Selection Methods: Comparison of Assessment Centers with Personnel Records Evaluations

By Lowry, Phillip E. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Selection Methods: Comparison of Assessment Centers with Personnel Records Evaluations


Lowry, Phillip E., Public Personnel Management


A constant problem facing all human resource managers is finding the best way t select management talent. How should we select managers to ensure the best choices are made? Choosing the right selection method is the key to making the right selection decision. This descriptive research study provides a comparatively analyzes two selection methods.

One of the fastest growing selection methods in use today is the assessment center. Assessment centers use simulations of actual tasks in the job under consideration. The candidate's performance is evaluated in terms of how well th simulated task is performed or how much of a particular performance dimension the candidate possesses.(1)

As of 1981, over 44 percent of 156 federal, state, and local governments used the assessment center.(2) Yeager reported that as of 1985, 32 of 73 metropolita fire departments used the assessment center, especially for promotion(3). The assessment center is also widely used in the United Kingdom.(4) While there hav been questions raised about the validity of the assessment center, an overwhelming body of literature shows a positive relationship between assessmen center scores and performance as a manager or supervisor.(5)

Another important selection method in use today includes a group of procedures called "Experience and Training" (E&T) methods. These procedures include "...experience, training, accomplishments...," and are probably more extensivel used in the public sector "than any other selection device except written tests".(6) One E&T technique described by Hinrichs is a review of personnel records, including performance appraisals, to determine management potential.(7 In a follow-up study, Hinrichs reported that management potential ratings correlated highly with results from an assessment center as well as the positio level of the assessees eight years later.(8)

Despite the strong case for using ratings of management potential as a selectio tool, the relevant literature fails to reveal additional reported major researc on this topic.

Research Questions

In early 1990 a local government official asked me if using information from th personnel records would provide additional information to aid in the promotion decision for fire service and law enforcement supervisors and managers. The official told me that the local government charter required the use of the assessment center method for promotion testing. He stated that candidates for promotion almost universally agreed that the assessment center method was fair and relevant. However, they wanted the assessment center to include the opportunity to present their past accomplishments to the assessors.

We agreed that it would be useful to determine whether the promotion decision i their organization might be improved by including an evaluation of personnel records. It was further agreed that such an evaluation must be done outside the assessment center because there was no provision in the assessment center standards for such evaluations(9). Two questions, therefore, faced us: "Will personnel records evaluations add to the predictive power of the assessment center?" And, if so, "Is the records evaluation a better predictor than the assessment center?" If the records evaluation alone contributes more than the assessment center, then why use the assessment center? As Hinrichs stated in hi closing comment, "Why use a sledgehammer to swat a fly?"(10)

Method

Overview

Local government officials, including representatives from the fire and police employee organizations and the heads of the fire and police departments, expressed interest in using evaluations of personnel records

as part of the promotion decision. The officials involved agreed to test the us of records evaluations during 1990 and 1991. Each candidate in selected assessment centers for those years prepared a summary of their accomplishments. These summaries and the official personnel files were evaluated by a group of judges other than the assessors. …

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