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Debunking the World's Most Perfect Employee Assessment

August 22, 2017

debunking employee assessments

As an assessment solutions company, the most frequent challenge we hear is: “How do I know your assessments will work for us?” Typically, what this question is really asking is, “How do I know your assessments will help us reduce turnover and hire top performers?”

The truth is, it’s not just about the assessment.

An Assessment Unicorn

Let’s imagine for a moment that I created THE WORLD’S MOST PERFECT EMPLOYEE ASSESSMENT – one that could predict who had the greatest ability to do the job, would stay loyal to the organization, and build others up, all in less than 10 minutes. This assessment is magical! Alas, even magic has a dark side.  Even if I provided you this wonderful assessment, you still would not experience successful hiring 100% of the time. That is, some promising hires would, nevertheless, fall flat and leave the organization.

Yep, you read that correctly – even the world’s most perfect assessment would not reap perfect results. Why? Well, let’s consider the experience of my two favorite people, John Doe and Jane Smith. John Doe and Jane Smith were both identified by THE WORLD’S MOST PERFECT EMPLOYEE ASSESSMENT as superstar hires for your organization – they had the ability to do the job, they wanted to grow with a company, and they were both positive influences on others around them. So, naturally, you hired them (duh, they’re PERFECT).

See John Thrive, See Jane Survive

John was hired to work in advertising (his dream job!), under Super Sally. Super Sally is a fantastic boss. She is inspiring and empowering; she regularly spends time with her direct reports to understand what drives them, where they need further development, and what their career aspirations are. John’s coworkers are collaborative and hardworking. They happily answer John’s questions and encourage his ideas.

Jane really wanted to work in advertising, as well, but since you hired John for that position, you offered Jane a job in public relations. Naturally, Jane sees the positive in everything, so she accepted your offer. Jane’s boss is Mediocre Max. Mediocre Max likes things done his way or no way at all. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, he tells Jane. Breaktime Billy works on Jane’s team (if you can even call it that) - he comes in late, leaves early, and takes long lunches. While Mediocre Max barely reacts to Jane’s creative new ideas and thoughtful questions about the world of PR, Breaktime Billy does the bare minimum to get by—and don’t bother asking him for help with anything, he won’t do it. Max doesn’t have the time to create individual development plans, so he simply gives everyone the same goals.

A few months later during your 90-day performance reviews, John has flourished, just as the assessment predicted! He completed all the required new hire training (ahead of schedule!) and has even started planning social events for the department. Unfortunately, Jane has not fared as well. She never completed the new hire training; when asked about it, she claims Max never informed her of it. Jane hasn’t received any accolades from Max, the way John has from Sally, and her attitude is relatively negative compared to what you saw in her interview (not to mention the assessment results). Before you can schedule a follow-up with Jane, you receive an email tendering her resignation.

Nature vs. Nurture

Clearly, this could not be the fault of THE WORLD’S MOST PERFECT EMPLOYEE ASSESSMENT! After all, it’s PERFECT! So, what is going on here? Jane was placed into a job she didn’t really want (PR instead of advertising), and though she attempted to bring a new perspective to the table, her boss crushed her creativity and micromanaged her responsibilities. Plus, Jane received the same treatment as Breaktime Billy, despite her higher work ethic and drive (hello, frustration).

As you can see, even THE WORLD’S MOST PERFECT EMPLOYEE ASSESSMENT only goes so far. Take a fantastic individual and put them in a bad situation (or one that is simply not suited to their personality and preferences), and they may not be so fantastic anymore. Assessments are a wise addition to your hiring process, as they help you understand the individual – their personality, behavioral tendencies, preferences, and even technical or clinical knowledge. But those individual factors do not exist in a vacuum. New hires become part of an existing organization, and those individual factors interact with the environment.

A Holistic Approach

Often, evaluating the effectiveness of an assessment selection process is thought of exclusively in terms of retention rate, but turnover is a complex issue. It’s not just about the individual’s ability or motivation to do the job, organizational factors matter too – things like leadership, team atmosphere, culture, and job design, to name a few. There are also influences outside the organization, such as competition and market trends, which impact your recruitment and retention efforts. These dynamics, if left unconsidered, will foil the recruitment team’s efforts to build a better workforce and increase retention.

It may seem overwhelming to consider all these factors at once (and honestly, trying to tackle them simultaneously is likely not the best approach), so start with the squeaky wheels. Take cues from exit interviews, feedback from new hires and seasoned employees, and engagement surveys to find out what organizational issues may be most negatively impacting your workforce. Discovering the factors that matter most to your organization goes a long way to creating a happier, healthier organization – and supports the recruitment team’s efforts, as well.assessment scores

Bekah Regan Bekah Regan is a Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She provides client support across many different industries including retail, manufacturing, technology and healthcare. Her areas of expertise include developing selection tools and interview guides, providing training and support for PSI’s applicant tracking system, as well as assisting clients with requests and questions regarding tools and processes.