What is holding New Zealand back in Identifying Talent in Staff & Candidates?

Whilst this countries large, and often international, corporate organisations seem to have grasped the value of using multiple-exercise assessment or development centres in the selection of new staff and identifying talent for succession among their existing workforce, the take up rate of this approach in the country as a whole remains painfully slow.

The same can be said for or using individual exercises designed to tease out essential competencies in roles critical to the success of the organisation, despite the presence of both ‘off the shelf’ exercises and expertise of those able to build bespoke assessment exercises.

So, what seems to be holding us back in utilising a process that ticks plenty of boxes in predicting whether a candidate is likely to perform in a role, or whether existing staff have latent talent to compliment succession plans?  Having spent the past six years persuading kiwi businesses to adopt this approach, I have a few suggestions:

  •  I need to work on my persuasion skills
  • The HR profession and hiring managers either don’t know of the existence of the assessment/development centre approach, or where to find relevant exercises in New Zealand.  I trawled around the August HRINZ expo and didn’t find any exhibitors promoting assessment exercises; even those who I know offer the service.
  • The perception that the assessment centre approach has to involve multiple exercises, a cast of assessors and considerable time to deliver, when in reality picking a singular exercise that covers essential competencies reaches the same objective with the same time and people involvement as an interview.
  • The approach suffers from the ‘where do I start?’ dilemma in sourcing providers of valid, reliable exercises, matching them against internal competency frameworks and gaining the buy-in from internal recruiters, especially if they need to be trained as assessors to become involved in the process.  In short, it all looks too hard.
  • The most visible sellers of assessment exercises concentrate on impersonal on-line and often US-centric solutions at a point in the selection process when a much more personal and face to face approach seems more appropriate to both candidate and hiring manager.
  • A kiwi anomaly born of a country where everyone knows everyone, that assessment centres involve candidates meeting each other, and that plenty of employers and candidates insist on avoiding these meetings at almost any cost.  This of course needn’t be the case in practice.
  • Debates in academia on whether assessment exercises were measuring artificially observed or actual behaviour, even though the predictive properties of the approach raise the likelihood of the candidate performing in the job.
  • Faced with the ‘where do I start’ dilemma and unknown cost of acquiring assessment tools, the HR function decide to make their own assessment exercises.  Without the required validity and reliability testing to ensure these exercises measure what they claim to measure and do so with an acceptable degree of accuracy, these attempts tend to be as successful as making your own i-phone or Toyota.

This is a substantial series of obstacles for any hiring manager and their HR team to overcome, but as most are centred around not knowing where to start and mythical misinformation, the potential rewards of minimising the risks of poor selection decisions and identifying potential among staff make the approach well worth the effort.

Three recent case studies of bringing assessment exercises into the selection process of roles critical to success in kiwi organisations illustrate the point with ease:

HR Manager Selection Dilemma

A critical ‘Head of HR’ appointment process into a multi site, multi union manufacturing and service organisation yielded two seemingly strong final stage candidates according to their CV’s, interviews, reference checks and personality profiles.

Questions however remained on how effective they would be in managing complex and voluminous HR issues, partnering effectively with line managers and effectively managing union relationships; all of which were critical to effective performance in the role and capable of making or breaking the effectiveness of the organisation.

A singular In-Basket exercise appropriately pitched at HR Manager’s in similar multi-site complex organisations and containing interrelated items of varied importance was put into the last stage of the selection process, with the opportunity for participants to present their findings and recommendations to the selection panel.  The entire process, from administration to delivery of feedback was completed in half a day and set the candidates apart in terms of their competency levels in relation to the job, making the selection decision crystal clear.

Contracts Manager Selection

Where the ability to effectively negotiate complex contracts had severe risks to profitability, project management and the organisations brand image in a highly competitive and visible market, hiring managers wanted to be certain that the new Contracts Manager had the capability to negotiate at the appropriate level.

A need for candidates to clearly demonstrate their negotiation skills rather than just talk about them at interview was paramount, and addressed through the selection of a high-level contracts negotiation role play and a seasoned negotiator with the capability to require candidates to put their money where their mouth was.  This approach also afforded the luxury of key stakeholders in the business able to observe and assess candidates performance.

Again, candidates whose interview performance, referees and personality profiles suggested very similar level of capability proved to be poles apart when assessed in the role play, and a confident appointment made with instant positive impact on the organisations negotiated outcomes in contracts.

Spotting Supervisory Potential among Shop-Floor Staff    

A process manufacturing plant looking to sharpen up the way shop-floor staff were promoted into supervisory positions and gain a clear assessment of the competencies of the existing supervisory team leaders designed a development centre to measure competencies  essential to success in the role.  This took the form of more traditional ‘multi-exercise’ assessments to ensure both people and process behaviours and skills were covered, and included a scheduling exercise to cover skills in managing resources and meeting production deadlines, a staff performance role-play to cover people management, group problem solving exercise to cover quality circle style team meetings and an industrial proficiency ability test battery.

Run over a day, the development centre handled twenty people, identified those suitable for immediate promotion, a clear development plan for those falling short of promotion and remedial action to bring existing supervisors up to the desired performance level.  The intervention is now run annually to maintain commitment to promotion from within, with full support from the union.

So, to return to the question, what is holding your HR department back from bringing similar interventions into your own selection and development processes?  If it’s no more than the subject residing in the ‘too hard basket’ through not knowing where to start, given the positive impact of selecting high performers and identifying talent in the workplace, it would be well worth taking a closer look in 2012.

Find out more about Assessment & Development Centres here, then call us on 0508 736 753 to see where this approach can work for your organisation.