A question from Mr. Kuldeep Singh (my fellow member on Assessment Center Practitioners group) prompted me to write this post. The question was “if Assessors should be internal or external.” and my instant response was “Well, it depends.”
But when I thought about the question again, I was reminded of some recent occasions when my clients either insisted on having internal assessors or categorically refused to have any internal assessor at all. There is a general consensus among practitioners that a combination of the two would work best in most cases but it is like a statistical conclusion – talking about everybody but not applicable to anybody.
As most behavioural science techniques, assessment centre design decisions also are very much context dependent. What works in one context might do the opposite in another context. So, the question turns like this:
In an assessment centre, when should we have a mix of internal and external assessors and when only external assessors ?”
But before going on to the question. I would like to address some common misconceptions about role and impact of assessors in the assessment process.
M#1 : Internal assessors are more biased than external assessors: This is most common misconception, whereas, the reality is that bias has nothing to do with being internal or external. It is a matter of training your mind to recognise your biases (all of us have some) and being aware about them and not let them influence your judgement.
M#2 : External assessors are better because that is what they do for many organisations: If I am a bad driver, no matter if I drive 100 different cars, I am still a bad driver.
M#3: External assessors are expensive : If one believes that, it is primarily because one fails to account the cost of time spent by an internal employee.
M#4 : The quality / reliability of assessment centre is very much dependent on quality/reliability of assessors : This belief is largely due to the fact that people do not spend enough time designing the assessment centre. It is possible to have fairly reliable and valid assessment results with poor quality assessors. (see my article on How to train observers for Assessment Center in less than 8 hrs? and 3 Things to Focus On for a Successful Assessment Center) The technique mentioned there is tried and tested.
Now, coming to the main question.
When to have a mix of internal assessor?
Think of having a team of internal as well as external assessors when one of these conditions are true for you.
A. The job profile for which assessment is being done is highly technical in nature.
B. The HR department / Organisation is known to be fair in decisions.
C. Assessment is for Selection purpose.
D. Participants have some experience of Assessment Centers in the past.
When to have only external assessor?
A. Assessment is being conducted for behavioural competencies only.
B. The participants have displayed concerns about being observed by their HR people /Boss.
C. Assessment is linked with Performance Appraisal and/or Career Progression.
D. Participants have no prior experience of assessment center.
Moreover, it is the quality of assessment design and of assessor which has highest impact of results rather than being external or internal.