Taking the fear out of employee assessments

Mary Clarke of Cognisco argues that online assessments can boost employee performance and motivation and point out skills gap in an organisation. They may also make appraisals more rewarding.

Given the fragile economic outlook for 2012, the goal of most organisations is to improve employee performance and productivity so as to be more competitive.

But, the truth is most managers don’t know where to start because they lack business intelligence about their people. They don’t have accurate and up-to-date information about the skills and knowledge that exists within their company and don’t really understand where they have gaps. This means that they are effectively in the dark about how to utilise their staff effectively, improve their performance or enable them to reach their full potential.

There is an overreliance on performance appraisals as a measure of performance. According to research from HR consultancy ETS last year, 40% of employees were unhappy with their appraisals and felt they didn’t accurately reflect their performance. Research from Aon Consulting and the Society for Human Resources Management last year revealed that just 7% of human resources professionals were “very satisfied” with their performance appraisal systems so most employers fail to rate performance appraisal systems as well.

Several common complaints tend to be raised about appraisals. Firstly, that they don’t accurately assess and measure employee performance because they are not metrics-based and that managers can’t use them to produce any meaningful data.  They also tend to be infrequent. Too often they are the only constructive feedback an employee will receive about their progress during the year – it is little wonder they are poorly regarded.  If managers really want to improve performance and productivity, they need to use more accurate methods of measuring employees, such as intelligent assessments that measure an individual’s skills, knowledge and confidence in carrying out their job role.

A win-win for employees and employers
Unsurprisingly, when companies introduce assessments for the first time, there can be some resistance from employees who see it as a case of ‘Big Brother’ watching you and waiting for you to trip up. However, this isn’t
the case. Most companies introduce assessments so employees can take control of their own development and progress their careers.

Online assessments can be taken by employees at a time that suits them. What’s more, employees have complete access to the results instantly – there are no secrets. They can view how well they are performing, but equally see where they have skills gaps and where greater training/coaching or mentoring is needed. They can then manage their own development, by ensuring they undertake specific training programmes that will improve their skills and enhance their performance.  Targeted training will boost individual performance and productivity. An additional benefit of this is that if employees address their specific training and development needs they will grow in confidence and morale.

It also means that when appraisal time comes there tend to be no surprises. Employees are armed with facts and information about their performance so they can demonstrate to their line managers the progress they have made and this can be invaluable in terms of helping them negotiate promotions or pay rises.

On the other side of the coin, assessments give companies the business intelligence they need to develop and manage a workforce effectively. The assessment results will provide managers often for the first time with an
accurate picture of the competence, knowledge and performance of every individual.  This information can transform how their organisation is run – enabling more strategic decision-making about how to utilise individuals and a more targeted approach to training which can help control and reduce learning and development costs.

Gaining insight into their workforce will also enhance the recruitment processes, ease succession planning and improve people development programmes. Managers will also make better decisions about when and how to
promote individuals which can help to boost morale.

Assessments can also help companies reduce risk and improve compliance. According to analysts IDC, 23% of employees don’t understand at least one aspect in their role. The company also reported that avoidable mistakes cost business £19 billion a year. By putting every individual through assessments, companies can see where knowledge gaps lie and mitigate these risks with targeted training.

There are undoubtedly benefits for both employees and employers when it comes to assessments. However, I would stress that the key to successful employee assessments are that they are taken regularly and that they are
supported by the business as an essential improvement tool.  Companies need to communicate the career-enhancing benefits of assessments to employees. Only then, will they be accepted as an essential component of an organisation’s commitment to develop its employees who will have nothing to fear from this activity.

*Mary Clarke is CEO of Cognisco.

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