How to Develop a Sophisticated Talent Assessment Strategy

Assessments are a vital part of your talent strategy, but most companies fail to use them strategically. Typically, HR teams add assessments to the hiring process as a response to a specific problem, such as high turnover or low productivity.

Unfortunately, treating assessments as a firefighting tool leaves a lot of money on the table. Successful talent assessment programs represent a true partnership involving your business, your talent acquisition function and your vendor. Yes, it takes more time and energy to align your assessment program to your vision for the future and to your people strategy, but the extra effort will pay long-term dividends.

Developing an effective talent assessment strategy starts with defining what success means to you and documenting it in a personalized assessment charter.

Spending time and resources setting the strategy on the front end ensures that you field an optimal assessment program that is a direct fit with the strategic objectives guiding your business. This type of alignment sets the stage for success and helps ensure maximum return on investment is realized from your talent assessment program.

A winning talent assessment strategy demands a detailed and collaborative discovery process that is focused on creating a personalized capstone document that clearly outlines the ingredients required for success. Called a “talent assessment charter,” this document is a road map that addresses a series of “success parameters” that will define every aspect of your strategy.

Embarking on a discovery process to define your assessment charter should be the first order of business — and should occur before considering any vendors. When it comes time to audition vendors, your assessment charter will tell them everything they need to know about your needs and will allow you to create a scorecard for comparing vendors based on the factors required for your success.

Ready to find success with your talent assessment strategy? Here’s how to build your own assessment charter.

Identify the Program’s Purpose and Objectives

Before you begin building your talent assessment strategy, it’s essential to clearly define what the company is looking for from the program at the highest level. Start with the role the assessment plays in your larger company and people strategies. For instance, if the future is based on a shift to opening up new markets, it is critical first to understand the macro-level people strategy required to find success, then determine what specific traits are critical for fulfilling this strategy and what key performance indicators these traits should directly impact.

Even if you’re implementing a talent assessment strategy to solve a specific tactical problem, it’s still essential to frame the efforts within the context of the broader business strategy. Don’t miss any opportunities to be strategic and to drive larger business initiatives forward.

Once you’ve laid out your objectives, take the time to anticipate any internal obstacles to success you might encounter. Carefully study who will be your biggest allies and your biggest obstacles — and why. Then take a proactive approach by building the relationships and pathways needed to clear the path to success.

Assemble Your Dream Team

Getting the buy-in and direction needed to create an effective assessment charter requires a holistic approach that involves stakeholders from multiple areas. Once the program’s strategic value is defined, execution begins with gathering a cross-functional team that includes representatives from all the areas that will be affected by the assessment program.

Typically, an assessment charter’s dream team includes the voices of:

  • HR
  • Talent Acquisition
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Legal
  • Technology
  • Business Operations
  • Marketing/Employer Branding
  • Analytics

Hearing perspectives from each of these departments is vital to developing your talent assessment strategy.

Define Your Success Parameters

Once the team is in place, its members will come together as part of a discovery process where each function contributes input needed to make critical decisions about the specifics of the program.

These “success parameters” cover a series of elements that are relevant to all assessment programs. Mutual exploration and decision making should be oriented to answering the following questions:

  • Placement: Where will the assessment fall in the hiring process? Or should the process include multiple assessments given at different times in the hiring workflow?
  • Decision making: Will the test be used as a pass/fail hurdle? Or just a general guideline?
  • Candidate experience and time limit: How long should the test be? What are your requirements to ensure the assessment provides a positive candidate experience?
  • Technology: How important is it that it be accessible through mobile devices? What should the applicant-tracking system’s integration look like?
  • Diversity and inclusion: What is the tolerance for adverse impact associated with the assessment? How strong of a say will DEI have in the final content of the assessment? Is there any danger of the assessment excluding a group of candidates? Will you require an adverse-impact study as part of the program?
  • Competencies: How will you determine the specific human qualities and skill sets that are critical to job success, and how will these be mapped to the assessments chosen? Do you have the resources to conduct a thorough job-analysis study?
  • Assessment type: What type of assessment will be ideal for the situation? There are many formats and flavors of assessments — are there any you feel will contribute to superior results? Any that you feel might create a poor candidate experience and should be avoided?
  • Branding: How deeply should the assessment be branded? How will you connect the assessment to your brand, and what resources will be needed to do so?
  • Off the shelf vs. custom: To what extent do you want to invest in customized assessments and formats? How much time and money are you willing to invest in going beyond an off-the-shelf assessment? Or will a pre-made assessment allow you to meet your goals?
  • Validation strategy: How do you prefer to handle validation? If speed is of the essence, are you willing to bypass an upfront criterion study before launching? Or are you OK launching with a content validation strategy first, following up with a metrics study at a later date?
  • Success metrics: How will you define the success of the program? What results do you expect to see, and how will you collect the data needed to evaluate success?
  • Budget: How much will you allocate for the services required to set up the assessment and the annual license agreement?

It always pays to involve an industrial and organizational psychologist to guide you through these important questions and arrive at a set of answers that will serve as your success parameters. Once agreed upon, these success parameters are baked into an assessment charter that can be shared with vendors so they know exactly what you are looking for and why.

Select the Right Vendor to Support Your Strategy

Once you’ve arranged each of the elements of your talent assessment strategy, then you can begin looking for the appropriate vendor. Often, companies look at vendors first and arrange their decisions around what the vendor offers. This is putting the cart before the horse and exposes you to the risk of being dazzled by vendors who make a strong impression but are incapable of precisely addressing your actual needs.

Instead, be strategic in your conversations with potential vendors. Provide them with a request for information that asks them to speak to the success parameters covered in the assessment charter; this helps you gather information on how they can fulfill your specific requirements. Additionally, make sure to review critical background information about each vendor, such as their experience in your industry, the quality of their technology reports, the members of their client services team who will serve your account, etc.

It is also a good idea to ask potential vendors to allow the members of your cross-functional team to take sample assessments and view their results. This allows your team to experience the assessment through the eyes of your candidates.

The assessment charter is all about not letting specific talent assessment tools or vendors dictate your talent assessment strategy. Instead, the charter empowers you to take control of your talent assessment strategy’s destiny.

Use the Charter to Implement Your Talent Assessment Strategy

Once you audition vendors to answer the important questions in your charter and choose the ideal partner, it’s time to begin implementing your talent assessment strategy. This phase of the game is an exercise in change management and collaboration.

Designate a point of contact for the program. They can address specific questions from stakeholders or escalate concerns to the right place throughout implementation.

Work with the vendor to make a project plan that will provide information about what resources you will need to provide to set up the program. This includes planning for providing subject-matter experts and subjects for the job-analysis and validation studies needed to configure the assessment.

Integrate the assessment’s value proposition into the other steps in the hiring process. Remember that the assessment is only one part of the process of evaluating candidates. Assessments alone are typically not responsible for the ultimate decision to hire someone. Hiring is a collection of data across a process, so make sure the data that assessments yield can be merged into that from other steps in the process.

The ultimate goal is to make a decision based on as much reliable and accurate data as possible.

Finally, it is critical to understand the importance of change management to the success of your program. The better understanding that hiring managers and others in the company have of the purpose of your talent assessment strategy, the more likely it is that they will actually use implemented assessments in the right way. Remember that all the careful work in the world will be for naught if hiring managers do not buy into the value of the process.

Talent assessment can be complex and, when it comes to building a successful program, one size does not fit all. Unlocking the potential of talent assessment for your business means taking the time to do your homework and building a personalized road map to success.