Measuring Motivation in Talent Acquisition and Training

Talent acquisition assessments can be used for career pathing and development. Before you train people, make sure they’re motivated for the path you’re putting them on.

Hiring assessments are used by a clear majority of larger companies in the United States. The best are in-depth, powerful, and scientifically valid instruments designed to measure both behavioral and motivational traits to assure organizations hire the most precisely matched prospects.

Training and development managers shouldn’t miss out on this deep dive if employee engagement and retention are common goals shared by Training and HR.

The assessment process used in talent acquisition can do a lot more than find the best applicants from outside the organization. It can greatly enhance career pathing to ensure good hires stay in the organization.

Understanding individual motivation—deeper than behavioral traits—is key.

“If a job is not something you’re looking forward to or something you do well, it’s extremely hard,” says Alison Nolan, formerly an HR partner at Volvo Group and now with the human development NGO (non-governmental organization), fhi360.

Nolan is a strong advocate of using assessments for both hiring and professional development and performance planning. She’s seen repeatedly and consistently how accurate they are, as well as how not trusting the science of assessments has led to expensive mistakes and unhappy workers.

“When your motivational drivers are different from what a position offers, it’s frustrating and much harder than it is for someone who does have that motivation, and it never works out well,” says Nolan. “Usually you end up on a performance improvement plan.”

When new opportunities for advancement or lateral moves open up inside the company, it’s similar to a new job posting on the outside job market. People think they want the new job and if they’ve been with the company for any length of time, they may assume it’s rightfully theirs.

“People want to get their foot in the door, and they feel like they can take just anything and do a good job at it,” says Nolan. “And if you’re not motivated for what the job entails, it just doesn’t work out.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in a full-employment market where jobs were plentiful and keeping good hires was a competitive necessity, talent acquisition had taken on a counseling role. Talented, dedicated people with the right behavioral traits need to be advised that they won’t enjoy a certain job, because of what it demands at the motivational level, but they might be good for other jobs. The conversation should never end with a closed door.
Training can play a similar role if it has the data. Talent assessments can help determine who is ready to move up or over, as well as who gets what type of development opportunities.

The Basis for the First Review

When a company assesses and eventually hires a well-matched applicant, the information from the process remains valid for years. If it’s not being used for career pathing and development, it’s going to waste as a missed opportunity. And you can save a lot of budget by not reassessing people with additional instruments.

“Hiring assessments are amazing for development,” says Nolan. “With the new hires, it gives you your first performance review and performance goals for that first year.”

One caveat: Make sure the assessment truly is a deep dive into what drives an applicant. What makes them want to come to work? What energizes them and what shuts them down? Measuring behaviors is important for some basic job function, but you need to look at this motivational side if your goal is to keep talented people satisfied and happy in the company.

Before you train them, make sure they’re motivated for the path you’re putting them on.

More money, more prestige, or more power are attractive to most anyone in the workplace, but they also can distract people from focusing on how well suited they are for a new job. It’s up to development professionals to help people know what jobs really suit them.

Trust the Data

The science of assessments is powerful for this task, says Nolan, who has seen it work. “We had a project manager position to fill and we had two people within the group for whom we thought this would be a great next step,” she relates. “We gave these candidates an assessment and it confirmed what I thought: The hiring manager was having a hard time with it because she knew one candidate wanted this position so much that if he didn’t get the position, he was going to pursue a position outside her group.

“So she had that pressure as a hiring manger, but when we put the assessment results side by side, we saw clearly that the other candidate had the motivation and drive for the job of project management. The other candidate who was going to leave had a drive for motivating others as a manager, but the job was an individual contributor role, so we saw this very clearly.”

Time and again, the science of assessments is confirmed by behaviors, actions, and results. In Nolan’s project manager example, the better candidate had already taken steps to attain a vital certification for project management. The candidate who just wanted the job had not even started on certification.

How Is Motivation Measured?

The study of employee motivation is rooted in the work of the German psychologist Eduard Spranger, who identified six types of motivation:

  • Theoretical
  • Utilitarian
  • Aesthetic
  • Social
  • Individualistic
  • Traditional

These are all measurable with assessments, although the different instruments on the market adapt the terms for today’s workforce. You see terms addressing concepts, e.g., altruism or harmony, that people seek in varying degrees depending on their psychological makeup. Some people must have one, while they couldn’t care less for the other.

As instruments go, motivational assessments deliver complex reports that require certification to debrief and offer feedback. And that proven-accurate complexity is what makes them so compelling for career pathing.

Even a perfect employee match, over time, will need career changes or growth. Or sometimes just a pay increase. But that depends on what motivates them. Some people would rather have more interesting assignments than more money.

With retention being so valuable in the sellers’ market for talent, matching people to jobs is a continuing process long after the hire date. Nolan, as an HR partner, has played a role in career pathing that most likely saved her company thousands of dollars by keeping people on a path that energizes them—like filling the project manager position noted above. She advises that advancing within the organization is similar to joining the organization, and when people think they want a new position for its higher salary, they may not have thought about the motivational fit themselves.

Getting Your Organization on Board with Assessments

Training and Development has relied on assessment instruments for decades, and the value is well understood. Other managers in the company now might share this understanding.

A great way to win support for assessments is to simply give them to all the managers. Hopefully, each will find out they’re well matched for their current jobs! The reports usually deliver plenty of “aha” moments about why we do what we do, and that’s useful in every aspect of interpersonal interaction. But most importantly, a motivational assessment report with feedback from a trainer certified in the instrument is an eye-opener that confirms the precision and utility of resulting data.

“It’s like someone is peeking inside of you,” says Nolan. “When it’s their assessment, they see how accurate it is and come to trust the science.”

Best-Matched Hires
Assessments of all kinds, including those for talent acquisition, have made remarkable progress as scientifically valid instruments to determine inherent traits, talents, and aptitudes of all kinds. The proven advantages in selecting the best-matched hires for an organization is why so many top-performing companies rely on them.

In many companies, job applicants who take assessments but don’t “get the job” do get a report and feedback that helps them home in on better opportunities for their motivation.

The same motivationally focused instruments—applied once—can greatly enhance development programs, career pathing, teambuilding, and long-term retention.

Mike Warrick is co-owner of Jamesson Solutions, a training, development and talent selection firm based in Greensboro, NC.