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Assessing for Succession Development

Talent managers, eager to find new ways to measure talent — the engine to grow business — have taken a liking to assessments as a leadership development tool.

November 29, 2011
Related Topics: Technology, Succession Planning, Succession Planning

Using a series of questions, post-hire assessments offer an objective way for organizations to determine the critical competency levels for talent, addressing who’s ready to move up or across in an organization. Although most companies don’t use post-hire assessments with every employee, many find there is hidden value as they put related data to work.

“I think there are more organizations that are more sophisticated in their talent management process,” said Matthew Such, chief scientist at First Advantage, an employment screening vendor. Those organizations increasingly use assessments as a tool for succession planning and leadership development, he said.

That’s how Shay Myers, vice president of talent management at Advance America, a financial services firm, uses them. Advance America occupies small storefront locations to provide short-term loans to its customers and uses Web-based assessments to gauge leaders’ ability to grow its business. “We have a group of 10 individuals right now who are considered to be high-potential directors that we’re grooming to be at the next level,” she said. “We’re working with them on a variety of post-hire assessments to gauge where they are.”

Many post-hire assessments are competency based; they deliver statement-centered or scenario-based questions to determine people management skills for their high potentials.
One assessment Advance America uses tests individuals on how well they recognize assumptions, Myers said. A scenario is presented, and individuals are asked to make decisions based on those scenarios. Similar assessments are given in areas such as critical thinking and argument evaluation.

“Are they listening to the reasoning thoroughly, or are they failing to question and probe, and ask more questions to make sure they don’t get emotionally caught up in the person’s argument?” she said.

Post-hire assessments are still not as popular as pre-hire assessments where employers can use a validated system to make hiring decisions. Such said he doesn’t think many organizations focus on assessments once they have employees on board.

“Organizations are more likely to use their performance management process or other kinds of informal tools,” he said.

Advance America uses post-hire assessments in its on-boarding process, particularly for hourly, storefront employees. The company has more than 2,200 locations in strip malls where hourly employees interact with customers daily.

In addition to a typical two- to three-week training period, the company administers post-hire assessments in areas such as reading comprehension and math to identify employees who may need further development. Those who test high on these assessments often help or mentor lower-scoring employees.

“It just basically means we know how much more we have to shadow that person and give them extra resources or support,” Myers said. “A manager knows to put more attention and time into an employee.”

Myers said for Advance America, post-hire assessments at the storefront level are viewed as continued training because managers can objectively evaluate where employees are in their development, illuminating those who are ready to advance and those who may need more help.

Despite its usefulness in some areas, there are drawbacks to the post-hire assessment process. “Some people just don’t test well,” Myers said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to find some way of measuring whether or not someone’s going to be successful in the next environment.”

Many firms use performance reviews or 360-degree assessments where superiors examine the employee’s potential and competencies required for the job. But Myers and Such agreed that because post-hire assessment questions are scientifically based and objective in nature, they serve organizations better by weeding out subjectivity.

“You can do 360s all day long,” Myers said. “But it’s only as good as the assessors. So, if you have people that you’re reporting to that are not high caliber, if you have a boss that has a subjective view of you — whether its good or bad — it’s going to influence the way they rate you.”

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