What is an Assessment: Definition, Objective and Principles

Assessment itself can be defined and interpreted in several ways like financial, educational or even psychological assessment however, for the sake of the current discussion we shall stick to the context of HR and define assessments within it. Assessments are systematic methods of gathering data under standardized conditions and reaching a conclusion regarding the knowledge, qualification and potential of an employee.

The objective is to further use the data to take certain strategic decisions like selection and hiring, promotions and appraisals and also to give feedback for development. Structured assessments carried out for a well defined and specific objective for e.g. promotion or role change provides crucial information regarding not just the knowledge and skills of a participant but also about his behavioral attitude and motivation.

The history of assessments can be traced back to the German army which after the Second World War adopted methods developed by their psychologists that used tests, simulations and several exercises to evaluate the potential of the officers for hiring and promotion in the army. AT&T was the first company which used this method to select candidates to fill its managerial positions and brought the practice from the army to the corporate world.

Since then assessments have become a vital constituent of several HR practices. Understandably, when competencies were introduced by McBer and other behavioral scientists, it was hardly a surprise that assessing these competencies through structured processes became imperative.

So, generally assessments are done using several tools like simulation exercises which include case studies, role plays, in-baskets etc and psychometric tests like MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator), 16PF, learning style inventories etc and games like team building exercises. These assessments are carried out by trained assessor or assessors who observe the assessee in the simulation exercises or games and rate them on pre-defined criteria.

For the organizations assessments give information regarding the current skills sets of the employees and an understanding of the gaps and the development needs while on the other hand for the employees it becomes an opportunity to understand their own strengths and development areas. It is interesting to note that sometimes it may happen so, that what the assessee considers to be a negative area turns out to be his forte and his assumed strengths may actually be his development area. Assessments in any form, act as an eye opener, for both the organization and the employee giving them an objective and complete picture for both long term and short term planning.

Since, assessments use pre-defined criteria and tools which are based on extensive job analysis their validity turns out to be quite high as well. Ideally the process of tool development for the assessment exercises should be done by individuals [within the organization or external consultants] who spend considerable time in understanding the value chain of the organization, its vision, mission, ethos and operating philosophy. Having contextualized assessment tools like case studies and role plays as per the organization ensures a better buy in by the different stakeholders of the assessment processes.

This in turn appeals to the logic of the people participating in the assessments and help them get a clear understanding of their improvement areas. The feedback provided after assessments help the participants in self-reflection, thus initiating the learning process.

A few principles that should be followed while conducting assessment exercises are:

  1. Clearly defining the objective of the assessments
  2. Identifying the criteria and sharing it with the assessee in a transparent manner
  3. Feedback to the assessee on his/her performance
  4. The nature of records made and data collected needs to be shared with the assessee
  5. If the data is to be used for purposes other than what defined before the assessment, the assessee needs to be informed regarding the same

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