Article: Assessment models for competencies & motivational fit

Talent Acquisition

Assessment models for competencies & motivational fit

Organizations assess their talent only on the basis of performance data but the need is to balance it with potential
Assessment models for competencies & motivational fit

Organizations sometimes have a scattered view of what are they looking for and this is often person dependent


Imagine driving a vehicle with the windshield blacked out, using only rear view mirrors and the direction of movement has to be forward. Sounds difficult? Many organizations assess their talent based on only Performance data (rear view mirror approach; data in the past!) and don’t balance it with Potential (future).

Assessment of an employee happens at multiple stages in a career cycle – at the recruitment stage, for identifying development needs, and for horizontal and vertical mobility decisions. During recruitment, many organizations use a stage-gate process with multiple stages of interviews, where others use some aptitude tests or domain knowledge tests. For horizontal/vertical mobility as well as developmental decisions, the trend is to rely on information based on experiential data and performance in current and past roles. Some organizations also have a mix of formal/informal feedbacks from stakeholders but this rarely includes external stakeholders like customers or channel partners.

However, there are a few challenges that are encountered with the current approach. These are: 


Line Managers often focus on testing for domain knowledge and rely on the “HR round” for evaluating the managerial/leadership competencies. There is often a clear distinction between the role line manager and HR plays in this process. The collected information is often difficult to integrate and mostly the candidate is found good on technical grounds. However, the HR might not find the person suitable, which causes a friction between line and HR. Depending on the organization, the stronger individual wins and a candidate may or may not make it. HR sometimes has vague documentation for reasons of rejection or acceptance and often a checklist comprising of points like “Communication Skills, Personality, Managerial Ability, Confidence… etc.” is rated on some scale. Most managers do not undergo a formal training in psychometrics and have thus learned interviewing techniques on-the-job by observing a mix of good and bad techniques displayed by their past managers.

 Moreover, organizations sometimes have a scattered view of what are they looking for. This often is person-dependent. Research proves that individuals look for similarities. Most of us have fairly clear formulae of success and we look for these in candidates that we interview. So some of us like “aggressive” people, some like them “calm”, some love a “hands-on” guy and some love “strategists.” Of course, all interviewees claim that they are great team players, love challenges, are looking out for bigger challenges, and have bosses/peers/teams who love them.

As a result, manager specific recruitments happen with no uniform agreement on a set of competencies and traits the organization seeks. These surface when people grow or their reporting relationships change or when the internal/external context of the organization changes. Recruitments are also sometimes done with skeletal JDs, in urgency and cutting short vital processes.

Horizontal & Vertical Mobility Decisions

As one grows in the organization, one grows through behavioral inflection points. The first one is from an individual contributor to a manager. We have identified 4 such inflection points in Zydus with 5 behavioral layers. Since people have performed at a certain role, the behavior that has been often seen generating success falls short past the inflection point. That is the classic case of a good sales person becoming a bad sales manager.

Within horizontal movements also, different roles require different trait profiles. A sales profile will call upon specific parts of traits as opposed to someone who has to do a marketing role. But organizations invest in these transitions without sufficiently understanding if the person has developmental areas that need to be covered. Does the organization consciously set up the person for success?

Objective assessments ensure that these decisions are bereft of managerial biases which are bound to creep in based on long associations, perceived importance of an individual (indispensability!), recent performance bias etc. If the employees are armed with a good fingerprint of their strengths and development areas, they along with the organization will have access to critical information that will enable success. Learnability is often cited as a key indicator for scalability in higher roles. Self-aware individuals are known to have higher learnability.


We need to answer the following questions that become the basic framework of any Assessment Process:

  1. What do we want to look for: competencies, traits, motivational fit?
  2. What tools shall we need for assessing these?
  3. Are the people trained to use such tools?
  4. What do we do with the data that these assessments generate?
  5. How do we establish strong connects with visible and measurable business impact?

The foundation remains a strong buy-in from all layers of management as well as unwavering and sustained investment in the process over at least 2-3 years over which the impact becomes very visible.

What do we look for?

As organizations expand their footprints globally and become more complex in their construct and business diversity, they need to work on understanding the competencies that are specific to the organization today and for tomorrow. They need to understand what made them successful in the past and in present, the needs for serving the business vision for the next 5 years along with understanding what behaviors of past need to be shed and the ones that need to be preserved or acquired. These inputs go into the competency framework. Defining the behaviors across different behavioral layers corresponding to role hierarchy is also required.

However, this is often not enough. Only assessing for competencies does not ensure fitment to the DNA of the organization. Over years, organizations acquire a character and personality. A good cultural and value alignment of the individual to the organization is critical and the identification of the traits specific to the organization as well as to the role is imperative. A solid alignment on the core values the organization stands for and does not stand for is important.

What tools to use?

A lot of research-backed tools are available. Specialists who can help in choosing the appropriate psychometrics for the personality traits and behaviors for assessment can be sought, who can understand and map the competency framework to their own competency inventory. Tools like Behavioral Event Interviews, Role Plays, Case Studies, In-tray exercises, Work-day simulations etc. can also be leveraged. It is important to develop a good TCM (Tool Competency Matrix) for ensuring that each of the competencies are being assessed by two tools to validate and triangulate data. Needless to say, trained assessors are an important part of the assessment process. 

Are your people trained?

Organizations invest heavily in buying the right equipment and training their personnel to test inanimate raw material. No inputs can be used for manufacturing unless a trained QC person has tested them on a calibrated instrument. However, this science goes for a toss when it comes to assessing the most important resource – your talent! 

But are organizations investing enough to train their leaders to assess talent? Trainings can be used for recruitment, to give good quality feedback during performance dialogues, to help teams identify the developmental areas, to bet and spot right talent, and yes, also to be more self-aware. Zydus partnered with DDI and trained over 200 people in BEI. Along with developing structured interview guides for various role layers and integrating the STAR method of BEI with performance dialogues. These are important investments in ensuring that well-trained people are taking the right decisions when it comes to talent spotting and development. 

Train people to connect the dots in assessment reports. Often you will need to correlate different personality and behavioral traits together to make sense. Interpreting them in isolation will lead to inaccurate inferences. An untrained mind shall then blame the assessment tools when the talent bet goes wrong!

Most importantly, invest in training line managers and not just the HR team. It will create good buy-ins and that so-called “HR round of interview” will become organizational ownership than just HR’s.

What do you do with the data?

Assessments generate huge data! Zydus started with almost 1500 assessments every month which gave huge insights in candidate profiles and helped in narrowing down searches. The process has been continuously refined to arrive at sharper screening ratios and investing in time per interview that helps in validating the assessment data, which in turn provides the candidate an honest opportunity to be measured as a whole person, rather than on limited data that a bad interview process generates.

Assessment data of teams throw clear developmental patterns. When integrated with L&D approach, they create sharper developmental journeys with clearly visible impact. It is a good practice to share assessment reports with the managers as well as the candidates. Both gain from such insights. Even if a candidate does not make it past the selection process, it is fair to arm him with this information, which feeds into his developmental journey. Establish trends at various cuts on how competencies are evolving. Look at trait profiles across teams and cross-functional success zones. There are rich insights waiting to be gained!

Establishing business impact connects…the ROI question

There should be a measurable performance impact if the organization is investing sincerely in the process. Line managers should be able to see this difference if they need to stay invested on a continued basis. If they can get this incremental performance, they will become the spokespersons for the process. For many roles, the measurability is very easy and visible like in sales profiles, operatives, or individual contributors. Investing more time to create measurement frameworks for senior roles is usually needed and these can be in the form of evaluation of specific projects, or based on feedback from stakeholders on important developmental areas.

Leaders today understand the importance of talent. It is our role to empower them with information on assessment methodologies, to train them on the appropriate tools so they are a partner in this journey. Top management and CXO buy-in is essential and must be gained by co-creating this journey. Organizations are at different stages of maturity in managing their talent and one needs to find the right point in the curve and choose the right bite size for the organization. Share upfront that while for some roles the performance gains will be visible within a time frame of 6-9 months, for other roles, it may take 2-3 years to see visible business impacts. However, a good multiplication impact is usually observed when the organization aligns on what to measure, measures it consistently and addresses gaps on an ongoing basis. 


We do not suggest that the talent assessment process be made completely algorithmic. Our belief is that the gut-feeling indeed plays an important role and should not be ignored. Those of you who have read “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell will recall how data that your mind keeps absorbing sub-consciously feeds into what we feel are purely intuitive decisions. Science and tools should complement experiential judgment and empowerment with better information on talent using scientific assessment methodologies are essential. Eventually, apply the intuitive layer in the same proportion that you will apply icing on the cake! 

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Assessments

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