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Cautions About Skills Assessments

Are your assessment efforts capable of leading to the right interpretation?

Are your assessment efforts capable of leading to the right interpretation?

Many companies recognize the importance of aligning their staff’s or employees’ skillsets to the ever changing needs of the business.  As part of that initiative, one of the key steps taken is often to assess the skills of the current employees to identify if there are gaps between the existing capabilities of the company’s employees and the desired competencies necessary to succeed in the new environment.

First Caution

When embarking on an assessment of skills, it is most relevant to actually observe behavior or performance.  Having people behave as they would when put into the situations that they will be required to confront is the best indicator of their skill level.  If a simulation or role play scenario cannot be constructed to actually “test” or observe actual behavior, some executives will rely on reported or self-assessment insights (asking the job incumbent or their supervisor to rate their skill). The danger in relying on this information alone is that each of us may have very different interpretations of what a performance standard would include (is someone capable of typing 45 words a minute a stellar typist or is that someone who is in need of remedial instruction, more practice, or perhaps even a change in jobs?).   CAUTION: Demonstrated behavior trumps reported level of performance.

Second Caution

Attribution or determining causality for performance is also a key caution to be considered.  Just because expected performance is not occurring; it does not mean that people’s skills are not at the necessary level for success.  The common default belief or assumption is that if performance levels are shy of expected levels of performance, that it must be indicative of a training need or a requirement for skill enhancement.  However, a lack of observable performance MAY be a function of:

  • Few (or no) opportunities to demonstrate performance due to the “newness” of the position
  • Confusion or uncertainty of what good performance looks like/undefined standards/poorly identified metrics/etc.
  • Competing performance incentives that are not rewarding the right behaviors, and so they are not being observed or demonstrated because they are not rewarded
  • Lack of skill, knowledge, or abilities to achieve the desired results (THIS is fertile ground for training)

CAUTION: Be aware of other contributory factors that may influence whether performance is actually demonstrated.

Third Caution

Another frequently seen phenomena is assuming that if someone is expert at one task, they will also excel at another task.  Those employees that are rated as being best at their jobs under one set of conditions or in a particular environment are presumed to also be capable and competent in a projected new environment.  While it may be true that an employee is successful currently, it would be wrong to assume that the performance under one set of criteria will translate to success under a different set of criteria.  CAUTION: Exemplary performance (or subpar performance) under a particular environment, set of expectations, access to resources, etc., cannot be assumed to be indicative of the level of performance under a new set of criteria.

Skill assessments are appropriate and a highly recommend step to take when a business is looking to prepare itself for managing change and preparing for a new set of challenges.  However, it is best done with certain cautions considered and accounted for to prevent misinterpretations of likelihood of success.

David Zahn