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Why Assess?
(March 19, 2001) The value of assessment as a component of recruiting is rising rapidly. Long a small toy in the arsenal of Recruiting and Retention technique, soft skills assessment is blossoming as a discipline even while the traditional practitioners are under siege from the web.

Traditionally, the overall market for Assessment runs about $600M/year. A tiny component of HR, actual assessment is an even tinier piece. Most of the companies in the space have built high margin consultancies as an overlay to the traditional test and measurement business. Expanding into executive selection, 360 degree feedback systems, managerial training and 'change agency', their core businesses are built on the success of their operations in defining cultural norms and the likelihood that someone will fit.

(Just to be clear, we are not talking about the technical certification business. A straightforward online move, issuers of technical credentials simply test observable technical skills. When we speak of assessment, it is in reference to so-called soft skills which range from loyalty to leadership.)

On first glance, the 'soft skills testing' process would seem to be a dying remnant of the days of labor surplus. A provocative approach to maintaining cultural integrity (that's right!), assessment gained traction as a way to respond to EEO suits. Although the science has been argued up and down, the essence is pretty smart (if the implications are a bit seamy).

Cultural values are measurable! The likelihood of a particular fit is a function of relative correlation to the company value system (norms). Change can be delivered by tweaking the fit incrementally. Stellar performance can be modeled and taught. A way to defend corporate culture in the old days, the techniques are finding a striking new application today.

Although you can complicate it immensely, the core of the right response to population decline is an expanded pool of potential employees. Given a burning requirement to invest in these new corporate allies, the problem of 'cost-effectiveness' emerges quickly. When they are applying in droves, an applicant tracking system is a powerful weapon. When they are hard to find, screening becomes critical. It seems paradoxical that as the requirement for assessment declines at the moment of hiring it would grow earlier on in the development of potential employees.

'You only need to pass a pulse test to go to work but you have to be screened to earn the benefits of a potential employee.'

That's the gist of the new model.

In other words, the only way to control the cost of maintaining a viable pipeline of candidates in a profound shortage is to be sure that they fit. Since the numbers grow in proportion to the length of time until you hire (10 candidates for today's job; 100 candidates for next year's job and so on), being certain that you are dealing with the right people increases in importance the further away you are from hiring them. It's very counter-intuitive.

Meanwhile, Recruiting, Retention and Labor Supply Management are really just proving grounds. Once assessment technologies are driven into the mainstream, the ability to measure and predict behavior (including cultural participation) will generalize to the rest of the web. Part of the reason that web-driven deconstruction is so powerful is that it provides a method for older companies to relaunch their core expertise.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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