Dimensions of the Infamous Assessment Centers

Assessment centers are not new. In 1991, the California Police Officers Association (CPOA) distributed a booklet entitled "The Art and Craft of Assessment Centers," which stated assessment centers were used by the German High Command in World War I to select officers with exceptional command or military abilities. During World War II, assessment centers were used by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner to the CIA, to select spies. Many private corporations used the assessment center format for promoting management personnel long before it was tried by public safety organizations.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, law enforcement began to use assessment centers in selecting management personnel. During this time, Paul Whisenand, Ph.D., and George Tielsch, Ph.D., were two of many advocates of the assessment approach and wrote a book called The Assessment Center Approach of the Selection of Police Personnel, which explains in detail the assessment center approach and all of the dimensions it evaluates.

On a personal note, I am not a fan of assessment centers. I have been involved in numerous assessment centers both as a candidate and as a rater. But during my 17 years as chief, I only used the interview oral board process and was extremely pleased with the results. Assessment centers are overly expensive and if they are improperly facilitated and do not have trained raters, they are a waste of time. Many personnel managers and chiefs often try to develop an assessment center or mini-assessment centers on their own, but these processes are not validated and oftentimes do not produce the results intended. As CPOA states, "An assessment center simulates the job, it does not replicate it. Simulations, by virtue of being a simulation, create certain constraints, problems and artificial factors. If your chief or personnel manager states they will have an assessment center as part of their selection process then be sure to prepare properly for this process."

The best way to prepare for an assessment center is to change the way you think and prepare for promotion or selection into the job that is desired. CPOA believes that this is best done by determining what types of capabilities are necessary for successful performance on the job and then developing those capabilities. For example, basically all supervisory positions require oral communication skills. This particular attribute is measured in virtually every assessment center. Therefore, the individual must determine what degree in proficiency the job requires in oral communications. A similar must be undertaken for all the other skills that are a part of the job.

These assessment centers are designed to measure certain attributes or qualities of the candidate. These attributes or qualities are referred to as "dimensions." The following dimensions, as listed in the CPOA book, may change with each assessment center and how it is organized; therefore the following common dimensions should be used as guidelines only:

  • Oral Communications - Ability to orally communicate, accurately and clearly, information, ideas, tasks, directives, conditions, and needs to groups or individuals, with or without time for preparation.
  • Written Communication - Ability to communicate in writing using proper grammar and syntax in an organized, accurate, and concise manner.
  • Problem Analysis - Ability to identify problems, secure relevant information from both oral and written sources, identify possible causes of problems, and analyze and interpret data in complex situations involving conflicting demands, needs, or priorities.
  • Judgment - Ability to evaluate courses of actions, develop alternative courses of action, and reach logical decisions based on the information at hand.
  • Organizational Sensitivity - Ability to perceive the impact of a decision on the rest of the organization, awareness of the impact of outside pressures on the organization, and awareness of changing societal conditions.
  • Planning and Organization - Ability to efficiently establish an appropriate course of action for self and/or others, to accomplish a specific goal, and make proper assignments of personnel and appropriate use of resources.There may be other dimensions used along with the above, again depending on how the assessment center is developed and by whom. These other dimensions may include:
  • Initiative - Desire to actively influence events rather than passively accepting them, self-starting, and takes action beyond what is necessarily called for.
  • Interpersonal Relations - Ability to perceive and react to the needs of others, paying attention to others' feelings ,and ideas, accepting what others have to say, and perceiving the impact of self on others.
  • Independence - Ability to act based on your own convictions rather than through a desire to please others.
  • Development of Subordinates - Ability to maximize human potential of subordinates through training and developmental activities.
  • Persuasiveness - Ability to organize and present material in a convincing manner to gain agreement or acceptance.
  • Delegation - Ability to use subordinates effectively and to understand where a decision can best be made.
  • Listening Skill - Ability to extract important information in oral communications and to convey the impression that one is interested in what others have to say.
  • Decisiveness - Readiness to make decisions, render judgments, take action, or commit one's self to a course of action.
  • Leadership - It is very difficult to describe this term but it involves a number of attributes, usually measured in management assessment centers, and has been described as autocratic, democratic, dynamic, inspirational, and telepathic. It is viewed both as passive and active. Leadership involves the ability to communicate; to be independent; to make decisions; to plan and organize the work of one's self and others; to analyze problems; to take risks; to be self-starting, flexible, and sensitive to others.