Ripping the Ass out of Assessment

6Apologies for the rude title but if at the heart of an effective Talent Acquisition strategy is the assessment and selection of said talent, then you could be forgiven for believing that in the last generation we’ve lost sight of this important fact.

In the place of an effective assessment process that at least attempts to push the validity of hiring decision upwards, we’ve been focussing on shoving as many people down a recruitment funnel as possible. ATS technology was born to replace the paper mountains of job applications and some vendors tried to convince you those killer questions such as ‘are you a robot ?’ or ‘have you ever visited a turkish bath ?’ were effective parts of the assessment process rather than a means of keeping numbers of applicants to a minimum.

For those interested in their recruitment social history, assessment blossomed just after the war as a consequence of full employment to allow the working man an attempt to escape the plight of the assembly line.  And so was born the ditty “the working class can kiss my ass, I’ve got the foreman’s job at last” as the individual assessed as most likely to turn on their old colleagues with an iron fist was chosen for management positions. Quaintly also newly appointed bank managers in some of our finest old British financial establishments were asked, as part of their assessment, to bring their wives into the process to ensure some form of marital suitability extended to the selection process.

The proliferation of large monolithic monopolies in the country gave way to a blossoming million plus middle managers that, in literally emulating the armed forces, required promotion boards to help assess those moving up the ranks to attain ‘officer’ status.

Then for a short period of time and from across the ocean, we were heavily influenced by the fad of ‘top grading’, an arduous 7 hour water boarding assessment that delved deep into your entire life and sought to look for patterns of past behaviour that would predict future performance. Thankfully as a result of showing how many times in my life I was rejected by women I was deemed a perfect candidate for a profession with 83% female representation (boom, boom).  Jack Welsh pioneered top grading as part of his GE mantra when not culling the bottom 10% on an ongoing basis or telling the world that Barack Obama faked the killing of Osama Bin Laden by finding a bloke called Ahmed and covering his body in ketchup for a grainy video but I digress.

Behavioural questions, situational questions, background questions, job experience questions, brain teasers, case studies, panel interviews, stress interviews, psychometrics, assessment centres, technical questions all seemed to be tried and tested but dumped primarily for the quick fix of an unstructured chat of 45 minutes via several people in large organisations who wanted to share the burden of getting the decision wrong amongst their peers. Volume and distressed short term hiring was perfect for this tactic with the poor recruitment managers’ only input to ensure backs were covered, nothing overtly illegal happened and that paperwork was hoovered up for any potential audits. Recruitment as process junkies and order takers took root inside BIGCO and still suffers the stigma even as the agenda has changed dramatically. Try telling a recruitment manager to define the quality of hire into the business and he’ll continue to stick his hand in a bowl of water and tell you it’s the cultures’ fault he/she didn’t succeed.

And for those of us subjected to the HR recruitment market, assessment at said agency consists of asking what your favourite HR discipline is and what your least favourite one is ? Yep folks, I can only meet head on the dynamics of the business world if it involves Diversity and Inclusion but whatever you do don’t make me think of aligning that reward structure cos I just won’t do it ! I put that statement in the present tense as sadly as of the summer of 2013 I can report that this practice is still largely alive and kicking in some of our high street HR recruitment boutiques.

With attracting and retaining key talent taking primacy across organisations I’m pleased to hear that the real experts predict a return to the importance of the assessment process for some of the following reasons :

Technology has become a positive disruptive force and the landscape has spawned some very interesting developments  in video interviewing, led by companies such as HireVue and SparkHire which still heavily focus on the convenience and efficiency against traditional highly manual processes but still accentuate the need to visibly connect with candidates when assessing their interview performance.

• Elsewhere the rise of gamification is still in its infancy but appealing to the generation who disappeared to their bedrooms during their teenage years to shoot imaginary second world war Germans or connect with an online geek from Ohio to share the spoils of medieval rewards for accomplishing tasks. Big brands such as O2 are utilising gamification in their selection process to help pre-screen candidates based on their suitable responses in a role-playing game, which identifies values and motivations. My esteemed guru Gareth Jones is the go-to man on this if you want to hear more but watch this space.

• The candidate experience is also committing organisations to be open about how seriously they are taking their assessment process and with that obvious commitment should usher a more effective era of consistency, fairness and transparency. All of these bedrocks of effective assessment methodologies. 

• And finally and most importantly in my opinion, taking a leaf out of the best, Google (and to an extent Apple) has demonstrated a clear business case for data-driven people analytics at the heart of their recruitment (and wider HR) process. For this truly 21st century organisation their ongoing obsession with data driven analysis and outcomes is helping to inform their assessment process in defining what makes successful teams and individuals in their organisation and seek to boost selection validity again and again. It’s only a matter of time when the more enlightened in the HR and Talent space jettison the 20th century obsessions and take the hint that this can be replicated inside their organisations. 

Like too many of our HR disciplines we suffer from the historic handicap of hunch-based decision-making that too often defines our profession. Assessment is but a small part of this overall problem. Would sales or finance get away with allowing investments to be signed off with the absence of proper fact base, so why do we seem happy to continue to allow our people investments (still typically our biggest cost line in many organisations) do likewise. At the heart of the opportunity lies the chance to upgrade our preconceived views on how we base our assessment of talent and truly deliver to our organisations an ongoing competitive advantage.

Let’s take the opportunity the environment has provided and challenge where we continue to see complacency from those content in ripping the ass out of assessment.

Until next time.


5 thoughts on “Ripping the Ass out of Assessment

  1. Ah..assessment. One of my favourites in recruitment. Along with ‘Don’t ask me to define what I’m looking for, as I will know it when I see it’ or ‘you know what I want, now go and find it’… ‘I’m a great interviewer and I go with my gut. I can tell almost immediately…’. Could we please make the hiring managers (and the HR people) who resist anything that involves care and effort in recruitment pay, from their own pocket, for the huge cock up cost that their arrogance and laziness costs.

    Recruitment is way too important not to be taken seriously.

    • if you want an example of how utterly lacking in commerciality we are predictably in HR just look at the unbelievable amount of ‘bad money’ we spend around recruitment and the lazy approach to assessment decisions.

  2. I love many of the points raised here and agree that candidate assessment as a practice, has eroded over the last 10 years. I think much of that can be explained by the rise of LinkedIn and the accompanying cult of vertical niche agencies and companies increasing belief in their sales message that candidates doing the same job somewhere else are always the best candidates.

    Everyone’s a headhunter these days.

    However, I don’t think that assessment is going to claim back its importance, partly because it’s just too difficult to do well. We’re living in the age of ‘the easy button’.

    I think people will always base hiring decisions primarily on who needs the least training and who they’d most like to have a beer with.

    Great blog, as always Barry.

    I thiknk

    • cheers Mitch….I stayed clear of the ‘predictive’ element of assessment which of course just depressess after all these years but from a position of utter abuse it’s re-emergence if put a mere step forward rather than taking centre stage.

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