
each dimension. The result is a profile of
6. Use simulations to stimulate behavior strengths and weaknesses just like that
to be observed. obtained in an assessment center. Research at
companies like Holiday Inn, J. C. Penney, and
Simulations are an important method (but
McDonald’s has shown that this methodology
not the only method; see concept #4) of
increases the quality of hires markedly
obtaining behavioral examples that can
(Development Dimensions International, 1983).
be used to predict future behavior.
Simulations give organizations a chance Although it is not an assessment center, the
to see how a person would perform in a Targeted Selection interviewing process is
particular job prior to giving him/her the a true application of assessment center
position. methodology. It is very different from the kinds
of interviews that were used in early assessment
The next three sections deal with applications
centers, which tended to be very psychological
of assessment center concepts in other
and called for extensive interpretation by the
personnel procedures such as interviewing,
person (usually a psychologist) who conducted
on-the-job observation of performance, and
the interview. The strength of the behavioral
obtaining third-party information about an
Targeted Selection interview is that it requires
individual. The section titled Developing
almost no psychological interpretation. It is
Integrated Systems deals with assessment
merely an extrapolation of past behavior to
methodology as the basis for integrated
future behavior.
personnel systems.
22
Table 7 compares key concepts of assessment Combining Simulations with
center methodology and Targeted Selection Behavioral Interviews
methodology. While the Targeted Selection behavioral
interviewing procedure is an appropriate
alternative to assessment center data when
Assessment Centers Targeted Selection
the interviewee has had experience in the
1 Organize assessment same dimensions being assessed, it breaks down
process around target when he or she has had no experience in the
dimensions. areas being evaluated. For example, it is difficult
to interview a new college graduate for the
2 Use behavior to same
dimension Control if he or she has never had
predict behavior.
a management job, or a sales applicant for
3 Have two or more same Selling Skills if the applicant has never had a
individuals independently selling job. In these situations the assessee is
observe and evaluate. being evaluated for a position that is markedly
4 Develop a system that same different from those he or she has held before.
ensures all target Even the highly skilled interviewer might have
dimensions are covered trouble getting sufficient behavioral data on
and that uses inputs from some dimensions to project future behavior.
multiple sources. This is an ideal situation for behavioral
5 Organize a discussion so same simulations such as those used in assessment
two or more assessors centers. Simulations allow direct observation
systematically share and of the desired behavior. Indeed, combining
debate their behavioral behavioral interviewing with assessment
insights and relate these center simulations was a natural wedding of
findings to each target technologies. Interviews provide information
dimension prior to reaching on a subset of the target dimensions, while
an overall decision. behavioral simulations provide information on
additional dimensions. Because only one or
6 Use simulations to Use interviews
two simulations are used typically, these
stimulate behavior to obtain
applications of the methodology are more
to be observed. past behavior.
often thought of as an elaboration of the
interviewing process than as an assessment
Table 7 center, even though technically they meet
the requirements of an assessment center set
up by the International Congress on the
Assessment Center Method. The simulations
can be interjected into an interview, or one
interviewer may interview the assessee while
another administers simulations. Organizations
using this combination methodology include
the Upjohn Company, A. E. Staley Manufacturing
Company, and Florida Steel Corporation.

23
Two types of simulations commonly are The employee will better understand the
integrated into behaviorally based interviewing nature of his or her performance and what
systems: changes are necessary. In addition, managers’
reports (promotion recommendation and
1. Regular assessment simulations are used
others) will mean more to higher management
when there is sufficient time, usually
because they contain behavioral examples.
when a single assessor is administering
or observing the simulation and has no Several companies have set up performance
other interviewing responsibilities. appraisal systems that parallel assessment
However, the individual may, at another methodology directly, including systematic
point in time, conduct an interview as data integration. In these systems managers
part of the overall system. at the same level meet to share performance
data regarding their subordinates and agree
2. Targeted Simulations® are used when the
on dimensional and overall ratings, as in an
simulation must be put into the interview
assessment center.
process itself. In these situations an
interviewer conducts part of the interview, Although complete adoption of assessment
administers a very short simulation, and methodology is still rather rare, many companies
then continues the interview. These with assessment centers are integrating parts
Targeted Simulations are shorter and have a of the methodology into their performance
simpler rating procedure for the assessors. appraisal systems. Most of them are using the
same dimensions to evaluate incumbents that
Byham, W. C. (1987). Applying a systems approach to they use in assessing applicants for the position.
personnel activities. (Monograph IX). Pittsburgh, PA: Kodak,ARA,Tampa Electric, and Owens Illinois
Development Dimensions International.
are leading the way by integrating their selection,
training, and appraisal programs around a
TARGETED OBSERVATION: OBTAINING
consistent assessment center methodology
BEHAVIORAL INFORMATION FROM DIRECT
OBSERVATION OF PERFORMANCE and job dimensions.
Just as basic assessment center methodology Strangely enough, simulations also are playing
can be applied when the behavioral data come a role in direct observation of performance.
from candidate interviews, it also can be used There are many situations in which it is difficult
when the behavioral data come from on-the- for a manager to observe a subordinate supervisor
job observation of performance. Accuracy of or manager in action. A prime example is in
on-the-job performance observations can be interpersonal situations, such as when
improved markedly by training managers to subordinate supervisors conduct performance
differentiate between true behavioral appraisal interviews with their employees.
observations and nonbehavioral observations, Most managers feel it is inappropriate to sit in
and to observe and record behavior. on their subordinate supervisors’ discussions
Without training, many managers tend to with subordinates. This creates a dilemma:
generalize their observations, making How can the manager observe his/her
comments such as,“He’s not organized,”“She’s subordinates’ performance in this important
not trying hard enough,” or “He’s not mature.” area, and how can the manager coach if he
The manager will have greater impact if his or or she cannot observe behavior? An obvious
her feedback to a subordinate is more behavioral. answer is for the manager and the subordinate

24
supervisor to role-play a situation and use that techniques similar to those used in Targeted
data as a source of feedback. The role play Selection interviews. It’s important to build
can be built around an actual situation the the interview around dimensions, seek
supervisor is facing, or a standardized role play behavioral examples, and evaluate the data
can be used. The only advantage to the latter relative to the requirements of the target job.
is that it comes with training materials.
A selection system for the position of sales
THIRD-PARTY EVALUATIONS engineer is shown in Table 8. It includes
Most aspects of assessment center methodology reference checks as part of the system. To
also can be used to get third-party information facilitate integration of the third-party data with
about individuals. In hiring a person, third-party data from other sources (e.g., interviews and
information often is obtained through reference simulations), a consistent rating scale is used.
checks from previous employers or co-workers. Training managers to conduct effective third-
In promotion situations, third-party information party interviews is relatively easy once they
is received from other managers who have have developed the basic Targeted Selection
worked with or observed the individual. interviewing skills, since the same basic skills
When obtaining third-party information, it are required.
is advisable to use behavioral interviewing

System for Selecting Sales Engineers


District Regional
Sales Personnel Sales
Manager Manager Sales Call Manager Reference Health
Interview Interview In-basket Simulation Interview Check Examination

Oral Communication x x x x

Written Communication x
Technical Translation x x
Motivation for Work x x
Work Standards x x x
Sales Ability x x x x
Resilience x x
Tenacity x x x
Ability to Learn x x
Initiative x x x x
Planning and Organizing x x x
Judgment x x x x
Analysis x x x x
Integrity x x x
Technical Engineering x x
Skills
Physical Health x

Table 8

25
DEVELOPING INTEGRATED SYSTEMS
System for Promotion to
Early assessment center practitioners mistakenly Bank Manager Position
ignored other sources of data that managers Assessment Background Performance
Center Interview in
traditionally used in making promotion decisions. Current Job

People who set up assessment centers acted Oral Communication x x x


as if management was going to consider only Oral Presentation x
the assessment center data to make promotion Job Motivation x
decisions. This, of course, was rarely the case, Work Standards x x
as managers interviewing candidates for jobs Initiative x x x
took the person’s current job performance into Sensitivity x x x
consideration. Unfortunately, the data were often Leadership x
difficult to integrate. Assessment center data were Problem Analysis x x x
highly structured with thorough documentation, Judgment x x x

while data coming from direct performance Planning & Organizing x x x

observation or interviews often were gathered Delegation x x

much less systematically and built around Management Control x x

dimensions other than those assessed in the Development


of Subordinates x
assessment center or important to the job.
Organizational
Today, most organizations conduct a job Sensitivity x x
analysis to determine the target performance Extraorganizational
Awareness x x
dimensions of the job. The next step is to
assign dimensions to each available data Table 9
source that are best tapped by that source.
Table 9 contains a matrix of a system used to > Managers are better able to compare and
promote candidates to a bank branch manager integrate data when the data are presented in
a consistent manner; better decisions result.
position. It consists of three data-gathering
elements: an assessment center, which brings > All dimensions important to job success
out certain dimensions; a targeted interview, are covered.
which brings out additional dimensions; and > Overlap in coverage of the most important
targeted performance observations (obtained dimensions is assured, but needless overlap
from candidates’ current bosses), which bring is avoided.
out dimensions observable in candidates’
> The most appropriate and efficient method
present jobs. The entire system is built around of evaluating each dimension is used.
a list of consistently defined dimensions for
> Managerial training needed to implement
evaluating all candidates, and uses a common
each part of the system is dramatically
rating system. Because standard definitions
reduced because the skills needed to gather
and ratings are used, the decision makers can
data are essentially the same, regardless of
effectively integrate data from each source.
the data source. Therefore, managers need
There are many advantages to using a systems only learn them once.
approach when making selection and
promotion decisions: Byham, W. C. (1987). Applying a systems approach to
personnel activities. (Monograph IX). Pittsburgh, PA:
Development Dimensions International.

26
THE FUTURE OF ASSESSMENT CENTERS writing. These tasks are now being eliminated
As in most aspects of business, it appears that or decreased substantially by the use of a
there are computers in the future of both the computer expert system called Identifying
assessment center method and methodology. Criteria for Success (ICS) that acts as a job
So far, computers have been used mainly to analyst. Job content experts (usually
help process assessment center data. As in incumbents or their bosses) answer questions
the AcceleRATE program, assessor ratings the computer poses to obtain the information
and observations are entered into a computer, necessary for the job analysis.
which displays the data for decision-making
CONCLUSION
convenience; it even makes tentative decisions
The assessment center method is a proven,
for assessors to review. More importantly, the
valid technique that is extremely effective for
computer aids the administrator in completing
making selection and promotion decisions and
summary reports that he or she will provide
for diagnosing employee development needs.
for management and the participants.
Applied traditionally, it is most appropriate for
Other innovative applications are being tested. organizations that process groups of individuals.
One organization evaluates interactive situations However, alternative methods now exist that
by using computers linked to video disks. make it possible for most organizations to use
The assessee plays the role of a manager who the method. In addition, organizations can profit
must discuss a performance problem with a from the methodology without experiencing
subordinate. Considerable background data the problems associated with traditional
about the individual and the performance assessment approaches.
problem are provided in written form. As the
In spite of the confusion stemming from the
assessee sits at a video monitor linked to a video
word “center” in its name, an assessment center
disk and computer, the “subordinate” appears
never was a place. And now it is no longer a
on the screen and starts the conversation. The
thing. It is a highly flexible methodology.
assessee is asked questions with multiple-choice
There always will be formal assessment centers
answers relative to what he or she would say
firmly entrenched as part of selection or
in the situation presented. Using the computer’s
promotional processes, but the major growth
and the video disk’s branching capability, the
area in assessment centers unquestionably will
“subordinate” responds differently according
be in applying the key concepts that make
to the statement the assessee chooses. At the
such centers valid. These concepts are simple
completion of the interaction, the computer
and applicable worldwide.
presents the assessor with a visual display of
the interactive behaviors the assessee used. Assessment center concepts can be applied
The computer then compares the assessee’s to any situation in which people need to be
behaviors to effective and ineffective behaviors evaluated, including promotion, performance
previously determined by a management team. appraisal, and selection interviewing. The
methodology is not a mysterious new thing
A major task in establishing an assessment
as was probably implied in the 1970 Harvard
center is the job analysis. The process usually
Business Review article. It is merely a systematic
involves conducting multiple interviews,
way of obtaining and processing data and
developing and distributing questionnaires,
making decisions about individuals.
and considerable data analysis and report

27
The assessment center method has come a long Writing a summary article regarding assessment
way in 21 years in terms of the sophistication centers 10 or 15 years from now will be a
of techniques and methodology. Its use is still much more difficult task as methodology will
definable to the extent that one can feel fairly be part of many personnel applications. By
confident in writing an article describing its and large, people will be unaware that they
applications and methodologies. There is still a are using assessment center methodology, and
core method to which people relate. This is then it will have achieved its full potential as
witnessed by the fact that 1991 was the 19th an extremely important aid to management.
year of the International Congress on the
Assessment Center Method, in which
practitioners from different countries meet
annually to share techniques and research results.

28
REFERENCES Byham,W. C. (1987). Applying a systems
approach to personnel activities
(Monograph IX). Pittsburgh, PA:
Ashe, L.,Todd, K., & Byham,W. C. (1991).
Development Dimensions International.
Employee evaluation for the 1990s:
Paper-and-pencil tests, assessment centers, Byham,W. C. (1989). Targeted selection:
performance appraisals, and interviews. A behavioral approach to improved hiring
A review of court cases and discussion decisions (Basic concepts and methodology)
of future prospects. Pittsburgh, PA: (Monograph XIV, rev. ed.). Pittsburgh, PA:
Development Dimensions International. Development Dimensions International.
Bray, D.W., Campbell, R. J. & Grant, D. L. (1974). Byham,W. C., & Associates (1990).
Formative years in business. Malabar, FL: Dimensions of effective performance for
Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company. the 1990s: What they are, how they differ
among levels, how they are changing
Bray, D.W., & Campbell, R. J. (1968). Selection
(Monograph XV, rev. ed.). Pittsburgh, PA:
of salesmen by means of an assessment
Development Dimensions International.
center. Journal of Applied Psychology, 52,
pp. 36-41. Byham,W. C., & Associates (1991). Guidelines
and ethical considerations for assessment
Bray, D.W., & Howard,A. (1983). The AT&T
center operations: Task force on assessment
longitudinal studies of managers.
center guidelines (Monograph XVI, rev. ed.).
Longitudinal studies of adult psychological
Pittsburgh, PA: Development Dimensions
development. New York: Guilford Press.
International.
Byham,W. C. (1970). Assessment centers for
Carnevale,A. P., & Goldstein, H. (1983).
spotting future managers. Harvard Business
Employee Training. Washington, DC:
Review, 48 (4), pp. 150–160, plus appendix.
ASTD Press.
Byham,W. C. (1979). Toward a content-valid
Cascio,W. F., & Ramos, R.A. (1986).
personnel system. In J.A. Sgro (ed.) Virginia
Development and application of a new
Tech symposium on applied behavior
method for assessing job performance in
science, 2 (1), pp. 63-87.
behavioral/economic terms. Journal of
Byham,W. C. (1980, June). The assessment Applied Psychology, 71 (1), pp. 20-28.
center as an aid in management development.
Cromwell, L., Loacker, G. & O’Brien, K. (1986).
(Rev. ed.). Training & Development Journal,
Assessment in higher education: To serve
35 (6), pp. 24-36.
the learner. In C. Bennett (ed.), Assessment
Byham,W. C. (1982, February). How assess- in higher education: Issues in contexts
ment centers are used to evaluate training’s (pp. 47-62). Washington, DC: U.S.
effectiveness. Training Magazine, 19 (2), Department of Education.
pp. 32-38.
Development Dimensions International.
Byham,W. C. (1985). Screening and selection. (1983). Targeted Selection evaluation
In J. Ullman, H. Holtjie, & D. Christman (eds.), research. Pittsburgh, PA: Author.
Handbook of engineering management.
New York: John Wiley & Sons.

29
Gaugler, B., Rosenthal, D. B.,Thornton, G. C, III, Moses, J. L. & Byham,W. C. (1977).
& Bentson, C. (1987). Meta-analysis of Applying the assessment center method.
assessment center validity. Journal of Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
Applied Psychology, 72 (3), pp. 493-511.
Thornton, G. C. III, & Byham,W. C. (1982).
Hauenstein, P., & Byham,W. C. (1989). Assessment centers and managerial
Understanding job analysis (Monograph XI). performance. New York: Academic Press.
Pittsburgh, PA: Development Dimensions
Wellins, R., Byham,W.,Wilson, J. (1991).
International.
Empowered teams: Creating self-directed
Howard,A., & Bray, D.W. (1988). Managerial work groups that improve quality,
lives in transition: Advancing and changing productivity, and participation.
times. New York: Guilford Press. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

30
ABOUT THE He and his DDI colleagues have been in the
forefront of assessment center innovations

AUTHOR including web-based assessment centers and


unique assessment center exercises for various
William C. Byham, Ph.D., is CEO and functions and levels. Dr. Byham founded the
Chairman of Development Dimensions International Congress on Assessment Center
International (DDI), a global human resources Methodology in 1970 to bring together practi-
consulting firm which specializes in hiring tioners to share best practices.
and leadership development. Dr. Byham has Dr. Byham is an internationally recognized
championed the application of the assessment thought leader, speaker, and author. His most
center method worldwide since 1967. recent book is Grow Your Own Leaders.
For additional information about Development
Dimensions International, call 1-800-933-4463.

31
NOTES

32
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