Saturday, August 06, 2011
How can assessment help in a downturn?
Exam workload is down at my job. Not "pack up your bags and go home" down, but we're running significantly fewer exams than we were 5-6 years ago. And I doubt we're the only organization in this situation.
Some employers are hiring. But many organizations are still running very lean, and the public sector in particular continues to face budget cuts and layoffs.
So if you have staff with skills in assessment that aren't being used to their full capacity (a dangerous recipe for several reasons, budgetary and morale-wise), what's an organization to do?
Well, personnel assessment is all about measuring people. So anything you do in your organization that involves measuring people hypothetically has a built-in staff with the competencies you need to get the job done.
Let's look at some examples of how assessment can help organizations during a downturn:
1) Help determine who to let go (if possible). If the organization is able to use competency levels to determine who to keep, this is obviously the preferred route over, say, letting go those with the most (or least) seniority. The tests should measure KSAs relevant for the critical work the organization needs done now--and in the future.
2) Help internal employees objectively assess their skill levels--both those being let go as well those staying who wish to enhance their career mobility and stability. A well-designed and scored assessment should be able to give employees some insight into their strengths and areas for improvement.
3) Help organizations get a better sense of their talent. Sometimes called a "talent inventory", assessment can be used strategically to help organizational leadership conduct workforce planning and identify areas of skill discrepancies. This includes succession planning. What percentage of key leadership positions in your organization could be backfilled tomorrow--successfully? What skills do up-and-comers need to develop to help them get ready for the next step? Assessment can help answer that.
4) For those that are hiring, many hiring supervisors are still receiving large volumes of applications. This is where assessment shines--help them identify who are truly the most qualified for the position.
5) Use this opportunity to make sure your competency models and/or job analyses are complete and updated. Jobs change--are you still using a description from 10 years ago? Are you still hiring based on outdated duty statements?
Now let's think a bit more broadly, beyond traditional personnel assessment into some other areas where the skills your team has developed are just as relevant:
6) Engagement surveys. Getting a better sense of the attitudes and emotions of your workforce helps you do a variety of things, including avoiding turnover of high performers, targeting organizational sub-units that need improving, and identifying under-performing supervisors. It also--when done properly--gives your employees a sense of voice, which can be key in times of anxiety and uncertainty. Just make sure you do something with the results.
7) Organizational change initiatives. Assessments can be used for a variety of purposes during change initiatives, such as measuring the "pre" and "post" states, identifying key sources of resistance, keeping track of success measures, and accurately measuring outcomes.
8) New product implementation and user satisfaction surveys. Do you have key pieces of technology you've implemented recently? How is that working out for the users? Do the users have additional ideas for products or services that would help them get their jobs done and be innovative? I'm thinking of technology here, but you can see how we could go beyond that.
9) Team building. Most people in organizations depends on others to get their jobs done thoroughly. This can be invigorating or frustrating--do you have a good measure of team satisfaction? Are there assessments that can help team members interact more effectively? You betcha.
10) Program evaluation. Whether formative, summative, theory-based, or some other type, assessment can help identify needs, clarify paths, and determine whether money and time invested is giving the organization the outcomes it hand in mind. It can also help them uncover unanticipated consequences.
11) Entrance and exit surveys. When resources are scarce, it's even more important to maximize the return on the investment we make in hiring and make sure those entering the organization have the resources they need. On the other end, capturing good data from those leaving the organization can help identify key areas of weakness or provide insight for hiring the next time.
I'm sure I missed a few. But you get the idea. Any time you have a slow down in a part of the organization, use it as an opportunity to expand the scope of your HR strategy. Test your ability to be flexible and innovative. Whatever you do, don't waste your resources.