Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Myths about assessment

Despite plenty of evidence and commentary otherwise, several myths persist about personnel assessment:

1) Some tests are "objective", others are "subjective." This is a myth reinforced by no less than the U.S. Supreme Court on a regular basis. The reality is even the choice to use certain selection methods is a judgment. Sure, certain methods involve more ongoing judgment, but a multiple-choice test can be highly "subjective" and an interview highly "objective" depending on how they are made and used.

2) Only certain selection methods are legally considered "tests" and therefore vulnerable to legal scrutiny. Wrong. Anything you do to narrow down your candidate pool is technically fair game. This includes how you advertise, screen, and interview.

3) Good hiring is an art more than a science. Actually we have decades of research showing the opposite. Human judgment is full of flaws. Combine this with the fact that most people think they are experts, and you have a perfect storm of personal overconfidence. The time and effort spent creating standardized instruments targeting competencies relevant for a particular position will be well spent.

4) Even the best assessments can predict only a small fraction of job performance. It's true it's a fraction, but it's not small. Research indicates that close to 40% of the variation in performance can be predicted with assessments. That's nothing to sneeze at when you consider all the other things that impact performance (organizational climate, quality of supervision, reward structures, team composition, role clarity, resources, mood, etc.).

5) Good assessment will solve all your people problems. Yes, this is sort of the flip side of the above. Consultants like to pretend that with the right assessment instrument every person you hire will be the most productive, friendly, team-oriented person ever. The reality is that performance depends not only on what someone brings to the job, but leadership, organizational norms...all that stuff I mentioned in #4.

Do we have all the answers when it comes to hiring the right person? Nope. Is there enough best practice out there so that any hiring supervisor should be able to get the expertise they need to do significantly better than chance? Yep.

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