The How, When, and What (and What Not!) of Assessments in the Workplace

Posted  | 0 Comment(s)  |  by Elaine Varelas, Keystone Partners

People make judgments about others every day. For HR professionals, making judgments comes with the job description. They must determine who to hire for positions, who could benefit from training and development, and who is not the right fit for a particular manager or department. These evaluations are made with a mixture of research, interviews, references, and other methods of vetting candidates.

However, there is still a bit of intuition, or even guess work, that goes into making hiring, promotion, and coaching decisions. Yet, there are tools available, such as formal assessments, to help HR professionals make more informed talent management decisions. 

Assessments as a Talent Management ToolAs useful as assessments are, some employees and prospects are fearful of taking them. The process can be nerve-racking, and many people are concerned about what will happen with the results. What will the assessments divulge about me?  Will it keep me from getting the job or promotion? Who will see it? Do I need to be read my Miranda rights before (this information can and will be used against you!)?  

Assessments can be powerful and revealing, leaving employees feeling vulnerable.  HR professionals using these tools must proceed with caution.

Some assessment tools are fairly benign, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The results of these categories of tests indicate a person’s “type,” and there is no right or wrong answer. These is less inherent risk with taking these types of tests. 

However, there are some assessments, such as the FIRO-B, that are more complex and can reveal more in-depth and compromising information about people. Many of these psychometric tests measure sensitive subject areas including intellect, honesty, biases, and emotional well-being. 

Source:’s understandable that people are wary of taking assessments at work and are concerned about how the information will be used. Privacy emerges as a vital concern.  Who owns the information?  How will it be used? 

Organizations can slide down an ethically-slippery slope when it comes to using and distributing information about candidates and employees. Assessment results fall under the purview of psychological testing, and therefore professional codes of ethics dictate that the raw information belongs to the individual who took the test. HR professionals must be the guardians and protectors of this personal information.

The problem is managers and company leaders want the information, and they want to use it to the organization’s (or their own) advantage. They paid for the assessment, and so they believe they are entitled to the results. They see it as key information in making training, development, and hiring decisions—and they’re right (insert slippery slope here)! Managers can have access to some information; it is a matter of what and how.   

One way to ensure that the organization follows ethical guidelines is to hire an outside firm to administer and interpret the results. An assessment is only as good as its interpreter, so it is important that HR hire a reputable and proven outside company. That way, managers—and even HR professionals—do not have access to the raw data.  

HR professionals should also create an assessment protocol making clear how the results will be reported and used. The results need to be packaged and communicated to all parties in a way that protects the individual, balancing employee privacy with the need for the organization to have information about the person. 

Source:, access to raw data isn’t necessary to make informed talent management decisions. Well-written assessment reports can uncover overall themes or patterns, including aptitude strengths and challenges.  It can pinpoint areas of skill that need to be built upon and identify where coaching will be most effective.

These emerging themes can be packaged to give information about a group or individual. For example, in a department, an assessment can determine where a team is lacking, such as technical expertise or management skills. For individuals, assessments can reveal skills deficits and help the organization better target coaching efforts.  All of this can be gleaned from a comprehensive report, without revealing the test-taker’s individual responses. 

Source: the organization does not protect the raw data, it is not only an ethical breach and privacy violation; it can destroy employee trust and morale throughout the organization. Leadership can quickly lose credibility with employees. It could also make the assessment process obsolete. Employees, fearing how the results will be used, will forgo honesty and answer the assessments in a way that they believe will please their managers.

HR professionals also need to make sure that assessments are just one factor—not the deciding factor—in making hiring and coaching recommendations. They cannot take the place of interviews, references, performance evaluations, and one-on-one contact with candidates and employees.

Assessments are useful tools, but only if they are used for the right purpose and not given too much weight. By protecting employee privacy and using assessments in a way to benefit the organization, HR professionals can utilize assessments as valuable component in making sound talent management decisions.

Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner of Career Partners International - Boston/Kensington International and Chairman Emeritus of the Career Partners International Board of Managers, has over 20 years experience in career consulting and coaching development. She has expertise in successfully resolving complex career management issues, including workforce planning, redeployment and multi-site restructurings. Elaine's experience spans a broad range of industries and businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, start-up ventures and not-for-profit organizations.

Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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