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John Pope

John Pope Associates


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Book Review: Assessment centres and global talent management by Nigel Povah and George Thornton


Although an important book, it was the most difficult I have ever had to read for review.

It took the format of a collection of articles and papers by some 45 contributors, most of whom are psychologists and who drew from their wide experience of working in assessment centres across five continents.
But this encyclopaedic publication comprising 32 chapters was hard work. It is aimed at experts and specialists with an interest in the theoretical, psychological aspects of management rather than at people with a more practical bent. This preoccupation is reflected in the book’s use of language, which was often over my head.
The general conclusion that emerged from the work was that well-designed and run centres should be able to reveal the suitability of a potential candidate to take on a demanding senior position. They should also be able to indicate what guidance and support in further development terms could contribute to the candidate’s success. 
The book likewise explores in passing the use of formal assessment methods to demonstrate compliance with human rights and equal opportunities legislation. 
Each subject is covered in considerable detail, with every chapter identifying issues that could be faced such as establishing assessment criteria and ensuring the validity and reliability of tests. The work also considers the value of in-depth case studies based on testing candidates both individually and in groups to establish how they handle a range of real-life matters of differing urgency and importance.
Lack of balance
From my own experience in preparing and supervising these kinds of major studies, I consider them to be a very powerful means of identifying candidate suitability as well as their development needs. While expensive to set up and run, they can be an excellent means of producing accurate assessments.
Overall, however, I felt that the book lacked balance: rather than a predominance of psychologist voices, it would have been useful to have had contributions from HR or development managers, perhaps from UK businesses that operated internationally, in order to inject a more practical note into the proceedings.
It would also have been useful to hear from senior line managers on how they had used, or could use, assessment methods to identify talented people for high level positions.
But the chapters that touched on talent management played second fiddle to those on assessment, which was a shame. While it is important to know where talent is located, it is also important to develop and foster latent abilities and to increase the supply and retention of high-performers. 
A stronger emphasis and more guidance on possible ways to identify talent at an early stage would certainly have been valuable.

So while this is a really important book for specialists wanting to use assessments as part of their talent management processes, I would only consider reading it again if I were advising a client on how to assess staff for promotion to a senior level.

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John Pope


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