Sunday, November 06, 2011
How important is assessment, really?
Prepare for a little blasphemy.
Over the last few months my job--and focus--has changed dramatically. Historically I've been a "testing" guy. Question about job analysis? Item writing? I'm there.
Then, a few years ago, I started managing a team that did a more than assessment--a lot more. In fact, even though assessment is in their job description, the team spends most of their time counseling supervisors on performance management. Of course some of this is because the testing workload is down, but it's also a function of demand for advice in this area.
In July we found out our department's budget was being cut; to the tune of about 10%. We adjusted and tightened our belts, but in the end it wasn't enough and we had to plan for layoffs. I was recruited to be one of the coordinators of said layoff, and thus began the dramatic work shift.
That's all a really long way of saying that my focus lately has not been on recruitment and hiring. I've been thinking a lot more about what keeps people going in difficult times. Sure, the KSAOs they bring to the table are important, but other things raise in importance during times of uncertainty and lack of control.
Which got me to thinking: how important IS assessment really? Even at our best, we can predict only about a third of individual job performance. What's going on with that other 2/3rds?
You're probably familiar with models of job performance, so I won't bore you. Suffice to say that a lot goes into job performance. So that person you hired that aced your assessments? Not guaranteed to be super star. If they end up being supervised by an incompetent manager, their inner greatness may never reach the surface. If they have a death in the family, you better believe their focus is not going to be on work for a while and job performance may not be at maximum.
Let's think about job performance as a pie. Top-notch assessment can predict about a third of that pie. What else is in that pie--and more importantly, how big are the slices? Things like:
- supervision style
- role clarity
- co-worker support
- performance feedback
(I tried with no luck to track down a comprehensive path model, maybe one of you can point one out)
Now we can't control all of these things (although as HR professionals we certainly can consult on a lot of them--clear duty statements, supervisor training and accountability, engagement surveys, etc.), but what we CAN do is take the rigor we bring to the study of assessment and apply it to other aspects related to job performance. If you look at HR research outside of assessment I think you'll find that the level of analysis is, shall we say, sometimes lacking.
Don't get me wrong: assessment will always be important. The legal rationale is IMHO the least compelling. Instead, there is proven, substantial, utility in implementing best practices for employee assessment.
But lately I can't help but thinking: Are we spending too much time thinking about--and studying--how we bring people in to an organization, and not enough time thinking about what happens once they get there?