Wasted Opportunity - You Can Do More to Understand Your Workforce

December 16, 2019 Peter Bentley

One ongoing trend is the assessment of candidates for roles. This has become entrenched in many firms’ hiring processes. Aon assesses over 40 million people each year and this figure is growing at an exponential rate.

My first experience of assessment came from the plethora of graduation schemes I applied to 20 years ago. However, assessment is now common - regardless of intake; Whether used by a start-up trying to capture its culture and scale it for the next 1,000 people (which the CEO cannot hire directly) or a mature firm looking to hire headcount on a global basis.

The tools have also improved. No longer are there repeated questions 50 times over that transitioned from paper to survey monkey. Now you have mind games, chat assessment and video assessment. There are so many ways to collect data on a potential candidate.

Also, these tools are not expensive. No humans are needed to interview and capture massive amounts of data in order to improve your company’s understanding of a candidate (and, for that matter, reduce bias at the same time).

You can assess for everything. Back in the day it was maths, English, spatial reasoning and, as I became more focused on a particular capability, it was my propensity to sell - note propensity, not capability (two very different things).

We can now assess for learnability, agility and curiosity: things we feel are needed to mobilize a work force in order to help lay the ground work for future work.

In essence, the final barrier when it comes to assessment is the assumption that it is something that only big firms do. The change itself in assessment already happened; The tools are available and better than before. Also, the process is cheap and easy to achieve.

Missed Opportunity

However, there is a massive missed opportunity. This is due to the data that firms collect on their workforce through this process being limited. Also, there is complete lack of imagination around what to do with this data.

Here is a personal example: I went to work for a firm that assessed all hires. No matter which role, you had to do tests. From junior staff members to managing directors, everyone completed tests before they joined. That meant that everyone had to hit a certain standard. If you did not, your sponsoring manager had to have a very good reason why they still wanted to recruit you. It meant three hours of testing for each candidate on a workforce of 15,000 people.

Now, here is the problem that most firms have. That data is owned by recruitment and kept there. The decision to hire is made and the job is done. It is a problem with many departments within firms. They collect data, use the data to serve the immediate purpose and then set it aside. In this case, three hours of testing has resulted in a yes/no/maybe decision.

If you happen to like data, and I do, then there is a huge missed opportunity. Namely - understanding your workforce.

The future of work, digital disruption and the fourth industrial revolution are much touted buzzwords, but what they really boil down to is change. The workforce needs to change. Which - while the need is maybe more urgent now, and the risk of not changing higher - has been a consistent theme for at least my whole career (and I’m pretty sure my Dad would say the same thing).

Many consultants will spend time trying to predict the future. Drones and AI are coming and, therefore, your industry will look a certain way in 15 years’ time. Yet, in the same breath, they will say something like: “Eighty per cent of roles of the future can only be imagined now.” The disconnect is clear.

Here lies the opportunity. Another theme in the future of work is CEOs making broad statements about innovation and digitalisation. They are not particularly helpful when you must execute against these statements. It is clear they require change, but also do not identify the type of change required or how it should be driven.

Therefore, one of the first steps in responding to change is understanding your work force’s propensity to change. Propensity as in: ‘Is the company willing to change?’ If your CEO says: “We need to be a tech firm with a banking licence”, the chance of that happening with a group of bankers is somewhat limited (as evidence suggests so far).

If a firm happens to assess for recruitment, it is likely that you could get a sense of the firm’s propensity to change although the testing was used for an entirely different purpose. Therefore, assessment and testing can be of use for more than on issue inside an organization.

Your pre-hiring assessment becomes a very valuable tool if the data is used to answer a different question. In fact, if you have a culture used to assessing your candidates you could lever that. Test some more and it becomes even more powerful when you start to understand the availability of future skills. Therefore, not only can you answer positively on your firm’s propensity to change, but also understand the firm’s capability to drive change.

If you can look at your workforce demographics and understand their behavioural and cognitive diversity, you can start to consider future skills and drive mobility. This will help people transition from the role they are in now to those that will be much more relevant in the future.

The impact of this is substantial. You can make informed decisions on your biggest cost base using data you (may) already have. You can analyse, plan and develop your workforce based on a forensic understanding of available resources. One thing we can definitely say is that it will be considerably cheaper to develop a workforce of the future than to fire the old and hire a new one. Particularly when everyone likes to call themselves a data scientist or developer these days in order to justify their salary hike.

Do you want to learn more about talent assessment? You can read our white paper "Five Key Talent Predictions and Their Impact on Assessment" to learn how to improve your talent decisions.

About the Author

Peter Bentley

Peter Bentley is the global commercial officer with Aon’s Human Capital Solutions practice and focuses on building workforce agility. Peter has worked with firms on their approach to client strategy, distribution and how they leverage digital solutions to empower their workforce for the future. He has developed and built a number of data / digital platforms aimed at augmenting workflow, aiding decision making and transforming client engagement.

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