Employee Assessments: Organisational Value and Purpose

Employee Assessments: Organisational Value and Purpose

Managers, whether in HR or in Training, need to know employees at various levels. The process of getting to know employees happens in diverse ways: A recruitment manager finds out about potential candidates through interviews and written tests. A team leader finds out about team members through one-on-one interactions, word of mouth, qualitative assessments of past performance.

Often, these ways are inaccurate and too subjective. There is too much guesswork; only with experience can managers begin to properly “read” employees. Objective employee assessments can help reduce the guesswork, which in turn would mean that the employee’s ideas and efforts are better aligned with organisational goals.

How traditional means fall short

As a basic example, résumés do tell a recruitment manager something about the employee, but people can falsely play up positive aspects and play down negative aspects on a résumé. It is up to the manager to exercise judgment in the course of a formal interview—and that judgment, obviously, depends on the manager’s skill and experience. In other words, it is not easy; errors of judgment—sometimes expensive ones—are possible.

For another example, consider performance assessment of team members. Anyone who has had to do this over a period of a year or two knows that, without periodic employee assessments, this comes down to observation (which is hard with a large team), word of mouth (which can be misleading), and perhaps a bi-annual appraisal. In the latter case, poor judgments can result in employee dissatisfaction. Employee assessments can supply the objective base upon which sound decisions can be based.

Questions that assessments can answer

Let’s look at precise questions that assessments, on one-time or periodic bases, can answer. With these questions as bases, managers (and organisations in general) can gauge situations towards their current purpose. This, in turn, means better decisions for the organisation and for the concerned individuals.

What is the current skill level of a particular employee?

An interview conducted before the employee was hired is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the employee’s current aptitude level, or of his/her current skill set. Managers are aware of this. Many of them need to periodically gauge these elements. Still, the method used is, often, only to recall the employee’s qualifications and his/her past performance.

An assessment of the appropriate type can help. This might be a hard-skills assessment in the case of an upcoming project, or perhaps a comprehensive one for a due promotion.

Can the employee handle this change of role?

If such a decision were based upon employee qualifications, or perhaps upon a quick one-on-one discussion, it would be an uninformed decision for the simple reason that it is not easy to gauge people. In fact, changing designations and roles, where it might be appropriate, is often not undertaken only because there is no objective guideline. Correctly framed assessments—periodically updated to reflect organisational change, and modified on a case-by-case basis—can provide the much-needed measure of objectivity.

Does my team need training in such-and-such area?

Training is often not given because knowledge and skill are presumed, sometimes incorrectly. Sometimes, a majority of team members do not need training, while some do. (A common example is training on the use of a software that will be extensively used for some months.)

On the other hand, training is sometimes mandated when it is not required. This might be motivated by the idea of standardisation. What might happen is that some employees see the training as unnecessary, and that it is interfering with work.

As a matter of fact, the decision of whether to conduct a training programme (and possibly to drop the idea) can be easily and accurately addressed by an assessment. It could be as simple as a ten-question poll, and it could be as thorough as a one-hour assessment that tests current knowledge. Supporting this idea is the fact that such an assessment need not be created afresh with each similar situation. A template can be used, tweaked for the purposes of the training being proposed.

Will this new employee fit in with my existing team?

In cases where this question is important, managers use different measures, some of which are downright ineffective. Here are some examples:

  • “The new employee’s qualifications are similar to those of the existing team members.” (Here, nothing is yet known about the new employee’s skill on the current job.
  • “He/she seems to be a team player, one who gets along well with people.” (This is a subjective assessment of personality, which is often inaccurate.)

Well, how can an assessment help? If an assessment is used, it alone cannot help. The manager would need to create an assessment that will answer questions he needs to ask. These questions might be, for example: “How many teams has the employee been part of?” “How large were those teams?” “Did the employee’s work in those teams require teamwork or did it emphasise individual activity?” “Was the employee’s performance better on larger teams or on smaller teams?” “Are there members on my existing team who can help the new employee get started?” “Is my current team tightly-knit, and if so, will or will not a fresh recruit be problematic for their routine?”

Not all these questions can be answered, but some probably can. In many cases, an assessment would serve the purpose better than a personal review.

How do other employees perceive this particular employee?

Peer review is notoriously difficult because of the obvious problems: when one employee appraises another, he/she might worry about anonymity; about whether he/she will be seen in a negative light by the manager for making certain comments; about what the team will seem to be like after the peer review; and so on.

Online assessments have the potential to remove such issues—if framed well.

Appropriate software can allow each member of the team to rate the others on an objective scale for various parameters. The software can also guarantee anonymity, ensuring that the team leader only sees the collected results. Questions might be of the form: “Would you say (Yes/No/Unsure) that person ‘A’ is a right fit for his/her job, without considering the rest of your team?” “Would you say (Yes/No/Unsure) that person ‘A’ is a right fit for his/her job, considering the team as such?” “On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the overall performance of person ‘A’ over the past one year?” “On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the overall performance of person ‘A’ over the past one month?”

Depending on what questions the manager chooses to ask, and on how well he frames the questions, the survey/review can give him a good idea about his team. He can get an idea on a periodic basis, of star performers, poor fits for the job, whether someone really deserves the promotion being requested, and so on.

Addressing Negative Perceptions

While speaking about assessments in general, we must note that assessments that include essay-type questions defeat the purpose in terms of objectivity. If an organisation is to use assessments on an ongoing basis for multiple purposes, those assessments should be reusable (with customisations for each situation); they should also be straightforward. That is, the manager should be able to ask clear questions and get clear answers. In that sense, assessments based on multiple-choice questions (MCQs) make the most sense.

Beyond the fact that MCQ assessments are objective and reusable, the utility comes from the fact that the organisation can learn about its employees and about itself on a continuing basis. Assessment outcomes, cumulatively over months and years, can be used as an organisational knowledge base. Such a knowledge base can answer questions such as: Who contributed the most towards making that project a success? How? Why? Has role assignment been optimal over the past one year? Were the past two hiring cycles productive overall?

A potential issue here is the fact that MCQs by themselves are often perceived as trivial or superficial. Negative perceptions are detrimental to any policy or procedure; however, in many cases, perceptions are negative only until they become de rigueur. For example, organisational policies that restrict Internet access had a negative perception attached until they became commonplace. In the case of organisational assessments, the perception of triviality—meaning that they might not be taken seriously—can result in the purpose being lost.

To be able to use the MCQ format in organisational assessments, a change in that perception must be effected. As a first step, managers should explain, in detail, the purpose of the assessments. They should dispel the notion, if it exists, that assessments are a kind of monitoring tool, emphasising that they effect a synergy between employee and organisation.

It is critical that assessments be created carefully and with good judgment, rather than just as an exercise.

Administering short assessments on a regular basis—asking about employee experience on a particular project, perhaps, or testing for preparedness before taking on a project—will help clarify the value of the assessments. Over time, they become a tool for optimisation within the organisational culture.

Do you think subjective judgments are enough, or are you open to the idea of employee assessments? Do you anticipate resistance to the idea within the workplace? We'd love to know what you think. Comment below, or mail the author at ram@focalworks.in.