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Potential Assessment Tools in Business Simulations

A team of banking executives was undergoing an assessment program. The objective of the assessment was to identify leadership potential in the middle management cadre. The HR team drew the competencies and drafted exercises to bring out the behavioral dimensions.

In one of the team exercises, the executives were put in a mock battlefield. They were given toy rifles to shoot their opponents. Each time the person hit the target, a score flashed on an electronic card on the opponent's back. The team with the least score would win. There were other rules to the game to ensure that there was teamwork.

Sounds like a nice game, doesn't it? It had all the elements of crisis management, quick decision making, and emotional maturity, among many others. Of course, the person with the best performance in all of these areas would be the natural successor to the upper management level. However, it was later found that the person who eventually succeeded to the senior management position did not do well as a manager. He made poor strategic decision, and had bad interpersonal relations.

While there are many possibilities to explain the manager's poor performance, objections were raised against the validity of the assessment program. Senior management had lost faith in the relevance of assessment and discarded it. The flaw lies in understanding of assessment tools. Can assessment tools reflect employee potential? Assessment gives us a preview of employee behavior in business situations. A good assessment tool simulates real business challenges that an employee is likely to experience in his professional life.

Take the example of the inbox exercise. In this exercise, the candidate is expected to make decisions for routine and important jobs. The exercise is a simulation of the actual responsibilities of a manager. This exercise is beneficial to the candidate as she gets a preview of her real roles as a manager. On the other hand, assessors can forecast the candidate's performance in a real business situation. The candidate's behavior gives a reflection of her managerial potential.

People behave differently in various situations. A threat to life would elicit a sort of behavior that is different from threat to the company's market position. It is difficult for an assessment tool to capture the actual behavior of an individual in a real business scenario. So the next best thing to do is to simulate the work environment. Of course, one can never say for sure whether this mock situation would bring out the competencies required for the job. But in the absence of any perfect measure, simulated assessment tools are quite effective in potential assessment.

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