Improve Talent Outcomes with Assessments

How can employers make better use of assessments to reduce liability and capture validated insights to drive hiring and talent development?

Almost all employers use talent assessments, though not in a consistent, strategic manner that delivers on the potential to improve hiring, development, and retention of talent. Only one-fifth of organizations have a formal strategy that consistently leverages a range of assessments, from pre-hire to departure, according to Brandon Hall Group research.

The scarcity of assessment strategies results from most employers lacking a well-defined talent development strategy to build around. In addition, the sheer number and types of assessment providers makes it difficult for employers—especially large, dispersed ones— to understand the differences in offerings, the language in which assessment results are delivered, their validity, and how they should be applied.

Without consistent use of assessments, employers lack reliable, credible insights on talent to counter the biases that permeate hiring and the evaluation of employee performance and potential. Assessments—used consistently—help defend against claims of discrimination and other legal challenges. But used ad hoc—as is done most frequently—assessments can add to the risk all employers face.

The solution starts with a well-defined talent development strategy. Assessments are a severely under-valued and misunderstood tool. Organizations that thoughtfully craft their strategies to hire, develop, and retain capable, motivated employees will be hard-pressed not to recognize the enormous business value of assessments throughout the employee lifecycle. 

Why Assess?

Assessments provide a contextual understanding of a job candidate or employee’s current state and potential. Assessments can deliver important insights for making critical talent decisions, especially around hiring, development priorities, high-potential identification, and succession.

While most employers use assessments in some manner, only about 20 percent have a formal strategy that leverages a range of assessments from pre-hire to departure, according to Brandon Hall Group’s 2019 Assessment Practices Study. 

Assessments enable employers to evaluate aptitude, personality, behaviors, cognitive abilities, skills, and potential in ways that other methods—especially performance evaluations and interviews plagued by human bias—cannot. 

Why Not Assess?

Assessment use is constrained by a host of barriers. The common denominator is a lack of understanding of their business value, demonstrated by many organizations citing disinterest among executives, too many other competing priorities, and lack of budget for widespread assessments.

However, highly regulated industries with strict hiring requirements are far more likely to use assessments consistently and strategically, which essentially proves their value.

Even when organizations embrace assessments, it’s difficult to gain consensus on how they should be used. Busineses often struggle to understand the differences in providers and assessment types, the language in which results are delivered, the methodologies and science involved in their development, and the extend to which results should be considered in making talent decisions. 

In almost all interviews conducted for this research, talent leaders cited ongoing conflicts between business units or business locations over how assessments should be used. Organizations usually had policies and guidelines in place, but they often are ignored or changed based on concerns about validity, difficulty in deciphering results or vendor and assessment types. Assessments were still used, though not always as intended. 

In addition, more than half of employers lack a well-defined talent development strategy to build around. Therefore, a major reason for inconsistent assessment use is that they are not part of a larger effort to coordinate and integrate talent processes to hire, develop, and retain top talent.

Failure to Leverage

Organizations that fail to leverage assessments in a consistent, strategic manner miss the opportunity to gain deeper insights into job candidates’ attributes and cultural fit and the interests and potential of current employees. 

In addition, assessments conducted in an ad-hoc manner don’t evaluate candidates or employees using the same criteria. That undermines the process and raises the level of legal risk.

The larger impact of poor or inconsistent talent assessment practices is the inconsistent evaluation of job candidates and employees. It is difficult to build a culture of trust and collaboration when employees’ capabilities and potential are evaluated and judged differently depending on where they work or who they work for.

No talent process can be completely free of bias and subjectivity, but science-based assessments from reputable vendors are a critical tool for keeping talent processes as objective as possible. Organizations that fail to understand that and embrace the business value of assessments expose themselves to unnecessary risk and flawed decision-making. 

What We Found

Our research revealed that many organizations are plagued by misinformation that creates misconceptions about assessments’ design, validity, purpose, and impact. The key to leveraging assessments effectively is an environment that values them.

That’s easier in high-consequence industries because government and/or industry regulations make assessments ubiquitous to the hiring process and, to a lesser degree, the development process. Organizations with strong employment brands that rely on certain levels of capability and motivation in their employees also tend to embrace assessments as one tool among many to ensure only the right people are hired and promoted. 

Our research found organizations that value assessments and use them strategically with full buy-in across the enterprise got there by ensuring key stakeholders are fully informed about assessments. 

Like movies and politics, everyone has their own opinion about talent assessments. Therefore, educating stakeholders is not a one-off event but a continuous campaign of education, communication, updated research, use cases, and facilitated discussion. Communication technology can be leveraged so ongoing information/education campaigns can be scheduled for different stakeholder groups, from recruiters to hiring managers, to managers, senior leaders, and executives—whoever is involved in conducting or analyzing assessments. 

The Key

The key is that all stakeholders are on board and procedures are in place from the start so whatever assessment program you implement is done consistently and strategically.

Technology is also an enabler of assessments, though only about half of organizations utilize assessment technology solutions. The research shows technology impacts improvement of quality of hire more than any other factor.

Assessments are serious business. They can save hours—even days—in the hiring process, help set standards for succession planning, assess the cultural fit of employees, and help defend legal challenges of hire or promotion. The ROI can be enormous. But strategy and governance are crucial. Managed poorly, assessments can increase risks rather than reduce them. 

While strategy and communication are critical, in the end, your assessments program will only be as good as your assessment providers. 

There are scores of reputable assessment providers for all types of assessments— behavioral, personality, cognitive, etc. Your organization should have a vendor-selection process that involves a range of stakeholders and a variety of use cases. You must ensure you are comfortable with the assessments, how they are developed, and how the vendor can accommodate specific requests or specifications you may have.

Download a free copy of the KnowledgeGraphic, The Current State of Talent Assessments

Claude Werder is vice president of Research Operations and principal HCM analyst at Brandon Hall GroupThe firm’s vision is to inspire a better workplace experience and its mission is to empower excellence in organizations around the world through its research and tools. Brandon Hall Group has five human capital management (HCM) practices and produces the Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards and the annual HCM Excellence Conference, in West Palm Beach, FL, February 4-6, 2020.

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