Thursday, August 13, 2015

Where there's a will, there's a way: OPM shows how to do UIT the right way

On August 10 and 12, PTC-NC was privileged to have Dr. Patrick Sharpe from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) deliver a presentation about USA Hire, part of a suite of online platforms that has allowed OPM to revolutionize the way they deliver assessment services to their diverse customers.

The idea to ask Dr. Sharpe to present occurred to me when I read an article in the Washington Post on April 2 about USA Hire titled, "For federal-worker hopefuls, the civil service exam is making a comeback".   It provides an overview of what OPM has managed to accomplish with its partner, PDRI, in the area of unproctored internet testing (UIT).  Start there if you want to learn more because it includes some examples of the items--although significantly absent is an example of the excellent video avatar-based assessment used for things like situational judgment.

Dr. Sharpe did an excellent job painting the picture for the audience of how much work was involved in the project, and how important things like stakeholder communication and contract management were to ensuring the project was a success.  He then showed us a demo version of USA Hire, where he lead us through what it looks like from the applicant's perspective as they proceed through a series of competency-based assessments.  The item formats range from the traditional (e.g., reading comprehension multiple-choice) to the modern (avatar-based SJT) to the groundbreaking--at least for the public sector (forced-choice non-cognitive assessment).

Here are some of the key points I took away:

- The technology is just a part of successfully putting an UIT program together, you have to step back and look first at what you're trying to accomplish.  For example, are you interested in whole person assessment (as OPM is) or simply focusing on certain KSAs?

- USA Hire is the culmination of years of research and analysis, and traces its history back 20-30 years within the federal government.   Translation : don't jump into UIT without careful planning.

- Start with the basics when delivering UIT: make sure the customer has a solid job analysis foundation before jumping to the assessment platform

- Getting a larger, more influential, customer successfully implemented can cause others to jump on board

- Realize that, particularly in a decentralized testing environment, you may still end up with a hybrid of different testing approaches following the roll-out of UIT, and this includes T&Es.  But the best way to move the practice is to show what success looks like.

- Consider carefully whether you want to build, buy, or lease the technology.  There are benefits and drawbacks to each.

- Starting with a pilot can be a great way to test the system (no pun intended), and also demonstrate the potential to stakeholders.

- Collaboration between assessment professionals, HR specialists, and vendors is critical.

- Don't underestimate the importance of change management.  Fears (e.g., about losing control) come easily and have to be addressed head-on.

- Organizational and system readiness is very important.  Part of the reason this effort was successful is because hiring organizations were fed up with the extremely low utility (and perception) of point-based T&Es.

For someone passionate about assessment and technology, the presentation was educational and motivational.  I walked away, as did others, with a new-found optimism for what sufficient will, resources, and tenacity can accomplish.  It's seductive to focus on what can't be done in the public sector, so to hear and see what can be done reemphasizes the importance of leadership--both in HR and at the top of the organization.

Unproctored internet testing has been talked about for so long, but to see it in action, in a research-based way in the public sector, is truly inspirational.  Truly where there is a will, there is a way.