Rachel Blackburn - using assessment to gain competitive advantage

Most of us who have recruited staff have done it. We have appointed someone to a role and then discovered that their performance and behaviour has not been in line with what we were expecting. Occasionally when this happens they may exceed our expectations; more often it is likely that their ability in not in line with our standards for the role. This gives us a headache as in these days of austerity it is unlikely that we can justify having anyone who is not fully contributing on the payroll. In 2012 it is clearer than ever before that each staff member is either an asset or a liability. We all need excellent team members in our organisations who are fully engaged and keen to go the extra mile for our customers. The ability to do this better than our competitors keeps us in business.

My key advice to reduce the chances of making costly mistakes:

Be really clear about what knowledge, skills and behaviour you are looking for. Always make sure you have an up to date job description before you proceed with recruiting a new person to your team. This should outline the purpose of the role, who the person will report to, the duties, key contacts and accountabilities, for example will they be responsible for a budget or staff?

Then map out the person specification – the type of person who is likely to be successful in the role. This should include what qualifications, experience, skills, abilities, knowledge and personal qualities a person needs to deliver results in line with your standards.

Use the information above to advertise the role and decide who should be invited for interview. Make sure that only trained managers and staff conduct the interview.

This is an area where it is important to make sure that everyone involved is aware of current good practise and things that you can or cannot ask in line with current legislation – in particular since the Equality Act 2010. I am still finding that a number of organisations are unaware of questions and comments that could be exposing them and their company to unnecessary risk. Often it is my job to point out good practice without scaring managers so they are nervous to ask any questions!

The interview is the opportunity to ask relevant open questions to gain evidence of three things – Can they do the job - that is have they got the right knowledge, skills, experience, abilities and behaviour? Will they do the job – is this the type of work that motivates then to want to do a good job and go the extra mile for your customers? Will they fit into your organisation? – always a tricky area as we have to balance taking on someone who is similar to people already in the company with encouraging diversity and taking the opportunity to recruit someone who is a bit different and would therefore bring an alternative approach which could strengthen the team.

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Using psychometric assessment to supplement the evidence from the interview typically substantially increases the chances of making a good hiring decision. This is based on our experience at US2U Consulting and also other research. Indeed the odd time when a client has decided to appoint someone to a role despite or recommendation not too, our experience is that it is unlikely that the person will be successful in the role.

The most commonly used psychometric tools are verbal and numerical ability tests and personality assessment. For more in depth assessment they can be combined with other assessment methods such as group and presentation exercises which involve completing a sample of activities which are important for successful performance in the job.

It should also be noted that assessment can be used for training and development for existing staff when planning who should takeover key roles in the future.

By using objective assessment you are putting yourself at a competitive advantage over companies that don't.

PS - I welcome your comments and this month I aim to share my business advice taking on board the comment I received about my last column. I outlined that one of the most important things to do when managing change is to communicate in plain English. The comment I received stated that I had used a lot of management speak. So here goes!

Rachel Blackburn is director of US2U consulting