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Are You Considering Using Assessments in Your Business?

Many of today’s companies are grappling with the latest employment trends that have surfaced out of the pandemic crisis. Flexible schedules, remote vs. office work options, compensation and wage pressures, fewer jobs that fit current workforce skills, and the impact of “The Great Resignation,” just to name a few. The other day, I read an article that title inflation is again on the rise and being used to retain high-risk employees. Whatever employment trend arises next in the seemingly never- ending societal renegotiation of the “employee-employer contract,” there is an opportunity to bring additional data, objectivity,

and predictability to decision-making by incorporating personality and career related assessments.

Assessments in organizations has become a mainstream tool to help optimize the workplace. It is not new for companies to use such tools to uncover candidate capabilities for job and culture fit, to guide employee promotions and career rotation decisions, to identify potential leaders for the future, and to direct and support the professional development of their talent pool. By mid-career, most people have taken at least one personality, work style/work behavior or career-related assessment that spit out a list of their strengths and weaknesses. Most people are curious about what assessments reveal about them, their capabilities,

and their foibles, while others are nervous, dubious or skeptical. All are reasonable and expected responses after being asked to take an assessment for condition of employment, as part of a team building exercise, or within a career or leadership development program.

Few employees know the underpinnings of the assessment(s) they use or take, inquire as to why it was chosen by the company, and question if it is being used properly. This blog is intended to arm businesses owners, leaders, and employees with the necessary facts and featured to make informed choices around the selection and use of employee related assessments. To do so, we will identify the general categories to which tests belong, their intended use, the benefits they bring, and the limitations imposed.

Employee testing can be grouped into four major categories: Mental Abilities, Aptitude, Personality, and Work Style or MAP-W. Mental abilities testing came on the scene in the early 1990’s and were first developed and used to test the intelligence of children and retardation. The first time they were used at scale for “job selection” was in WWI. The U.S. government partnered with a psychologist by the name of Yerkes to help assign soldiers to specific duty based on their intelligence scores. This practice of testing soldier’s cognitive horsepower to determine their military position morphed to include a broader array of instruments. Even in today’s work environment, if a job requires a person to possess certain cognitive capabilities that are known to contribute to successful job performance, it is common practice to use mental abilities tests. Contemporary products include the Watson Glaser for critical thinking, the Thurstone to ascertain speed in thinking, the Ravens to measure abstract thinking, and the Hogan Business Reasoning to determine strategic and tactical thinking. Also, there are mental abilities tests embedded into personality assessments – more specifics will follow.

Further statistical elements were discovered in the Mid 1900s that enabled distinct and precise differences to extend beyond intelligence to include people’s capabilities and behavior. Aptitude and Ability are two types of assessment categories that can discern a candidate’s, or employee’s fit to a job or career type. According to, Aptitude is defined as “an innate ability to perform an activity or task.” These abilities supersede environmental factors. Think about jobs such as a fighter pilot, artist, ballerina, or musician. To be considered suitable to roles certain abilities need to be “wired” from birth. Today’s most common business aptitude tests cover numerical reasoning, spatial relations testing, abstract reasoning, mechanical reasoning, business reasoning and even Sales. Assuming a certain aptitude is job related, these tests can be used to screen new hires, grant promotions, guide succession planning, and uncover underlying strengths in early career placement. Ability is different than Aptitude. It is one’s proficiency in a skill or area of knowledge such the level of math learned, fluency in a foreign language, general literacy, depth of using software programs, and so forth. Ability tests are used to measure a person’s learned level of skill against a standard or target. We are most familiar with this kind of normative testing from the notable abilities’ tests: SAT, GRE, LSAT, etc. In business, if to perform well on a job it requires frequent use of a measuring tape and calculating fractions, an abilities test measuring these skills can be used to screen for a capable internal or external candidate.

The assessments reviewed thus far use “norm referenced” scaling, and personality assessments, our third category of assessment types is no exception. Personality tests are designed to not only differentiate individual traits or characteristics, but to compare individual’s scores against a criteria or benchmark. According to the American Psychological Association, personality refers to, “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.” Personality is thought to be inherent and/or acquired, yet stable over time. Because personality assessments are measuring clusters of strengths and

weaknesses that are relatively stable, not situational, a person’s score indicates their level of certain knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes (KSAAs). Many companies have Industrial/Organizational Psychologists or similarly trained consultants to help them tie KSAAs to job descriptions to help increase the probability of hiring the right person for a job, the first time. Frequently used in today’s organizations include the Hogan Suite, 16 PF, Outmatch/Harver, Predictix, Caliper, Culture Index, and PXT Select. Personality instruments that integrate mental ability measures into the full assessments are Predictix, Caliper, and PXT Select.

Before we get to the next category of assessments in the WAP-W model, it is important to note two constructs that underly all assessment categories discussed thus far: Reliability and Validity. Reliability means consistency and repeatability. In other words, we expect that if a person takes an assessment one week, it should produce the same or similar outcome(s) when taken again in a few weeks’ time. Most of the assessments mentioned in this blog fulfill the “gold standard” of a reliability score between .70 and 1.0. The second term is validity. It is a standard statistical measure that indicates if a scale is measuring the concept it intends to measure. It would make sense, that If you are attending an Algebra math class and your teacher gives you a math test that includes both Algebra and Geometry questions culminating in a final math score, the test is not measuring what it was intended to measure (Algebra) and thus not valid. There are several kinds of validity and predictive validity is one

that is central to tests used for pre-employment screening. Predictive validity means that a factor of personality, let’s say conscientiousness, shows to consistently meet a level of job performance over time and across jobs. Most test vendors publish their reliability and validity studies and scores their Technical Manual. Just ask for it.

The final category of our MAP-W framework of assessments includes the Work Styles. These are probably the most prolifically used assessments in businesses today. Their value is inidentifying how people situationally and most comfortably behave, communicate, and get things done. Used to help people understand how they are similar and different from others as they go about their day, assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, CliftonStrengths, and the EQ-I are commonly used. Applications include teambuilding, leadership development, management skills building, effective communication, conflict

resolution, and diversity and inclusion efforts. Work Style instruments are scaled differently than personality tests and thus cannot be used for pre-employment or promotion decisions. Not to get too technical, but scales are ipsative rather than norm referenced. This means the individual taking the assessment is measuring themselves against themselves, not against a

criterion or similar group, and thus one work style cannot be said to be better than the other nor predict job performance. Even so, the work style instruments serve to bring people together, to have more tolerance, and to accept their fellow worker.

One final word: Technology’s intersection with assessments is adding an additional complexity to choosing an assessment that fits your business need. There are some that run job-related simulations, use gaming, and some that are scored using algorithmic and artificial intelligence methods. Most are, but check the Technical Manual, following the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) as well as fair and unbiased conditions imposed under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules and regulations.

The MAP-W framework of assessments is not all inclusive of available testing within the business setting. There are interest, values, and motives inventories, integrity exams, employee engagement surveys, business culture evaluations, and more. In

conclusion, assessments can be used separately for targeted business scenarios or collectively to create a desired culture or put together a broader talent strategy to drive business transformation. Integrating them into your business or business area makes

sense. It brings objectivity, predictability, and confidence to decisions made about a your most valued resource, people!


About Dr. Gray

Dr. Ginny Gray is a highly-accomplished organizational development professional, with extensive experience in executive assessment, development and on-boarding, hi-potential employee identification, learning and development, leadership development, performance management and succession planning. She has driven cultural transformations, instituted change management practices and leveraged metrics for measuring impact. An expert in change, she works with leaders to break through barriers and transform organizational cultures and mindsets to create mechanisms that unlock the potential of employees in ways that surpass self-expectations and optimize organizational performance.

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