Should I Provide Assessment Feedback?

The topic of my blog for this month deals with employers providing developmental feedback to candidates based upon the results of employment test or assessment.  Although the feedback of results from employment tests is common in many other countries, it is less frequently the case that such feedback is provided in the United States.

My topic this month deals with using assessment or test results in order to provide developmental feedback and suggestions to employees.  Although I will be dealing with feedback from tests in general, I will pay special attention to assessments that allow for a more in-depth, comprehensive view of the individuals, such as offered by the use of assessment centers.

[For more information on assessment centers, see Public Safety Assessment Center System (PSACS) and Assessment Center Educational Materials (ACEM)]

Some Findings from a Quick Literature Search

I had a graduate student perform a quick search of the current literature. Our findings regarding policies toward providing developmental feedback by employers in the United States were that it is rare for organizations to provide scores or give feedback to job applicants for pre-employment tests.  It is more common for promotional candidates, but even there the exact type of feedback may skew toward simply providing results or scores.  Providing expansive or detailed feedback is most likely to occur where the tests are used specifically for training or developmental purposes.

As for assessments centers, The International Congress on Assessment Center Methods has a document entitled The 2014 Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations (6th Edition).  According to their guidelines, feedback should be provided and if the assesses are members of the organization than the employee has the right to “read any formal, summary, written reports concerning their own performance and recommendations that are prepared and made available to management.”

Other countries mandate feedback.  For example, according to German assessment center standards there must be follow-up measures and the participants have a right to feedback that allows them to learn from the results.  Similar standards exist in countries as diverse as Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.  It would appear that public sector jurisdictions in the United States should be more progressive and develop programs to provide results and helpful developmental feedback to each assessment participant, at least for internal or promotional testing.  A similar recommendation could be made for other types of internal testing, especially for promotion.

An Example of Feedback

An example of what type of feedback might be provided comes from my highly competent and patient editor, Toni Kovalski.  The approach to feedback described below could work with any size jurisdiction or type of public entity.  Although described in the context of an assessment center, our method could be modified for use with oral boards, merit boards, or even job knowledge tests.

The particular program we are describing involved a two-step process.  In the first step, candidates were provided with written feedback including a graph that illustrated the location of the candidate’s mean score on each assessment center dimension along with the high, low and mean score of the group on each dimension.  Candidates also received a table with their scores on each of the exercises making up the assessment center.  A narrative or qualitative report, which provided information on performance on each exercise, was also distributed.

The second step involved offering optional feedback sessions to candidates.  The feedback meetings were conducted in a very positive, productive manner with the focus on helping employees do better on their jobs.  Specific guidance was provided in terms of different classes or training programs that would be helpful.

As an additional component of the overall process, an audio recording was made of the assessment center; of course, a video recording could be made as well.  The recordings were then used to provide feedback on test performance to the individual candidate.  Please note, we are suggesting this as an optional, additional step, the recording of exercises should be something you discuss with your attorney, as there may be ramifications in terms of state and open record laws, as well as in terms of an any litigation that may result from the process.

The provision of feedback helps to create a positive impression of the selection process among employees.  It also helps individuals prepare for future assessments.  However, from an organizational perspective, the biggest benefit may be its implications for improved job performance.  If the feedback is conducted properly and includes developmental suggestions, or practical recommendations for improving one’s level of competency, then it should result in tangible outcomes for both the individual and the organization in terms of improved job performance.

There are also potential advantages for the Human Resource (HR) Department.  Our experience has been that such programs create goodwill for HR and demonstrate that HR is about more than simply hiring and benefits.

Users of IPMA-HR, and we sincerely hope you are all using our assessment centers or have at least considered their use, are provided with an Excel spreadsheet and graph that they can use to provide feedback.  In addition, assessment center adopters are provided with an example of a feedback report.  This report sample can then be tailored to your particular agency and unique requirements.

Who should offer or present the feedback?  We have seen feedback provided by both HR and by upper-level managers.  The advantage of having HR handle the feedback meeting is that HR personnel are more likely to be able to answer questions concerning the tests or assessment program, as well as possible training opportunities.  The benefit in having upper-level managers offer feedback is that it can morph into a broader opportunity to introduce job performance coaching into the organization.

Morphing into Coaching   

In the last 20 years, there has been a movement in the United States toward having supervisors serve as more than simply the guardians of progressive discipline.  The role of supervisor has expanded to include serving as a job performance coach.  As with most processes in organizations, coaching can be improved by the reliance upon reliable and valid data on job performance.

Providing assessment feedback can be used as an opportunity to initiate or expand the coaching process.  Test data can serve as the spark for a discussion of employee strengths and weaknesses.  Such a discussion can then serve as the foundation for future developmental needs, as well as the creation of performance improvement plans through training, both formal and on-the-job.  Make no mistake, serving as a coach is not a simple job.  Changing behavior is not easy; ask anyone who has tried to lose weight.  But, reliance upon objective assessment data can help to focus the coaching process and generate measurable goals for performance improvement.  Assessments can also then be used to track progress or to demonstrate change, by a comparison of the pre-coaching score to the post-coaching score.  In the end, the individual, the jurisdiction, and the community will all benefit.

In closing, I welcome your comments, questions or criticisms.  There should be a reply box located at the end of this blog. You can also email me at dennisdoverspike@gmail.com.

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About Dennis Doverspike

Dennis Doverspike, Ph.D., ABPP, is President of Doverspike Consulting LLC. He is certified as a specialist in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and in Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), serves on the Board of the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, and is a licensed psychologist in the State of Ohio. Dr. Doverspike has over forty years of experience working with consulting firms and with public and private sector organizations. He is the author of 3 books and over 150 other professional publications. Dennis Doverspike received his Ph.D. in Psychology in 1983 from the University of Akron.

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