Most medium and large organizations use psychological assessment tests (incl. ability and personality testing), principally for hiring, and this figure is expected to climb to almost 90% in the coming years (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2015). Using assessment techniques to support talent development and organizational change applications (e.g., to support reskilling in response to the digitization of work) is also increasingly common. Work-based assessments provide more objective data to inform key talent management decisions and if applied professionally, can help reduce subjectivity and a multitude of human biases in hiring, development, succession planning and other critical HR processes. 

Rapid technological advances, changing client requirements and a more digitally curious HR profession means that the range of work-related assessments on offer is growing faster than ever. This is long overdue. Many assessments are decades old and have changed very little since the last century. Using them is equivalent to using a legacy mainframe to calculate your household budget rather than using the latest app on your smartphone or tablet. Yet it is not just about embracing innovative new technologies in assessment like gamification and machine-learning. The fundamental assumptions and models we use to assess and make important decisions about people’s futures need to shift significantly too. 

Assessing and amplifying people’s individuality and uniqueness 

Assessments measuring personality still tend to describe and measure human abilities and behaviour in imprecise, limiting ways. For example, many widely used personality profiles pigeonhole people into broad, oversimplified personality types, categories and even colours. This view of human behaviour at work is seductively simple and although such over-generalized personality typing can be helpful in giving organizations a basic understanding of how people approach tasks and relate to others, their value is limited and can be counterproductive. 

In a world that increasingly recognizes the importance of discovering and leveraging diversity, they promote narrow thinking and stereotyping about people. They fail to reflect the countless unique differences that make us who we are, including the talents, values, and motivations we leverage to do our best work. Even when people have similar personality traits, the way they use these depends on their goals, motivations, values, and the way they interpret and respond to different situations. 

The younger generations entering the workplace want their individuality and unique talents to be valued, appreciated, and developed from the get-go. Any assessment that labels or pigeon-holes them too narrowly can quickly undermine their sense of identity, value, and psychological connection with the organization.

Many traditional assessments that are still commonly used today are unlikely to stand the test of time. To future-proof their organization and achieve better talent outcomes, HR leaders and professionals need to evaluate the rigour and relevance and of their current assessment tools, including how well they are predicting performance and promoting a diverse, inclusive workplace. Those based on outdated thinking and questionable science should be replaced with scientifically validated, up-to-date tools that pinpoint people’s unique and diverse talents, abilities motivations and values.

Further reading 

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2015). Ace the Assessment. Harvard Business Review, July-August.

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About the Author

James is a leadership and talent consultant, business psychologist, and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams, and organizations to optimize their talent, performance, and future success.

Before moving into consulting, James held corporate leadership roles in People and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. Since moving into talent consulting and assessment design, he has supported leaders and teams globally across many sectors and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Graze, LVMH, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury's, Swiss Re, Tesco, WSP and Yahoo! James has founded and run several ventures, including Strengthscope®, an international strengths assessment and development business, that he sold in 2018.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, and an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching. He is a regular writer and speaker on talent assessment and development, leadership, and the future of work.