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One Key Step to Successfully Implementing Employee Assessments

December 30, 2014

When organizations partner with assessment vendors to implement new assessment tools, there are many factors that impact the success of the new assessment program. Among them are the quality of the assessment tools, as well as the service and support provided by the vendor. However, one factor that is often overlooked is ensuring that all of the key stakeholders within the target organization are engaged throughout the assessment implementation process.

In this article, three key stakeholder groups typically present in medium to large organizations – Line Leaders, Staffing Consultants, and HR Generalists or Business Partners - will be discussed, highlighting the risks to a successful assessment implementation if they are not engaged.

Note that it is not being argued that assessment implementations cannot succeed without the engagement of these stakeholders groups. Not all organizations, for example, have Staffing Consultants or HR Business Partners to allocate to an assessment implementation. In such cases the implementation can still be successful, particularly if the assessment vendor is able to provide the necessary thought leadership and best practice recommendations.

However, for those organizations that do have these stakeholder groups available, not having any one of them engaged in a new assessment implementation poses some very significant risks to the success of the new program. This is because no matter how good the new assessment program is, it is likely to get challenged by someone in the organization at some point after it is in place. And if one or more of these stakeholder groups are either unaware of the new program or are simply not behind it at the time it gets challenged, sponsorship and support for the initiative can begin to erode very quickly.

Let’s start with Line Leaders, because they are arguably the most critical stakeholder group. Some may wonder how it’s possible not to engage line leaders when a new assessment tool is being implemented, as they stand to benefit the most from either hiring better talent or more effectively developing their employees.

However, it is not that uncommon for vendors to get contacted by an HR employee who wants to implement a new assessment tool without the support of the Line Leader. This can occur, for example, when there is a desire to implement an assessment tool at a new location after it is already being used at other locations within the organization. Such expansions can sometimes be driven by HR without the appropriate communications to line leaders.

Let’s also assume for this example that implementation has now taken place. A Supervisor is hiring for a position on her team, and she really likes a particular candidate after reviewing their resume and/or interviewing them. That candidate then takes the assessment, does not pass, and gets screened out as a result. The Supervisor requests a review of the assessment results and begins to question the use of the test.

It typically does not take very long before such complaints from a Supervisor make their way up the leadership chain. In the case of a manufacturing facility, this information can speedily travel to the Plant Manager, who should have been engaged from the beginning but was not.

In this situation, the Plant Manager could very well pull the plug on the new assessment on the spot, even if there is a history of success with the assessment at the other locations. Many line leaders do not like such surprises and could perceive the assessment program as something being pushed on them by HR.  

Had the Plant Manager been engaged from the beginning, he or she would have communicated the launch of the new assessment program down the leadership chain, and the complaint by the Supervisor would probably have been addressed effectively by her Manager. When line leadership is behind the assessment program, such challenges are often addressed much more swiftly and effectively, and often directly by the sponsors.

Staffing Consults are also a critical stakeholder group when implementing a pre-hire assessment tool, as they are the stewards of the organization’s staffing process. Without their input and buy-in, it can be very difficult to understand how the new assessment tool fits into the organization’s broader recruiting and staffing goals, and how best to utilize the new tool within the existing staffing process.

In addition, Staffing Consults are the gatekeepers of assessment data and are in the best position to prevent breaches of confidentiality of test results. They can also ensure the assessment administration process is standardized across locations and in alignment with company policy. Finally, Hiring Managers often contact Staffing Consultants first when they have a question about the assessment process. Therefore, Staffing Consultants can often assist immediately by providing counsel on the testing process, and contact additional resources if they need to be brought in.

The risks of not engaging Staffing Consultants during a new assessment implementation have to do with maintaining the integrity of how the assessment tool is used, as well as staffing process as a whole.  In the example described above in which a Supervisor disagrees with the test results, that Supervisor could decide to hire the candidate despite the fact that they failed the assessment, and that other candidates were screened out after failing the test.

In this example, the company is put at legal risk for its staffing practices. Without Staffing Consultants overseeing the staffing process, any number of instances of using assessment tools improperly could occur and go unnoticed. It is therefore critical to include Staffing Consultants whenever possible during an assessment implementation, as they are invaluable to ensuring standardization, alignment, and integrity of the staffing process.

The last stakeholder group discussed here is HR Business Partners, who play a very important role in new assessment implementations because of the leverage they typically have with all of the other key stakeholders, particularly the Line Leaders.  In some cases, direct vendor contact with Line Leaders is extremely difficult without the help of HR Business Partners.

Similar to Staffing Consultants in pre-hire assessment implementations, HR Business Partners may also serve as the stewards of the assessment process when implementing developmental assessment programs for current employees. Therefore, the risks to not engaging them are similar to Staffing Consultants.

However, because they have to partner with Line Leaders for other HR related programs and processes such as performance reviews and succession planning, their strong relationships to Line Leaders put them in a unique position effectively frame the assessment program as an important part of the organization’s broader talent management strategy. They can also serve as champions of the program and ensure the results are being used appropriately for informing talent management decisions

One common risk to implementing a developmental assessment without an HR Business Partner occurs when an employee who is perceived as a very strong leader in the organization takes the assessment and does poorly. Almost immediately, some stakeholders will start questioning the accuracy or validity of the test because the results are not aligned with perceptions of the employee’s talent level and/or past performance records.

This is a fairly common occurrence, and there are several plausible explanations for why this may occur. But in some cases the quality of the explanation will not matter if it is not delivered or at least supported by an internal employee who has credibility with the line sponsors. The HR Business Partner is usually best equipped to not only address these kinds of concerns, but also turn them into talent discussions that give leaders greater insight into the developments needs of the employees in their organization.

In summary, assessment implementation partnerships between organizations and the vendors they hire contain many moving parts. Vendors who do their work according to professional standards and best practices, and who provide excellent customer service have a distinct advantage in ensuring the success of the implementation. But such success cannot be guaranteed unless the organization ensures its key stakeholders are engaged and are providing sponsorship to the initiative.

Line Leaders, Staffing Consultants, and HR Business Partners are three key stakeholder groups that should be engaged whenever possible during any assessment implementation. Each of these groups have unique roles that provide the needed sponsorship and support to the program, and that can also prevent the derailment of the program, particularly during and immediately following implementation.

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John Fernandez, Ph.D. John Fernandez, Ph.D. was a Senior Consultant at PSI and lead the implementation of assessment programs for both selection and development. John has extensive experience working as an internal expert within HR for large companies to deliver large scale, global assessment solutions. John’s areas of expertise include project management, job analysis, assessment design & validation, and presentation of assessment results to sponsors.