There are some great assessment companies out there and there are some fantastic assessment centre programs that really work.

But equally a lot of people are making a lot of decisions on a lot of assessments that are not perfect.

I read an article last week that suggested that it might be time to can the face-to-face interview. That, because it relies on human reaction, human emotions and gut instinct, then surely it is time to get rid of the process? We know it doesn’t have to, but that’s what the article argued.

Assessment centres are so much better it said. Well they are possibly if they are set up properly and if they ask the right questions.

Many years ago we worked closely with an industrial psychologist who helped to set up a personality profiling tool. We discontinued the project, others had invested lots more and did it better online. Nevertheless it gave me a really valuable insight into the purpose of assessment and how it was carried out.

And they had helped one of the leading supermarkets who were having real problems finding the right checkout staff. Not surprisingly, they had put together an assessment program around a series of interviews. They were getting plenty of people through, but the people either didn’t stay the course or they weren’t very good at their job. This was surprising, as they were choosing the most numerate and literate amongst the candidates to do the job. They figured the ability to read and to add up was pretty crucial for somebody at the checkout.

Except, of course, it isn’t. In an age where barcodes are ubiquitous and computers do all of the adding up for you, why do you need people who can duplicate this effort? What they needed, and it becomes really obvious when you point it out, is people who could recognise different shapes. Why? Because it is quite important to tell the difference between a wholemeal roll and a ciabatta, or between an apple and a pear or between a plum tomato and an organic tomato. Those were the skills they needed, but they were testing for completely the wrong thing.

So I sometimes throw my hands up in despair when candidates fail an assessment with a manufacturer because as a general manager they are too “detail orientated” and not “strategic” enough. Why?

“Retail is detail” is an age-old truism. We are not looking for people who want to conquer the world, as Daksh Gupta, CEO of Marshalls put it to me, great general managers are great shopkeepers, they are not global strategists.

Test for the right thing and you might get the right people.

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