The competence realistically to assess themselves develops in most people during the course of their professional development. There are many sources which participate in the development of this competence: feedback from others, comparison of one's own behavior with that of others, use of concepts to describe one's own working styles. It can, however, be observed in practice, that the increasing pressure of competition leads to an ever more idealized self-portrayal; to admit weaknesses actually becomes a personal risk. At the same time, the organizations' interest in the ability of individuals to assess their own weaknesses is growing—the new risk management in human resource management. In view of this, a non-judgmental, understanding approach to potential is an additional benefit for all who are involved. Only valuing people in their entirety makes it possible for a person to observe his own light and dark side. An organizational development-oriented system of potential assessment emphasizes the systematic further development of this competence for self-assessment (for decision makers as well as for candidates).

Successful development of potentials begins with our understanding of ourselves and our competences and the development of a language to describe them. Therefore in potential assessment we work out, together with the person concerned, a solid picture of his potential with a view to the requirements, in a language, which both he and the leader can understand. On the other hand we employ preferred instruments, which, in addition to their diagnostic function, provide him with a map of his possible further potential. In the course of a potential assessment he learns to describe himself appropriately and can at the same time learn to use models, which will help him, other people and the organization to make better assessments.

Potential assessment can also develop an understanding for one's own patterns of action in the organization as well as a better understanding of the organizational culture: What do I pay attention to, when I initiate changes? How do I believe that change can successfully occur? How do I deal with opposition? How does the organizational culture match my values and beliefs? Understanding these dynamics between people and organizations expands the diagnostic instruments. Thus, for example, the person concerned may himself be very suitable for a function. But a comparison with the existing dominant organizational culture can nevertheless identify a significant cultural difference, which can be a valuable input for both sides. Thus potential areas of conflict can be understood in advance.


Most of potential assessment procedures commonly used today promise an objective culling of capabilities, attitudes, and metacompetences. In so doing, they methodically—sometimes perhaps even deliberately—over-look the fact that tests can always be manipulated and falsified, or at least so dishonestly completed. In consequence to this growing phenomenon of manipulative practice of participants, decision makers are confronted with results that actually not provide a valid information. This development has lead to a broad discussion about potential sources of error (Lang-von Wins, Triebel, Buchner, & Sandor, 2008). The authors suggest not relying on test procedures alone, but rather actively training the diagnostic competence.

Potential assessment must therefore create a dialog situation which can provide more information: the best information here is the evaluation of the results of the assessment itself, since in this delicate situation the competence of the participant actualizes itself in dialogue among the participant, the HR expert and the decision maker. This makes clear what a central role the HR expert plays: If he steps primarily into a judging position he constructs a social reality in which the candidate behaves as if he is being judged—one will be more cooperative, another somewhat more resistant. The underlying assumption is the observed data are indicators for the candidates' usual behavior.

In the planning of potential assessment consultancy, two basic approaches can be differentiated. The first is the idea of assessment by an external party, like a consultant: the candidate is put through various tests and an interview is conducted; thereafter an assessment, that is, a judgment is presented to the decision maker. The second is the concept of potential assessment as development instrument, in which the HR expert or consultant, the candidate and the leader engage in a dialog to discuss together the business activities and the competences needed for them, and to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses as well as how the organization and the person could develop together.

When the organization conceives of potential assessment as an external process, it is logical for a candidate to present him- or herself in as ideal a light as possible, after which an open, honest dialog becomes irrelevant, especially when the candidate neither sees the consultant's final report nor is told, "You have potential in three of our required dimensions but not in two others." On the other hand, if potential assessment is viewed as a development step, the process must be designed so that the candidate can study both him- or herself and the situation and understand the idiosyncrasies of both. This involves a consulting service, usually a workshop with the candidate, ideally preceded by a conversation during which the candidate learns what the consulting service is about and what will happen, and during which the candidate is asked if he or she is willing to participate in order to learn more about him- or herself. However this is not intended as a diagnostic judgment over a person, but as the understanding of (1) working processes, partial roles and the demands associated with them, (2) the candidate's own strengths and weaknesses and (3) how well these two have the potential to function well together for the benefit of the whole organization. This means that the key point is mutual understanding of what is important for the organization and thus what is important for the position, what the candidate can contribute, and where the opportunities and risks lie. Together the HR expert and the candidate investigate the situation and try to reach a 12 good decision. Instead of a process of deception in which the parties show only their best sides, often followed by a rude awakening, in this system a serious dialog between the person and the organization has already begun in the recruiting stage.

During the decision process the HR expert is advised to bear in mind that, whether internally or externally located, the expert does not play the role of a "whisperer," a shadowy figure influencing personnel decisions, but rather essentially concentrates on supporting the decision-making process. The central task is thus the shaping and containing of a working structure for the communicative handling of demands, expectations, and evaluations among the parties involved.

In summary the specific process of an organizational development perspective in potential assessment incorporates for HR professionals: consultation with the person whose potential is being assessed, in order to reach an appropriate understanding of his or her capabilities and attitudes in relation to the requirements of the function and the complete relevant context within the organization; consulting the decision maker about an appropriate design for the function: How can the organizational design of the organization be translated into the design of a role? Consultation with both parties on questions of strategic fit, opportunities, risks and areas for development.

The described system of potential assessment is a multistage working process in which the HR expert or consultant is involved in all steps between all participants. Experience shows that the exchange of professional opinions and reports without the active participation of the HR expert or the HR consultant is seriously prone to error and does not come up to the actual complexity of potential assessment processes.

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