Both assessment and development centers use a number of simulation techniques to evaluate competencies however any other effort for competency assessment can also use same methods or look for other appropriate ways to evaluate behaviors. It would be interesting to explore a little about some of the most used methods and best practices for assessments in organizations across the world.
The first and the simplest method is that of observing the candidate at his/her work. The natural work environment makes the candidates much relaxed and they display their job related competencies at ease without the usual anxiety that accompanies assessment. This makes the job of the observers easy as well as they get concrete and relevant examples of behaviors to be assessed simultaneously, as they can see them in action.
Structured Interviews are another popular method which are open ended questions asked to the candidate which help explore a particular job related competency better. It happens by asking very specific questions regarding a past performance, cited as example for a competency by the candidate and the observer tries to establish the competency by asking questions about it. A little script would help in understanding better:
Observer: Can you tell me an incident or an example from your work-life where you displayed the competency engaging and inspiring others
Candidate: Yes, last year when I was posted in the XYZ mines in South India, we were running a green initiative on behalf of the organization where we planted around 1000 saplings in the forest area around the mines.
Observer: Who had suggested the idea? At what level were you involved? Did you face any problems? How did you manage them? What do you think was the response of your team to this initiative? Did anyone oppose this? How did you create a buy in for this project? Etc.
The list of questions can be long but the observer has to essentially bring out the fact that if a competency or behavior is displayed, there is a well-defined intent behind it as well.
The next assessment methodology worth exploring is simulation exercises. As these exercises represent situations from the work life of the candidate, they can easily relate to it and therefore job related relevant behaviors are exhibited. Some of the important tools used under simulation exercises are:
Role Play- Using role play in simulation exercises reveal a great deal of information regarding the behaviors. The role play may have a little situation described which is given to the participant and similar information is provided to the observer however the observers are provided with certain leading questions which help to elicit the behaviors to be observed. It is also a good idea to video record the role play which can be played later during washouts with other observers to clearly identify specific behaviors. In some conservative organizations, instead of role plays verbatim are written which also serve the similar purpose of recording the behaviors for later reference.
In Basket- It basically contains some mails, memos and other information on which the candidate has to take decisions after appropriate prioritization. It is a time bound exercise and if it is conducted as a detailed written exercise, the candidates also have to explain the reason behind their decisions.
Case Study- A case studies for the assessment sake can be defined as detailed information regarding the different aspects of an organization, person or situation depending upon the competencies to be judged and has some problem themes running through it. The candidate is required to carefully analyze various relevant aspects of the problems and issues and reach a conclusion regarding the same with a logical reason to support his/her decisions.
Psychometric assessments/Aptitude Tests are another popular method for not just assessing the competencies but also understanding the strengths, personality types and motivation of the candidates. There are psychometric tests which measure specific competencies like teamwork, sales orientation, emotional quotient etc. Cognitive ability tests provide great information regarding the aspects like conceptual problem solving, business and financial acumen etc.
As the approach to competencies are changing, the way it can be assessed is also undergoing a few changes, new methodologies like Appreciative Inquiry and Development Dialogue with the candidate are also being adopted to understand and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and also as methods to address performance issues and give feedback. Let us understand the concepts behind these two terms. As one can figure out from the term Appreciative Inquiry, it basically is a process which sticks to focusing on the positives or strengths of a person. The idea is that if the positive experiences are focused on it is easier to figure out the strengths of people which then makes it easier to talk about weaknesses and development areas subsequently.
A Development Dialogue is a one-on-one discussion between a senior and a subordinate or can even take place between an observer and a candidate. It covers areas like career goals, motivations an aspirations, development needs etc.