Assessment Centers have become a widely accepted method for assisting in employee development and career path decisions. In choosing a vendor, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology. The jury is still out on the validity of the results delivered by standard assessment centers. Crosby & Associates brings a rigor to the assessment process that many providers lack. We also provide significant leadership development during the assessment. As a result, your personnel graduate from the process more capable of leading, regardless of whether they are at the top or bottom of the bell curve within your organization. For the time and cost invested, you move the organization forward and gain practical information to assist in your development, career path, and performance management decisions.
Crosby & Associates has provided leadership development and assessment, especially in the form of a master’s level corporate leadership program, since the early 1970’s. Our development methods are reliable, create a dramatic improvement in a critical mass of attendees, and have been tested time and again. A recent group of management participants rated the practical application of their learning to their work as an average score of 9.0 on a ten point scale. An average score ranging from eight to nine has been consistently reproduced through our history.
A review of the literature reveals that claims of traditional Assessment Center validity, on the other hand, are dubious. The study most frequently cited, by Gaugler, Rosenthal, Thornton, & Bentson (1985), documents a validity coefficient of .37 (0 = no relationship, 1.0 = strong relationship), comparing Assessment Center methods with other forms of assessment. Most of the literature, especially from Assessment Center vendors, claims that this proves the centers are effective.
This is a leap. For example, the most frequently cited studies claim that Assessment Center predictions, as measured by the subsequent career path advancement of the graduates, tightly match assessment by management personnel. If that’s the case, why not save time and expense and just evaluate your subordinates yourself! The Assessment Center industry’s own research indicates that management is just as good at it as they are! Furthermore, .37 is less than halfway up the cited validity scale. It is a statistically significant, but weak, correlation. Yet it is cited as proof of validity in much of the industry’s literature. The industry also cites studies indicating that people who received favorable assessments tend to advance in their careers. They claim that as proof that Assessment Centers make valid predictions. What they don’t address is that they are influencing the outcome. That is, people who get favorable assessments gain improved opportunity for advancement, whereas those who receive less favorable assessments may be handicapped when advancement decisions are made. This might be acceptable if there was no variation in the quality of assessments. If there is variability, than careers are being determined to some extent by the luck of the draw.
The industry’s own studies go on to provide evidence that the quality of the assessments does vary from assessor to assessor (Impact of Common Rater Variance on Construct Validity of Assessment Center Dimension Judgments, Kolk, Born & Flier, 2002). Furthermore, we have coached many individuals coping with and trying to interpret the meaning of negative assessments. These assessments, provided to a nuclear operating company, did not stand up to rigorous assessment of the assessments, and provided very little in the way of useful coaching. Sadly, that particular organization believed they were valid, and weighed them heavily into their career advancement decision-making.
In sum, while widely accepted in corporate circles, there is a lack of research critiquing Assessment Center validity, and numerous shortcomings in the data and methods used by the industry. A reasonable executive may be asking themselves at this point, why bother? We are surfacing these problems with the Assessment Center industry because A) nobody else seems to be, and this industry is thriving despite it’s flaws, B) because surfacing problems is part of our value system, and part of the behavior we work to instill in others, so that decisions can be made with eyes wide open, and C) because we offer a high quality, highly reliable alternative.
The Crosby & Associates Leadership Development and Assessment Center Approach:
First and foremost, we are going to develop your present and future leaders while we assess them, so that you are improving the performance of your organization while also receiving practical development information. Our experiential learning methods encourage leaders to give clear direction, take a stand for what they believe in, foster communication up and down the hierarchy, and connect with emotional intelligence to all levels of the organization. This type of leadership has fostered success in many of our clients, such as PECO Nuclear following the NRC’s shutdown of Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, is critical to fostering productivity, quality, and safety culture, and can be reliably replicated in your organization, as it has in many others over the past 35 years.
Our assessments are behaviorally specific. No judgments are offered that can’t be tied back to a description of what we heard or saw the individual do. The person being assessed will know exactly how the assessment judgment was formed. They will have the data for forming their own interpretation of their behavior, so they are able to work on improvement in a practical manner, or challenge the interpretation. Our personnel are not afraid to be challenged, and to have follow-up conversations with the people they have assessed (unlike most of the industry, which refuses to engage once the assessment is delivered). Behavioral specificity is also a core skill in the giving and receiving of feedback, and each of the participants will carefully hone that skill during the process, so they can apply it within the organization.
Crosby & Associates assessors calibrate their ratings before finalizing them, to make sure they are being as consistent as humanly possible in their interpretations of the participants.
In addition, unlike many of our competitors, Crosby & Associates absolutely advises our customers to respect management judgment in career advancement and development decision making regarding your own personnel. Management has years of data that no Assessment Center can reproduce. We will accelerate the development of a critical mass of your leaders, and provide the organization with valuable feedback, but making career progression and development decisions about your subordinate’s remains in your hands, where it belongs. On the other hand, the standards, skills, and process in your organization for how to make those decisions will be enhanced through our leadership development activities.