How to Unlock the Value of Your People with Talent Assessments

Assessments for existing employees can help you discover if you’ve got the right people in the right roles, and who could be redeployed with some reskilling or upskilling.

Joanna Kraft, VP, Assessment & Analytics, Talent & Leadership Development, LHH
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The great thing about undertaking a talent assessment is that you never know exactly what you’re going to find on the other end.

 

True story: we had a client that needed to fill an important senior team leader position and was looking, quite understandably, at members of that team as possible successors. The client asked us to do a thorough assessment of the entire team to see who was best suited to move into that leadership role.

 

We put everyone through some online assessments (including cognitive, personality, and motivation and interest inventories), behavioural interviews, and case study and role-play simulations.

 

We were all a little surprised at what we found.

 

Ultimately, we did identify two team members who were a moderately strong fit for the leadership role. For those others who were a less ideal fit with this specific role, we also discovered strengths, motivations, and values that could serve the organization in other ways. Top talent can only thrive if it’s a good fit, and these folks were not a good fit in this particular role.

 

This insight allowed the client, with our help, to open conversations with them about where they would rather be, and what they’d rather be doing within the same organization. These individuals were excited about a growth opportunity in applying for this leadership role and while they didn’t get that opportunity, the insight from the assessment opened up all kinds of new career opportunities. The data from this assessment allowed them to find a path to a job where they were a better fit, and thus more engaged.

 

One assessment process helped this organization in three important ways: it identified a new team leader; improved the overall composition of that team; and redeployed two valued employees to other parts of the company where they would bring more overall value.

 

Win-win-win for organization, team and individual.

 

It’s just one anecdote, but it does speak to the value that can be realized if talent assessments become a regular feature of talent management. The sad fact is that right now, most companies do not do that.

 

Unleashing the full potential of assessments

 

Far too many organizations in today’s modern world of work primarily employ assessments during the external hiring process. Although it’s critically important that companies know as much as possible about the people they are hiring, assessments can do so much more.

 

First, assessments can provide you with tremendous insight to understand the talent you already have. There is an assumption in some organizations that assessments are most valuable when you’re trying to learn more about someone you don’t know that well (external hires) as opposed to finding out more about the people you do know. Assessments for existing employees can help you discover if you’ve got the right people in the right roles, and who could be redeployed with some reskilling or upskilling.

 

True talent value comes from putting the right people into the right jobs.

 

The OECD tracks a human capital metric it refers to as “the skills mismatch,” which it describes as “the sub-optimal use of an individual’s skills in their occupation.” How big a deal is the skills mismatch?

 

OECD data from August 2021 shows that 32 per cent of people are working in jobs that do not match their field of study, and 36 per cent are either over or under-qualified for their current positions. The OECD findings dovetail with other research by organizations such as Gallup, which has long argued organizations promote the wrong people into management roles about 80 per cent of the time.

 

That’s a big concern but you’re still wondering, what is the real cost of all this mismatching According to a 2018 estimate by the Boston Consulting Group, the skills mismatch cost the global economy $8 trillion in unrealized GDP; it estimates that if unattended, that cost could rise to $18 trillion in lost economic output by 2025.

 

It’s important to note that all organizations suffer from this phenomenon. But organizations that do regular talent assessments – from hiring all the way through leadership succession – are profoundly less affected by the skills mismatch.

 

Progress often comes right after some unflinching self-assessment. This small quiz should tell you whether you are getting the most value out of assessments.

 

1. How well do you really know your employees? A client once observed to us that he knew more about the players on his fantasy football team than he did about his own employees. Most companies identify their people by role and job description, with a few performance metrics thrown in. But they don’t know what motivates their employees, what they would rather be doing within your company. And they don’t know who has transferrable skills that would be better used in other areas.

2. Are you conflating performance reviews with talent assessment? The pandemic has created an opportunity to revisit the use of performance reviews and whether they are really providing useful data for talent planning. The fact is most reviews are not assessments; they look back at the recent past but do not unearth new details about career aspirations, motivations, or transferrable skills.

3. If you are doing regular reassessments, how deep into the organization are you probing? Most organizations that do formal talent assessments focus solely on the top of the house. But there is much to be gained by extending assessments several layers deeper than senior leaders. Do you have an underperforming team? Assess that team and find out if there is a problem with leadership, or team chemistry, or both.

4. Have you explored the assessment and redeployment of existing talent as an alternative to external searches? The costs of finding, hiring, and onboarding a new employee are significant and it’s essential you find out if there is internal talent that could fill a vacancy, before launching out on the open market. You will only know that if you are assessing your existing talent on a regular basis, which might be every two years. Those regular scans will reveal hidden value in your existing talent.

5. Short of implementing formal, comprehensive assessments, have you just talked to your people lately? Although it wouldn’t be considered a formal talent assessment, tasking your managers to have regular, meaningful career conversations with employees can create deep insight into what your people think about the jobs they currently have now, and what they might want to do in the future. A motivated employee, working in a job where they can make the best use of their skills, is an engaged and productive employee. So, why not just ask them what they would rather be doing?

 

The science of assessments is a proven methodology to find out more about the people you are going to hire, and the people you already employ. Getting the greatest value out of both pools of talent requires employers to dig deep into the skills, motivations and behaviours of every individual, and then take steps to make sure each person is put in a job where they have the greatest chance of success.

 

Trying to accomplish the same goals without assessments is tantamount to driving blind; there is always a slim chance you will get where you want to go, but it’s way more likely you’re going to run off the road at some point.

 

Experience tells us most companies fail when it comes to unlocking the full value of their existing talent. And the way you unlock that value is to use assessments to dig deep into who they are, what they can do and – perhaps most importantly – what they really want to do.

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