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Assessments – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted    by Gerriann Fagan, CPI – Birmingham

The GOOD news is that there is no shortage of assessments for the workplace – we have cultural, 360°, personality, competency, leadership, and team assessments, to name a few.  The list goes on and on.  Assessments can be a cost-effective way to improve your selection processes, enhance leadership development, and help create dynamic and positive discussions about commonalities and differences between people at work. If turnover really costs 15x the annual salary, well administered selection assessments are well worth the investment.  They can be easily administered either through web-based applications or face-to-face data collection methods.

Unfortunately, the BAD news is that assessments are often used inappropriately.  Assessments have been created for many different reasons – selection, development, communication, etc.  It’s important to know how the instrument you plan to use was created and its purpose, how it was validated, and how to use it in the way it was intended.  Assessments are not a universal solution.  They are designed for specific purposes and often represent one data point as is the case with assessments used in the employee hiring process.

The UGLY of assessments comes best through examples.  I’ve heard stories of recruiters asking candidatess to take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) without a clear understanding of the purpose, and requests for physical assessments such as those taken by firefighters to demonstrate their physical ability to do the job. (Note: There’s quite a bit of controversy regarding physical assessments these days.) Additionally, stories have arisen from people feeling “labeled” because people or organizations used the assessment results in a derogatory manner.  One executive I coached thought he lost his job because his MBTI was not what his manager wanted. Using any assessments, even the best assessments validated for their specific purpose, inappropriately can lead to extremely challenging situations for employees and organizations. These challenges can include legal issues, something everyone wants to avoid.

So…what can you do to minimize risks and maximize returns on the use of assessments? 

First, be clear about why you are using the assessment. What’s the ultimate goal or objective and how will the assessment help to achieve that?  Second, work with a professional to select an appropriate assessment that makes sense for your objective and your organization.  Construct your assessment process in a thoughtful way.  He/She can also help you create and integrate the process for using that assessment into your overall talent management practices.  Third, consider the legal risks of using the assessment. Ensure the administration and feedback is performed by those who are qualified and the results will be used in a meaningful manner for the employee and the organization. Of course confidentiality must be respected.   The advice of well-trained assessment professionals will help you get the most from your efforts and help you avoid legal risk.


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