Myakushkin D.

Personnel assessment: the main traditions and approaches

Published under the publication: Мякушкин Д.Е. Социально - психологические аспекты комплексной оценки персонала организации. Монография. - Челябинск, Издательство ЮУрГУ, 2004. - 78 с.


There is representations divided by authors concerning the problems solved by applying an assessment in the numerous publications devoted to problem of personnel assessment on organization [9, 11, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25]. Generally these problems are formulates as follows:

  • definition of efficiency degree of worker activity and his adequacy for the job;
  • revealing of potential possibilities of organization employees;
  • definition of workers development direction and working out of training programs;
  • formation of management team;
  • formation of a reserve of promotion on higher positions;
  • designing of rational management structure.


However in modern conditions when activity complication often does not allow to realize it successfully by effort of only one expert, the human potential of the organization is need to be considered as the entire system which crucially is not reduced to the sum of potentials of separate employees. The integrated problem often demands today integration of efforts of various experts and their joint team work for the performance. In such state of things the personnel assessment isn't only an estimation of activity results and revealing of personality features of the separate worker, but it starts to act as "a through" kind of personnel work for getting of the necessary information in development of personnel programs [19, 23]. What type of the information is necessary at such definition of an assessment essence of the personnel?

It is realistic to mark four types of the significant information which can be described generally as follows:

  • The information on activity success of the concrete worker. Reception of such information is based on methods and technologies of a personnel business estimation forming including a substantial part of procedure of certification.
  • The information about individually-psychological peculiarities of the worker, which allows to judge potential abilities. Reception of the given type of the information is based on use of the psycho diagnostic procedures which methods are widely presented in domestic and foreign publications.
  • The information about typical ways of worker behavior and peculiarities of people interaction in group when they solve the general problem. Reception of this information is based on methods of behavioral diagnostics when using of expert assessment procedures in situations of simulated team work.
  • The information on personnel potential of the whole organization based on comparison of the first, second and third types of the information with purposes, peculiarities and development prospects of the organization.

Necessity of gathering of information types listed above (especially if it is necessary to evaluate administrative potential of workers and to predict success of their future activity as the manager) defines deviation from understanding of the personnel assessment content as fragmentary use of classic methods and demands inclusion of these methods in integrated complex technology. However it is necessary to take into account peculiarities and requirements of the main approaches to getting of the significant information about workers for designing and formation of a substantial part of components of complex assessment technology. The analysis of the publications devoted to research of personnel assessment problem allows to tell about existence of at least two traditions in understanding and formulation of approaches to assessment [20, 23]:

  • the tradition based on various understanding of assessment object (in our opinion the indication of distinctions by assessment criterion would be more exact). Within the framework of this tradition so-called “personal” and “situational” are described and opposed;
  • the tradition in which frameworks quantitative and qualitative approaches to getting and analysis of the diagnostic information are opposed.


Personal and situational approaches to assessment

«The personal» approach supposes evaluation of worker personality and personal and business qualities. «The situational» approach include studying of results of employee work, labor costs and complexity of work. Both approaches have supporters and opponents [16, 17, 24, 26]. The main thesis of the «personal» approach is that the worker who has a complex of professionally significant personal qualities will be certainly effective in work. Necessary knowledge and skills only essentially enhance the probability of worker’s success. Specialists - psychologists see the problem in a composition of «psychological portrait» of position and maintain that it is not only difficult to judge the abilities, resources and possibilities of the person by only work results but also it is hardly possible. Furthermore not all work can be standardized and measured. In the tideway of the «personal» approach to workers assessment studying of psychological qualities of the most successful managers is conducted, and the most various psychological tests and questionnaires are applied. Supporters of the «situational» approach maintain that people with various personal features often make the same actions and identical decisions showing similar style of behavior. At the same time closed on personal qualities people can behave differently in the same conditions. One of the basic postulates of this approach is that finally work and result instead of qualities are paid and that the estimation of personality qualities is always subjective whereas results of work can be considered easily and objectively. Therefore certification, methods of personnel business assessment (in a format of «blank» estimation methods) etc. are used in personnel assessment. Quality of personnel work is defined on the basis of scope, completeness and timeliness of job duties.

Quantitative and qualitative traditions of personnel assessment

Opposition of qualitative and quantitative approaches is traditional in discussion of methods of data collection and interpretation and all existent estimation methods can be divided into 2 big groups or categories [2, 4, 12, 13, 15]:

1. The standardized, metric methods;

2. Expert methods or understanding methods.

Maintenance of enough strict and formulated explicitly rules underlies the first category of methods. Expert methods are based in a greater degree on professional experience, intuition of the diagnostician and showed good results in those fields where the standardized procedures are not developed. In essence it is referred to properly scientific methods forming entire system and unscientific methods enough numerous in psychological practice and frequently used in everyday life. Unscientific methods participate in formation of decisions and judgments related to «around psychological» level – «common sense» level, and are not objective. Scientific methods in view of existing tradition and a variety of long-term experimental researches with determined system of data collection, processing and interpretation are referred to objective methods. According to quantitative and qualitative approaches to social knowledge methods of research within these 2 traditions are divided into quantitative and qualitative methods.

The main characteristics of quantitative methods are «formalism» and «massiveness». Investigated variables are set by the developer in advance and deviation from them during data collection is already impossible, and mass collection of the same data precedes their quantitative, digital processing. Enough objective character of research procedure and possibility of recheck of the received results are advantages of measuring quantitative methods due to meeting of representativity, reliability and validity requirements. It is possible to study a great number of examinees and to generalize the obtained data enough quickly and easily by means of quantitative methods. Revealing of steady and objective characteristics of research object allows to compare the received individual results of researches with the generalized researches data of large samples. However some disadvantages of quantitative methods is capable to distort strongly the information resulted from diagnostics. One of the serious problems is that the necessary condition of quantitative methods application is system of the concepts forming the theoretical description of investigated object. Designing of such concepts system demands considerable research procedures and efforts, and the methodical machinery used for achievement of this purpose should have high mobility, sensitiveness and ability to change operatively a set of investigated variables. It is obvious that quantitative methods don’t have this ability in a right degree and as consequence the inadequate conceptual framework is intruded artificially to studied object [3, p. 29-32]. Here we mean that this machinery is very impoverished, it often contains logic defects and sometimes passes by actual socially-psychological problems. There is no necessary and effective «feedback» when using quantitative methods, this thwart progress of conceptual representations which are necessary for formation of the adequate conceptual frameworks. As consequence quantitative methods are used with the greatest efficiency in analysis of answers to standard questions and for studying of standard processes, but are often helpless in definition of what is called unique and changeable properties of the person. J. Kelly has stated on this subject following point of view: «… the person is a form of movement, and «reliability» is a measure of test insensibility to changes» [17, p. 136]. One more restriction in using of quantitative methods is that not all phenomena are open equally to quantitative changes, and possibilities of their use are limited by certain «application zone», [1] which is formed by frameworks of measuring procedures and beyond which the researcher should rest on other methods. And though adequate measuring procedure can be theoretically selected for any phenomenon, nevertheless development of scientific knowledge goes on other way. The most successful researches realize usually the strategy of qualitative breakthrough and measure the most important characteristics of object and both expansion of a measurability zone and a formulation of the new conceptual representations based on not quantitative data happen as a result. The researchers who adhere to the quantitative approach and consider that the qualitative and everyday knowledge in a science is changed by quantitative one, ignore what is called «common sense» that unavoidable tend to reduction of substantial fullness of results and often to the deformed, false and detached from reality conclusions [1, 3, 5].  As contrasted to quantitative methods the qualitative (not formalized) methods are focused no more on mass data collection but on profound understanding of investigated objects and the phenomena. And though the number of units of survey can decrease to a minimum, however refusal of coverage width is compensated by depth of research.

Unlike quantitative methods which rest on statistical procedures, qualitative methods have not standardized character. They are directed on wide studying of all spectrum of object demonstrations and do not trace its quantitative principles, being guided by disclosing of cause and effect relationships and the analysis of the change process and interaction of the studied object both with themselves and with surrounding reality. These qualitative methods avoid the rigid formalized scheme of data collection and don’t represent results in the form of statistical mathematical calculations, giving thereby the opportunity for deeper and full understanding and explanation of the socially-psychological phenomena. Qualitative methods are complex methods of research, which reveal not statistical quantitative principles but the real content of behavioral, motivational and emotional aspects of the person. These methods allow:

  • To reach integrity in the description and understanding of studied behavior;
  • To reach profound understanding of the investigated phenomenon;
  • To represent results and to make practical recommendations in the accessible and comprehensible form;
  • To receive faster rich data amount unlike of application of quantitative methods.


Complex personnel assessment (Assessment Center Technology)

However there is no question what tradition and methods - quantitative or qualitative - prefer in assessment. The problem of polarity of the quantitative and qualitative approaches to research will not be solved if we admit that one approach is more significant for all research situations than another. That is not the case what method is better, the organic combination of both is necessary. Quantitative methods when they are based on the strong and revised qualitative science, give the opportunity «to fall outside the limits assumed by the qualitative approach and to elicit nuances which could escape the qualitative approach» [10, p. 270]. On the other hand, use of qualitative methods allows to keep research process and the received conclusions within the framework of common sense, it is able to enrich a measurement sphere and study the subject more deeply. Therefore one can speak not about opposition but about juxtaposition of 2 traditions - quantitative and qualitative - and about a combination of these approaches in personnel assessment. And the expert’s displeasure of classic methods of personnel assessment has induced them to start dynamic search of new approaches to the problem solving, which correspond in a greater degree to today realities. Comprehending limitation of separate approaches specialists try to combine them within the one complex evaluative technology which has derived name Assessment Center which began to win recognition from the middle of 70th years of our century. However there are essential problems in solving of this problem. Personnel psycho diagnostics and a business personnel evaluation basing in a greater degree on quantitative manners, include instruments set educing matching of candidates to position. The expert estimation realizing with the aid of specially qualified observers for fixing and the further understanding of person behavior is based on qualitative research traditions. Both approaches are differentiated essentially. In one of them a judgment on the man as on element of organization prevailed, and the estimation here is treated as identification of correspondence of person action to the standard of organization member. Other approach considers the man out of relations with organization and the estimation here includes defining of expressiveness degree of the properties which form judgment about personality potential. And though combination of both approaches within one evaluative technology in itself creates certain complexities, nevertheless positive aspects of common application of estimation quantitative and qualitative methods in complex technology allow to raise obtained results to enough high level of objectivity. 

The essence of Assessment Center Technology is to create sequence of assessment procedures clearly planned for concrete organization which simulate the key points of evaluated person’s activity. Assessment participants (candidates) pass complex tests by various exercises and techniques in which significant for activity performance qualities are shown. Degree of quality expressiveness is evaluated by the qualified specialists and conclusions, comparisons and implications both about potential personal-business qualities and perspective of separate workers and about personnel (managerial) potential of the organization are made on the basis of this evaluation.


The problems solving with application of Assessment Center technology:

  • the analysis of personnel (managerial) potential of organization;
  • holding of competition to fill the vacancy;
  • planning of career and promotion of employee;
  • formation of reserve group of managers;
  • reduction of staff and substantiation of personnel change;
  • revelation of workers having no perspectives of improvement (with low managerial potential);
  • revelation of workers capable to application and development of own managerial potential;
  • formation of personnel training and development programs.


The main characteristics of Assessment Center technology:

  • the system of assessment criteria is designed individually for each enterprise taking into account activity specificity instead of standard set of “professionally significant qualities”;
  • participants pass test by various exercises and techniques;
  • real behavior of examinees is assessed;
  • each participant is assessed by several experts;
  • «observation» and «estimation» stages distributed in time for attainment of the maximum degree of objectivity;
  • the evaluation is made not only by outside specialists but also by specially qualified observers – employees of the organization;
  • result of assessment allows to predict success of examinees in various spheres.

The set of corresponding method is used for getting the fullest and various information about workers [6, 7, 8]:

1. Psycho diagnostics. A purpose of using of the standardized psycho diagnostic techniques (tests) in assessment center is data receipt about qualities essentially influence the worker behavior and forming its administrative efficiency. Application of well examined psycho diagnostics "tools" gives the opportunity of correlation of different examinees results among themselves as well as with the general and group norms

2. Group exercises. The Assessment Center Technology include as necessary element the expert estimation comprehended as special organized procedure of gathering of the information about modes and ways of man activity and peculiarities of group interaction in situations of stimulated team activity: «Group discussion» procedure – exercises in which the task to analyze a problem situation, to discuss variants of it development and to make joint decision is stated in group. «Brainstorming» procedure is technique of team work in situation of absence of evident solutions and necessity of search of different approaches to solving. «Role playing» procedure realizing according to previously developed scenarios.

3. Special exercises. A purpose of conduction of special exercises is to model the most typical business situations in which the row of essential skills is shown. Procedure «Speech preparation». The «report» procedure is the task when participants not only prepare the report on predetermined themes, but also perform before the listeners and answer the questions. "Mail box" procedure – in the course of the organizational test each participant receives written description of a situation and a set of tasks. The problem is to in limited time have a look at information in “letters”, “notes”, “documents” and to make the decision concerning the problems contained in these documents. «Designing» procedure – task when participants in groups develop and design a construction from existing materials according to the task.

4. Organizational-managerial games. Simulation of special management situation is in the game for the purpose of solution production on strategy of organization (divisions) development on a material of existing problems of the organization. A game purpose is getting of information about participant's expressiveness degree of administrative skills and knowledge. Results of game can be used by organization for further work and activity efficiency of participants assessed by observers.

5. Individual tasks. The individual task is the description of varied complexity situation which doesn't have exactly right decision. Participants of assessment solve independently this situation, describing action sequences and proving the made decision.

6. Interview – is procedure of interview with participant for receiving additional information and specification of emerged suppositions.

Procedures described above allow to collect the data about man behavior in simulated situations that gives the opportunity to fix behavioral exhibitions and to specify the notions about the individual peculiarities of examinees which have been formed in assessment. The degree of expressiveness of significant for effective activity parameters is fixated by experts on the basis of using of specially developed assessment criteria. An assessment data about participants are analyzed and compared after carrying out of assessment program. Assessment results on different procedures derived by means of various (quantitative and qualitative) assessment methods are reduced in a whole allowing to form a final conclusion on each participant of an assessment.

Advantages of Assessment Center technology:

  • objectivity of assessment procedure and high degree of predictive value of results;
  • a possibility to discover behavior peculiarities and a substantive degree of skills possession of each participant;
  • a reliable estimation of individual potential of employee which is independent from their positions, work conditions and opinion of executives;
  • a possibility to define weak and strengths of each participant on measured parameters.

Generally, the described technology of a complex personnel assessment in organization make an opportunity to overcome restrictions of used separately classic evaluation methods, to estimate individual potential of employees and take into account obtained information in realization of personnel programs. However technologies of assessment center have some disadvantages. It can be assessed simultaneously no more than 30 men what speaks about rather low "capacity". It is necessary to organize complex job on its preparation for assessment carrying out.

Process of working out of adequate criteria and competencies requires attraction of an experts group who are members of organization and is labor-intensive. The several well-qualified and specialists having practical experience are necessary for qualitative conduction of group evaluative procedures and establishment of conditions for productive job of observers. The main difficulty is that it is necessary to spend time for selection and training of organization representatives to a role of observers and to carry out tuition according to the developed program. An extent of objectivity of conclusions in personnel assessment will depend largely on success of this stage.

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