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Taking the fear out of employee assessments


Carrying on with our monthly TNA theme, Cognisco's Mary Clarke explains to the community why we shouldn't fear assessments.
Given the fragile economic outlook, the goal of most organisations is to improve employee performance and productivity to ensure they can 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 up-to-date information about the individual skills and knowledge that exists within their company nor do they understand where the skills gaps lie. Without this insight, they are effectively in the dark about how to utilise their staff effectively, improve their performance or enable their employees to reach their full potential.
One of the problems lies with the over reliance on performance appraisals as a tool to measure 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. And, it seems that most employers are in agreement. 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.
"If managers really want to improve performance and productivity, they need to use more accurate methods of measuring employees"
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 tend to be infrequent and too often the only constructive feedback an employee will receive about their progress during the year – it is little wonder they are dreaded.
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 performing their jobs.

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.
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 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, 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, accurate decision making about how to utilise individuals and a more targeted approach to training which can help control and reduce learning and development costs.
"...the key to successful employee assessments are that they are carried out regularly and that they are supported by the business."
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. 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 businesses £19bn a year. By putting every individual through assessments, companies can see where knowledge gaps lie and mitigate these risks by with targeted training.
There are undoubtedly benefits for employees and employers when it comes to assessments. However, I would stress that the key to successful employee assessments are that they are carried out regularly and that they are supported by the business. This means that companies need to communicate the career enhancing benefits of assessments. Only then will assessments be accepted as being part and parcel of an organisational culture - embraced by individuals rather than feared.
Mary Clarke is CEO of Cognisco

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