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Four ways assessments help make the most of limited training resources

By Trevor Shylock


No one wants the skinniest slice of the budget pie, but most learning and development or human resources professionals should know who’s getting it. In other words, organizations can kiss their training initiatives goodbye.

There are plenty of explanations: the company didn’t grow as projected, the economic downturn means cuts have to be made, ROI wasn’t quantified with past training initiatives, business needs have evolved, to list a few.

Experienced L&D and HR professionals know training is not something that should be thrown away. Poorly trained staff produce lower-quality work when compared to peers who have been properly onboarded. Complaints skyrocket. Negative attitudes spread. Customers begin to look elsewhere. Now the company is suddenly dealing with something far costlier than training: turnover and lost market share.

While training isn’t expendable, it surely can be adaptable if organizations are willing to consider a leaner methodology by integrating high-quality assessment tools. As training budgets continue to be reduced, it is more important than ever to use a high-quality pre-employment assessment to understand how well someone is naturally suited to take on the duties, tasks and behaviours required to be successful in a job. Aside from their other benefits – such as building internal teams or filling vacant positions – assessments can help target limited training resources with greater precision.

According to Talent Board, 89 per cent of companies are using some form of high-quality pre-employment assessment. There’s obviously something to be said about assessments. The very best assessments can be used for both selection and development. Even with limited training resources, high-quality pre-employment assessments can pull double-duty as part of an organization’s training and employee development process. Here’s how:

1. Assessments are designed for the workplace and measure an individual’s strengths, limitations and areas of development. One-size-fits-all training programs are expensive to maintain, difficult to adapt, time consuming and deliver limited results. When people feel they are being herded through a process, they are less likely to commit and those who fall behind quickly get lost in the mad rush to satisfy a mandate.

Assessments, on the other hand, enable managers to pinpoint a person’s strengths and motivations and match training assignments accordingly. A new hire who is interested and engaged by meaningful learning opportunities will get up to speed faster and exhibit more self-determination in acquiring knowledge and skills. Meanwhile, identifying people’s shortcomings allows for the targeting of areas that require reinforcement. Why hammer away at a concept the person already understands and shortchange them elsewhere?

It takes upfront effort to target training this way, but when employees develop faster and with greater confidence, the resulting productivity offsets the initial investment. Customized attention also shows new hires that management is engaged in their success, which leads to greater loyalty and reduced turnover.

2. Assessments align people with jobs. When someone is in the wrong role, no amount of training will turn them into a top performer. In order to sustain top performance over time, people need to be in jobs that align with their intrinsic strengths and motivations. Old-fashioned hiring methods provide almost nothing in the way of consistency. Instead of using a data-driven approach, these out-of-date practices rely largely on biased guesswork and the personal hunches of hiring managers. Turnover remains high and training is the easy target for blame, even if the true culprit in a gap is the hiring process.

With assessments, applicants are aligned with specific jobs. Putting the right people in the right roles enables companies to cut unnecessary training steps and target efforts. Company-wide, people get up to speed faster and are more engaged.

3. Assessments identify high-potentials and hidden talent. Assessments are about replacing guesswork with data. In a training context, they help decide how to train people. Taken to the next level, assessments help to decide where to target training resources.

Some employees are comfortable and content in individual contributor roles and perform best there. A smaller number have potential as future leaders. Instead of training everyone as if they are capable of and interested in expanding their responsibilities and working up the ladder, imagine a leaner approach in which an employee’s capacity is quantified. Once high-potential and hidden-potential applicants and staff members are spotted, training resources can be allocated more judiciously.

4. Assessments are versatile and support enterprise-wide talent development. When it comes to collecting and analyzing talent management data, assessments can serve as the anchor for in-house metrics because of their objectivity and consistency. Once the human-capital data pool is big enough, the organization can zoom out and see the big picture: What do they have, talent-wise, in their building? What do the team dynamics look like? Where are the talent gaps?

Access to such information can revolutionize the organization’s training approach. Not only can companies pinpoint key shortcomings that need to be addressed, they’ll have data to take to management and say, “Look. This is where we need to devote our resources.”


Tips for choosing an assessment

The assessment market is, put mildly, cluttered. When considering the right instrument for an organization, choose carefully because many assessments don’t serve any real business purpose. Everyone has heard the expression, “You get what you pay for,” and nowhere does it apply more truthfully.

An assessment that is consistent, reliable and built upon a solid data foundation will be invaluable. If it costs $15 and hit the market six months ago, there probably isn’t a solid data foundation. Data collection takes time and reliability testing takes even more time. Assessments should also be designed for a business context so they can support training and development and aren’t simply a “personality test” for the curious.

Assessment providers should be able to answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Does the assessment measure work-related behaviours?
  • Is it scientifically validated for job matching?
  • Will it produce reliable results?
  • Does it limit the possibility of an individual faking the results?
  • Does it comply with provincial and federal regulations?
  • Does it include cognitive measures (which are the best predictors of performance across jobs)?
  • Can the assessment data be used for all areas of selection and development?


Companies that already use assessments for selection are ahead of the game. Now it’s a matter of applying all of that reporting and data in a training context. Using the ideas mentioned above, organizations can re-invent their training programs to cost less and yield a bigger return in productivity and engagement.


Trevor J. Shylock, M.Sc., is an industrial/organizational psychology consultant at Caliper.




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