Archive for June, 2010

Behavioral Assessments Driving Strange Behavior

June 21, 2010

More and more employers have been incorporating behavioral assessment tools into their hiring process.  There is an alphabet soup of companies that provide these online profiling products, including PI, OMG, DISC, and many others.  The drivers for turning to these devices map to several common themes:  A hiring company has made several hiring decisions that didn’t work out; a hiring company wants to replicate the success found with their top performers, so they’re seeking additional employees of a similar ilk; and a hiring company sees other companies using these products and doesn’t want to be left behind at a disadvantage.

Interestingly, going back just three or four years ago, many hiring companies that relied upon these profiling tools enacted them towards the very end of the hiring process.  Candidates, who had excelled through multiple interviewers and were bolstered by strong references, were then subjected to one of these tests as a last step.  Similar to a background check, the behavioral assessment seemed to be positioned as the proverbial “two-headed monster” check, thought of as an insurance policy against any ugly surprises.

Today, there appears to be a significant shift in the importance of the behavioral assessment.  I’ve seen several hiring companies that won’t even speak with a prospective candidate until they’ve administered the assessment and the results come back with a favorable status.  Just last week, I witnessed a growing technology company lose a compelling candidate due to the behavioral assessment.  The candidate impressed the internal recruiter, the VP Sales, and a prospective colleague through several initial interviews.  However, the candidate’s behavior assessment came back with a profile that wasn’t quite as strong as the CFO would prefer.  While the VP Sales and CFO were debating the efficacy of the candidate, causing the interview process to stall and lose momentum, the candidate moved forward with other suitors and subsequently accepted an offer elsewhere.

While most everyone who subscribes to behavioral assessments agrees that they are merely a data point, something strange seems to occur when the results don’t come back as desired.  Nobody knows what to do.  For some, that data point suddenly transforms itself into an overarching decision point…or worse, an indecision point.

Clearly, behavioral assessments serve multiple purposes.  First, they introduce an objective element into what has always been a largely subjective interview process.  They provide added useful insight into possible candidate tendencies.  They enable companies to better understand the parameters for success in a given role.  Yet, like any standardized test, behavioral assessments on their own simply cannot function as the end all be all arbiter of attitude and aptitude.

Furthermore, it’s certainly possible that candidates’ answers to assessments’ questions may vary, based on their recent experience in a totally different company/culture or on what they think the prospective hiring company wants to hear.  Several years ago, I had the chance to take the HBDI assessment twice, first in 1998 and again in 2001.  I was at two different companies with very different cultures and my role was similar, but not identical.  The results from the two assessments were different – not off the charts different, but different enough to wonder if this is the same person.

Back when I built up, refined and directed sales organizations, I purposely avoided hiring to a profile.  Instead, I aimed to hire individuals with different personalities, backgrounds, and experiences.  The results brought diversity in sales strategy, culture, and perspective.  This led to continual cross-pollination of ideas and individuals finding something to learn from every other individual.

A mentor of mine once said, “Hire people who can do the job, not just those who can get the job.”  Feeding into a formulaic profile in and of itself does not guarantee hiring those who can do the job.  The interview process consists of multiple events, each of which provides numerous data points to help flesh out a candidate’s picture.  Very rarely, if ever, will you see a candidate’s picture be rendered as 100% perfect.  Inherently, there will be aberrations, concerns, and questions that require additional probing.  Thus, individual data points that make up the picture must be assessed in the context of surrounding data points.

Ultimately, behavioral assessments serve best as a tool, not an excuse, a proxy decision-maker, or a rigid entrance exam.  They exist to better enable hiring managers to make more informed decisions based on all the information gleaned throughout the interview process.

Action Items:

1.  Behavioral assessments can carry a useful purpose, including adding objective content into an otherwise subjective process.

2.  Maintain a healthy perspective regarding candidate information as behavioral assessments alone cannot supersede or trump the many other data points gained throughout the interview process.

3.  Resist the urge to allow behavioral assessments to dictate the pace or direction of the interview process.

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