Critical Features of Competency Based Assessment

When the competency based assessment has been chosen to introduce in the organization, it is worth spending some time in understanding the critical features of the process so that it is used appropriately to achieve the results it intends to achieve.

Once, critical competencies are identified and the assessment is to take place for any given process in the organization, (for convenience sake we assume its assessment for promotion) it becomes important that the objective of the assessment at a given step is shared with the assessee. So, the assessee needs to understand the reason why he/she is being put through assessments and what would be the data used for.

The next step becomes outlining the performance criteria. Especially for internal processes like Performance Appraisal or assessment of potential for future roles, it is imperative that both the assessor and the assessee have a clear understanding of the performance criteria which needs to be specific and well defined. Each role has a specific set of performance criteria which might be unique to it however, it is important to consider that not just quantity but quality is also important. It becomes all the more important when potential is appraised for future leadership roles as understanding the how and why of decisions provide critical information regarding the competencies.

After establishing the performance criteria, the next critical step becomes choosing the appropriate assessment tools. It depends on the assessee as well as the competencies to be assessed. For example, for a front line sales person working in a retail outlet, it is easier to observe the person on the job dealing with a customer to assess his competency of customer focus while it may not always be suitable for a senior manager. For a senior manager a complex case study may be appropriate to understand the level of customer focus he/she exhibits.

Once the assessment methodology has been decided, how it would be used to gather data points will also have to be identified. For example, a role play situation being used for assessment needs to clearly outline what kind of answer would be considered as needs development and which can be categorized as highly effective. A certain level of assessor discretion always creeps in but that does not influence the assessment negatively till the time assessors are trained.

So, assessor selection definitely has to be a robust process as they have to take huge responsibility which has a bearing on somebody’s career. The assessor’s role is not restricted to just observing, evaluating, classifying and reporting but also providing feedback to the assessee and facilitating their learning. They need to create an open, supportive and a non-threatening environment so that assessee can display the behaviors to be assessed. When line managers are involved in assessment they need to be provided with extensive training before they take up assessment. Also, the spirit of assessment should be objective and fair.

And lastly, it would be interesting to know how even the most seasoned assessors sometimes fall into the trap of common biases. Some of those biases are:

  • The hallow effect: In this case, one or two characteristics decide the entire perception abut a person. So, it might be a good behavior displayed during one assessment exercise or a negative behavior displayed which may then keep influencing other assessments as well.

  • Contrast Errors: It happens so when assessor starts contrasting the performance of one assessee with another instead of referring to the competencies and defined performance criteria.

  • Recency Bias: The assessor considers the most recent performance to rate the assessee.

  • Leniency and Severity Bias: This happens when the assessor refrains from objectively evaluating and giving an honest rating and instead gets generous in scoring. Severity is exactly opposite, where the assessor restrains from scoring a behavior displayed as highly effective despite of concrete examples.


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