Why Many Work-based Assessments Will Fail the Test
According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, more than 76% of organisations use assessments tests (mainly personality and ability tests) when hiring and this figure is expected to climb to 88% over the next few years (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2015). Using assessment for development purposes, including career and team development, is also growing rapidly as organisations focus on ways to help employees become more self-aware to improve their performance and engagement. Companies also want to reduce inefficiencies and costs associated with disagreements and workplace conflict and when used effectively, scientifically validated assessments can help achieve this aim.
However, rapid technological advances, changing client requirements and a fast-evolving HR and human capital profession means that the world of work-based assessments for selection and development is changing beyond recognition and it is about time too. Many assessments are decades old and have changed very little since the early part of the last century. Using them is the equivalent to using a dated mainframe to calculate your household budget rather than using an app on your smartphone or tablet. So, what does the future of assessment hold and what might we expect to see in the next 10 to 20 years?
The five major trends shaping assessment technologies are:
New technologies offer innovative breakthroughs in the way we assess people. Mobile technologies, including smart phones and tablets, are likely to replace PCs and laptops as the most common way of undertaking assessments moving forward. Of course, this presents some interesting challenges in terms of ensuring standardised test conditions, especially in ability tests for selection purposes. However, companies are moving ahead regardless to incorporate these cost-effective and candidate-friendly technologies into their testing processes.
A growing number of companies are introducing Virtual Reality (VR) hiring and development solutions and high-tech simulations, which enable them to see how candidates/delegates respond under pressure to challenging situations in the same way pilots are screened and trained using tough simulation exercises. This approach is, in many respects, a far more objective and robust way of measuring performance and potential, particularly in high pressure, changeable or unpredictable situations.
Computer-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also being introduced by some progressive companies to help minimise subjectivity in decision making, especially when analysing interviews. With a growing number of tech companies offering smart interview recording and analysis technologies, including video screening via laptops and smart devices, this is a trend we predict will grow significantly.
A company at the cutting edge of using new technologies to disrupt selection testing is Arctic Shores. It uses online gaming apps to test a range of abilities, including thinking styles, verbal and numerical reasoning and interpersonal styles. This approach has the advantage of improving the candidate experience and minimising bias in measurement caused by factors such as test anxiety, which can occur when using more traditional tests.
Focus on strengths and understanding peak performance
A much sharper focus on productivity gains (doing more with less) and building a work culture of excellence will accelerate the move away from measuring ‘normal’ ranges of behaviour and performance to measuring factors driving peak performance such as strengths, talents and motives. By continuing with our focus on measuring how a ‘typical person’ behaves at work and applying competencies to try to standardise behaviour across large groups of leaders or employees, we miss an opportunity to fully understand peak performance and how to best achieve excellence using their unique strengths and pathways to results.
Move away from pigeon-holing to understanding uniqueness
A related trend will be a shift away from pigeon-holing personality and ability into broad, oversimplified categories, e.g. “extroverts versus introverts”, as a way to understand and predict behaviour. For example, according to MBTI, people can be classified in one of 16 character preferences and most behaviour can be explained by their type. Insights Discovery does something similar by assigning people one of four main colours (e.g., “sunshine yellows” are warm, expressive types) which explain most behaviour at work.
This view of human behaviour at work is seductively simple and although MBTI and Insights Discovery can be effective in helping people gain a basic understanding of how they and their co-workers typically approach tasks, make decisions and relate to others, their value is limited. They fail to take account of the myriad of differences that make us unique, including the strengths, talents and different ways in which we achieve our results. For example, when measuring strengths using our Strengthscope® system, we often find people who are energised by empathy but not by compassion. These are completely independent strengths that don’t necessarily show up together, as they would in an MBTI or Insights Discovery profile, reflecting the very different mix of strengths and how different combinations mean they are applied differently.
Oversimplified personality assessments also don’t take account of the complex and fast-changing person-situation interaction effects evident in today’s organisations. Assessments can account for these by ensuring employees get 360-degree feedback on how their preferences and behaviours are being perceived by co-workers and measuring how behaviour changes under different work conditions. For example, Strengthscope® considers what happens when strengths are overused, or used ineffectively in certain situations, resulting in performance problems.
The shift in many organisations towards building an inclusive workforce, a re-definition of ‘talent’ as being the entire workforce and the urgent need for higher levels of innovation in most companies, means that explaining broad preferences will become less valuable than understanding unique strengths, abilities and talents people can bring to their work. Labelling people too broadly also carries legal risks, which will only grow in future as any adverse impact of testing based on factors unrelated to work performance comes under ever-closer scrutiny.
Another major force accelerating this trend is the changing demographics of our workforce. Millennials coming into the workplace want their strengths and unique talents to be valued, appreciated and developed from the get-go. An assessment approach that labels or pigeon-holes people too narrowly can quickly undermine their sense of identity, value and psychological engagement with the company.
Assessing agility, flexibility and resilience
Businesses increasingly need agile, energised and resilient workforces in order to be nimble, competitive and adapt to increasingly turbulent markets and operating environments. Therefore, there will be an increasing focus on defining and measuring qualities like workplace energy (i.e. strengths), agility, flexibility and resilience. A related trait, ‘GRIT’ (a combination of passion for a long-term goal and perseverance) is similarly receiving a lot of attention from human resources professionals and business psychologists recently, as it reflects what businesses need from their people in order to remain focused and highly productive in the face of pressure and uncertainty.
Using Social Media Data for Hiring Decisions
In the coming decade, organisations will make increasing use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to recruit and screen candidates. The legal implications of using data in this way are already concerning candidates and legal professionals alike, and it is highly likely that the use of such personal data available in the public domain will eventually be curtailed by changes in legislation. However, while the legal system plays catch-up with the rapid advancements in social networking technologies, this data presents a rich vein for business psychologists and HR professionals alike.
Many work-based assessment tools and techniques used to hire and develop people are increasingly outdated and are unlikely to stand the test of time as we move into a new era of assessment. In order to future-proof their organisations and ensure they hire, retain and develop the best talent to achieve high levels of performance and competitive advantage. HR and human capital leaders should ensure any dated approaches are replaced or augmented with up-to-date, relevant approaches that take account of changing workplace needs and the growing desire of people to be seen as unique individuals with diverse strengths, talents and abilities.
James Brook and Dr Paul Brewerton are joint founders and managing directors of the Strengths Partnership Ltd and co-authors of Optimize Your Strengths (Wiley, 2016).
Strengths Partnership was the first company in Europe to pioneer a strengths-based approached to assessment, which explores what motivates staff as well as where...