Thursday, January 1, 2009

Role-Based Assessment: Thinking Inside the Box

When organizations look to hire, the decision is not just about the right skills for the job anymore; it's also about the right corporate fit. But can an hour-long interview determine whether someone is a good fit? Role-based assessments can reduce guesswork and help minimize the risk associated with hiring by assessing a candidates' softer side.
"I find the traditional recruitment process limiting," said Meena Pak, director of Feme Ltd, one of Europe's leading importers and wholesalers of hair and beauty products. "I mean, how much can we learn in a few hours of meeting a person?
"Despite the best effort made, [it's] difficult to gain an accurate portrayal of an individual in interviews. [Role-based assessment] is unique because it gives a 'whole-istic' approach and assesses not only the individual, but also the context of where they will work and how they can develop.
"This type of assessment can be used for more than just talent acquisition. It's also an apt tool for creating effective teams and identifying high-potential employees. Though they can unveil key personality traits, role-based assessments should be employed with other practices to make sure employees are not pigeonholed, thereby limiting their potential development.
At Allstate, It's All About the Right Fit
While role-based assessments could be utilized for every position, that means a hefty investment if talent managers use industrial/organiza tional psychologists to implement them like Allstate Insurance Co. does. With some 38,000 employees on the books, it's unrealistic to do this type of assessment for every single position.
That's why Allstate researched which roles were most pivotal to its success so the organization could target its investment. After working with Peter Ramstad, formerly of Personnel Decisions International and co-author of Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital, Allstate pinpointed two key sales leadership positions as critical to organizational success.
"We were looking at their ability to drive growth," said Marsha Love Morrow, director of human resources. "Do they have a direct enough connection to our customers through our agencies? Can this particular role have a major impact on our ability to grow? We arrived at the answer, 'yes.' Because of [sales leaders'] ability to lead within a region, they determine whether we are a top player in a particular market.
"To ensure the right candidates are placed into these jobs, Allstate utilizes role-based assessments. The organization's assessment center is based on leadership competencies and uses scenario-based questions in interviews, cognitive tests and work-style inventories. At the end of the assessment, the consultant who manages the process will review the results and furnish a summary report that provides information about the candidate's ability to perform in a given role.
"By doing [this] assessment, you're obtaining observable information about a particular candidate because you're actually seeing how they would perform within a sample scenario or a sample setting," Morrow said. "In an interview, I can ask you the question, and you're going to respond, 'Here's how I think I would perform.' But you're not actually seeing them in a real-time scenario doing a job while faced with interruptions, issues and changing conditions.
"After taking the role-based assessment, internal candidates, even if they didn't get the position, will walk away with a development report that outlines where they need to grow and develop.
"That's a huge benefit for the [internal] candidates," Morrow said. "They come out with a plan that they can sit down with their leader and actually implement, something that will enable them to continue to develop and acquire the skills they need to be a stronger leader."While this process is labor-intensive, Allstate has found it to be a worthwhile investment because it has helped put the right people into the right positions."[This] was a business decision that we made to ensure that we would be able to have people for these roles that were the kind of talent we wanted for the long run - the kind of talent that would help us to be competitive [in] the marketplace not just today, but in the future," Morrow said.
More Than Just a Test
Think of the business as a whole and each team within that business as a moving part. If teams are not functioning effectively, they adversely affect the whole.Organizations need to know which type of individual succeeds in both the macrocosm and the microcosm. Because role-based assessments are a qualitative form of measurement, they can help organizations determine the best fit on both levels.
"With a quantitative assessment, you're going to get how much of something there is," said Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute (TGI), a provider of role-based assessments. "When you're looking at how somebody will fit in [your] organization in terms of what they do [and] how they behave, what you want to know is qualitative."
The 10 roles identified in TGI's assessments are the Founder, the Vision Mover, the Vision Former, the Action Mover, the Action Former, the Explorer, the Watchdog, the Communicator, the Conductor and the Curator.
"You're not putting people in boxes," Presser said. "You're opening up the boxes that people may have felt they were put into and allowing them to grow infinitely in [a] way that's real [and] meaningful to them."When an individual takes one of TGI's assessments, he or she may read a series of movie plots that have different roles. After each plot the individual is asked, "Which role is most like you and which is least like you?" A detailed report is then generated and provided to the hiring manager.
"You assess in order to predict, and you predict in order to control outcome," Presser said. "If you want to control outcome, you need to have people who are flexible, nimble and know how to work off each other. If you can get that, then whatever happens tomorrow, you have an organization that will be able to meet it."
Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is using TGI's role-based assessment to determine her current employees' roles. Each employee will take the assessment, and once the results come back, Scott will analyze them to determine if there should be some realigning of job tasks.
"I don't think that we're necessarily going to move people totally out of their position[s]," she said. "That would be too traumatizing. People will keep the jobs they have, [but] because there are multiple functions that need to be done in all of those jobs, they may be aligned differently."Once the results are in, Scott said development will be very important, as each employee needs to understand their co-workers' roles and learn the techniques for working with other roles."If you have long-time employees [who] are used to doing things in a certain way, it really takes staff development, the follow up, for them to see the value in doing things in a different way," she explained.
For Pak, who also uses TGI's tools for hiring and developing teams, role-based assessments have been every effective."The profiles of each role within the role-based assessment [are] unique, and learning our preferred method of working gives a different insight to better understand ourselves and each other," she explained."With increased understanding comes respect, and through respect we learn to trust each other, which builds overall faith in the people of the organization and the company itself."
Pak initially had some reservations about this type of assessment. She was concerned it might lead to false assumptions or limit a worker's development. As a result, she has a specific process when hiring that utilizes other measures: study the cover letter, meet the candidate, gather first impressions, interview, administer all internal tests if applicable, send for role-based assessment, relook at candidates and ultimately make a decision.
"I did not wish to pigeonhole or 'box' people in through the use of this method," Pak said. "I make sure I meet an individual before I send them to take the survey, so I can gut-test them first."No assessment is perfect. Role-based assessments must be used with other practices so talent managers have a more well-rounded view of an employee or potential candidate."The biggest pitfall is it's not an exact science," said Russell Klosk, a global talent management and workforce planning expert and the HR line of business leader for RGS Associates, which specializes in land development.
"No single assessment is going to give you [a] full picture into someone's personality and where they fit in your organization. You want to leverage multiple levers. If you become overly reliant on [role-based assessments] , you look past the business strategy as a whole. Just because someone's not a fit doesn't mean you don't need them.
"In addition to using role-based assessments to develop teams and select the right talent, they also can be employed to identify high-potential employees."It's very easy to come up with a performance management system that measures past performance; it's very hard to put the potential equation against that and say who [is] top talent," Klosk said. "Role-based assessment[s] can be used as a tool to help you spot at an earlier point those people who are going to have that potential."
For role-based assessments to be successful, Klosk believes their use must have leadership buy-in. He said talent managers can get that leadership support by gathering business intelligence and establishing a business case to support their use."
Usually, the people who do these kinds of things love talking about them, so just looking at conference presentations and what's being talked about in peer groups is a pretty good reader of where the trends are and a pretty easy place to get data," Klosk said. "Ultimately, the champion can't be the HR person; the champion's got to be someone in either the finance or the operations role."
Ref: Lindsay Edmonds Wickman

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