The Four Stages of Talent Evaluation

It has been a slow path to recognition, but the human resources function is finally stepping into the organizational limelight. Core areas of influence — recruitment, development and progression of talent — have been brought to the forefront, and with the unemployment rate continuing to dip in the United States, many organizations are propelling talent management to the top of the agenda.

Still, the years spent in the shadows have left a mark. As HR departments suffered from a continued lack of investment, technology moved at an increasingly rapid pace, further opening the doors for new talent management capabilities. But the opposite trajectory of investment and technology produced an environment in which HR is expected to deliver exceptional results using outdated and ineffective tools.

Moreover, the components of the employee life cycle have changed, as have employee expectations and motivations. Ensuring the future growth of organizations is now dependent on updating the current approach to talent management. For HR, this means a welcome injection of fresh resources is due to enable a better understanding of ways to get the most out of talent.

As organizations ramp up their talent management efforts amid the improving global economy, there are four stages they should follow to properly evaluate talent.

Stage 1: Assess New Talent
Recruitment is where the employee life cycle begins. Therefore, it is the stage at which talent management must be most efficient. Compounding the issue is the added pressure that for HR talent selection represents a significant portion of its contribution to organizational success. As research from Alison Barber in her 1998 paper “Recruiting Employees: Individual and Organisational Perspectives” and James Breaugh in his 1992 study “Recruitment: Science and Practice” suggests, recruitment forms 20 percent of HR practices that ultimately affect a company’s bottom line.

Lance Mortimer, director of learning and development at U.K.-based talent development firm Silent Edge Ltd., warns that insufficient recruitment efforts on the part of talent management can have a negative effect. “If we do not identify and employ the best people for the right roles, by considering person/job/organization fit, there is a chance that development will either be elongated or new hires may lack the necessary capabilities to be effective,” he said. “This can lead to a waste of money, time and effort, and a reduction of productivity.”

The most efficient system of recruitment is the use of appropriate, multiskill assessments. The secret to this approach lies in matching skills, knowledge and behavior with the needs of the organization and job role. Eliminating personal bias through accurate and objective evaluation is the next challenge to overcome.

This stage is likely to go beyond behaviorally anchored rating scales. Candidates must be measured against the competencies required for the role, rather than the preferences of the interviewer. This provides a full picture of their skills upon which to make a decision.

According to a 2008 study from Adrian Furnham and John Taylor, “Personality and Intelligence Correlates of Assessment Centre Exercises,” published in the journal Individual Differences Research, the assessment model turns out candidates who are most likely to be successful. But more sophisticated evaluation offers the possibility of higher quality and better talent placement.

Most assessments are largely paper-based, which makes collating candidate information difficult. Using a technology platform to capture scores and report data instantly would bring together accurate assessment with a more efficient process.

Stage 2: Meet Onboarding Needs
Accuracy is not the only thing that sets use of assessments in evaluation apart. In-depth competency measurement also provides detailed and holistic candidate information. The traditional processes favored by many — such as unstructured interviews and recruitment agencies — provide a bare bones level of insight.

But just 22 percent of organizations are able to provide in-depth information on the immediate development needs of new recruits, according to a 2013 Silent Edge research report, “Solving the Search for Great Talent” (Editor’s note: The author works at the firm). In fact, nearly 60 percent leave identification of training needs to management staff.

Therefore, with almost 80 percent of organizations having little evidence-based information on if the interventions they are putting into place are effective, the return on investment is questionable and time-to-competency may be considerably longer. Furthermore, research from the 2011 paper “Doing Competencies Well: Best Practices in Competency Modeling” published in the journal Personnel Psychology shows that a fine level of detail is needed to help design training programs and performance management systems.

The simplest solution is to find a mechanism that can translate the results of recruitment activities into the development of new recruits. A detailed level of evaluation from the outset will provide clarity on individual strengths and areas for development, generating a blueprint on training needs and where coaching can be best applied to help new employees reach full capacity.

Stage 3: Provide Ongoing Development
Performance appraisals represent an important opportunity for feedback and development. For the most part, however, they are a check-the-box exercise — once they are complete, they are hardly ever seen or used again. Additionally, the main issue with appraisals is that most are summative: they look backward on past performance as a basis to improve future performance.

David Law’s 2007 paper, “Appraising Performance Appraisals: A Critical Look at an External Control Management Technique,” published in the International Journal of Reality Therapy, supports the theory that this type of appraisal is divisive and backward looking, adding to the already extensive criticism of inter-evaluator inconsistency and the processes used to capture performance results. Instead, an ongoing assessment of performance that can track development initiatives and measure their success is preferred, allowing for changes to be made when necessary.

This approach has been used to great effect by BT Group, a large British telecommunications company. During the past three years BT has changed its culture through its Sales Excellence Programme, an initiative that uses objective skills evaluation to help the organization develop talent and increase growth.

John Dovey, managing director for U.K. corporate at BT Business, said constant evaluation helps BT stay ahead “in terms of our future skills and capability requirements.” He added: “The environment in which we are operating in is ever-changing … so we need a framework to measure necessary skills that can help us to make changes. What is good today may not be good tomorrow, so we need to keep assessing what good looks like, [and] evaluation helps us to do this more effectively.”

This approach appears to have already produced results for BT. The organization is now a market leader in skills development, Dovey said, and consistent performance measurement has helped it achieve a four-point increase in the number of sales as a result of more productive meetings.

Stage 4: Promote the Right Talent
Succession planning is an area of talent management where detail is an absolute necessity to make the right promotion decisions. It is also a talent management function prone to influence from personal relationships and reputations. Many suffer from a silo mentality — companies promote from familiar talent pools that are often confined to the department in which the available role resides.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that only 44 percent of organizations consider all staff for upward talent management programs. This means that organizations could potentially be overlooking star performers by not including them in the evaluation process. The concern is compounded by research from Silent Edge showing that 74 percent of organizations don’t have a comprehensive knowledge overview of their talent.

Succession decisions seem to be made using minimal information on a small portion of the talent pool. It could be argued that HR is bound by insufficient tools and resources, left to work with the scant results of the competency frameworks set by the organization. The challenge, then, is to open up this progression path to the entire organization.

All of this presents a need for organizations to take a bird’s-eye view of the collective competencies of their talent. This would allow for the identification of cross-functional capabilities while highlighting previously unseen talent and allowing HR to pick the best person for each role. The last element of talent evaluation here plays a significant part. The information collected on the capability of all talent through continuous evaluation can be used to make succession planning a more streamlined and precise process.

What Next?
Talent management is a big component to most large organizations, but there is an element of disjointedness and inefficiency throughout the nature of the employee life cycle. Many companies neither know nor measure their talent well, which leaves HR with little to go on to perform its business-critical functions. Integrating evaluation technology into current practices offers the opportunity to connect the dots without losing that essential human touch.

People are the driving force of organizations, and evidence-based talent measurement provides the information needed to manage employees throughout their journey. Also, as the global economy continues to recover, it will be HR’s job to put the pieces back together. If there is one lesson to be learned from Gen Y, it’s that change is inevitable and processes can be improved.

Catherine Luff is a marketing communications executive at U.K.-based talent development firm Silent Edge Ltd. She can be reached at