Objectively evaluating talent

Assessments can help find, nurture and keep the best employees

The war for talent is a real and ongoing concern within organizations across Canada and internationally. And it’s an issue that’s challenging HR professionals to deliver strategic solutions like never before.

Last month, Statistics Canada released 2006 census data indicating the proportion of people 65 and older has almost doubled in the last decade. One in seven Canadians is at least 65 and the proportion of seniors is expected to almost double in the next 25 years. There will soon be fewer young workers entering the workforce than baby boomers ready to retire, which means the competition to gain new workers and retain experienced employees will significantly increase.

Changing demographics within the workforce require organizations to re-evaluate talent management systems to remain competitive. Objective assessment assists HR leaders who must rise to this ongoing challenge, and may be a surprising solution for companies unaware of the broad scope and powerful returns associated with assessing people’s abilities, behaviours and motivations.

Importantly, objective assessment can add value in any context, from small- to medium-sized organizations seeking to develop key people or to support a hiring decision, to large companies attempting to implement change on a global level.

Selecting, developing and retaining the right people, as well as nurturing future leaders, are all key components of a winning talent management strategy. Quite simply, organizations that get it right sooner will be more successful than those that don’t. So, where do you start and how do you find the vulnerable spots in your talent management process?

Conducting a talent audit

A talent audit can be an effective starting place. A well-¬orchestrated talent audit will provide invaluable information on the strengths and gaps in an organization’s current talent pool. The results can be used to proactively recruit people with the capabilities needed for the organization, target focused development activities to grow and retain strong performers and high potentials and leverage the corporate knowledge, experience and expertise of senior workers.

What does a talent audit entail? Start by taking a close look at some key employment factors and significant pain points. Are new hires successful? Is turnover an issue? Why do top employees leave? Is there a succession plan in place for key positions?

If the starting point is selection, the addition of personality and ability assessments can supplement the existing process and increase the ability to match the right people with the right jobs. Contrary to some myths about objective assessment, well-constructed tests and questionnaires ask job-relevant questions, are very difficult to “fake” or cheat and the results are provided in user-friendly reports that are easy for hiring managers to interpret. Using personality and skill assessments, organizations will gain insights into a candidate’s motivations, preferred work styles and interpersonal tendencies to help ensure they match the responsibilities of the job and fit the organizational culture.

How a utility provider used assessment

Take the example of a global utility provider that purchased a North American company. It wanted to determine who would be “hired” from the existing staff following a restructuring.

To determine the best candidates for the new organization, it used an assessment process that was credible, legally defensible and utilized multiple assessment methods. This included a personality “work styles” questionnaire, structured competency-based interviews and consideration of technical skills.

On completion of the project, the utility noted “this project has changed the organization’s perceptions on how to do selection. The process had credibility with candidates and managers, it was fair, felt face valid, and the selection decisions made sense.”

If developing and retaining high performers is a priority, assessments used to create targeted development processes can significantly enhance employee engagement, contributing to higher retention. Identifying and then leveraging an employee’s potential and interests in meaningful ways can motivate individuals and enhance organizational outcomes.

Assessments can also provide the foundation for developing a career path by clarifying the capabilities required for the next level and helping employees understand how to achieve their own objectives, whether that includes lateral moves, deepening expertise or progressing into more senior leadership roles.

How a manufacturer measured its leadership ‘bench strength’

A global manufacturing organization needed to gain clarity on the “bench strength” of its senior financial leaders. It used an assessment process that included critical reasoning and functional knowledge tests, a personality questionnaire and a structured competency-based interview. Almost 80 individuals were assessed globally. The results identified strengths and gaps at the individual, regional and organizational levels, which helped the company create targeted development activities to enhance the organization’s leadership and business outcomes.

Organizations are very aware that their current top managers and leaders are likely to retire soon. But do they have a concrete plan for replacing them? Do they know who in the organization can be a future leader? Are they grooming a pool of candidates for key senior positions?

Assessing both current capability and future potential will enable the employer to build and maintain a high performing organization. More importantly, it will be seen as an organization that invests in people’s capabilities.

Getting the right people into the right jobs and then managing and motivating them to fulfill their potential should be top business priorities. Organizations that have realized the importance of great people and use this insight to ensure they hire and develop the right individuals for the business have a greater chance of prospering.

Once companies recognize the abilities and behaviours that are most effective in their environment, they are better equipped to demonstrate the positive results that assessing and retaining talent bring to the bottom line across the employee life cycle. Put simply, those organizations that can successfully measure and manage the potential of their workforce will be leaders in their sectors.

Marjory Kerr leads SHL Canada and is a past chair of the Canadian Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She can be reached at (416) 361-3454 or [email protected].

Latest stories