HR Administration

Assessments, Trump and HR: A Love Story

By Kris Dunn

Sep. 18, 2015

HR pros love behavioral assessments with a focus on selecting the right talent. We also love business writing that talks at length about the need to avoid hiring jerks.

This is where the love
story begins. We have always loved a good assessment, and there’s no better use for those assessments than weeding out whom not to hire for your company.

We love behavioral assessments because we know how awful many hiring managers are at selecting their next employee. All the hiring bias we can’t control is costly, and the assessment provides a nice piece of science to bring to the party. Assessments also make us feel like we can prevent bad hires, which is actually true at times.

Avoiding hiring jerks seems like a good place to start. We do have a good shot at identifying candidates who might be jerks via extreme scores in behavioral areas like assertiveness and team/people orientation.

When we’re on top of our game, the red flags that assessment platforms provide allow us to customize interview questions to probe areas that need to be explored. But what should be simple has become complex, and the blame lies with the assessment industry and with us — the HR pros who use the tools to profile what a great candidate looks like.

Companies that provide behavioral assessments and related hybrid tools cease to add value when they take basic science and create complex outputs that are 20 to 30 pages in length.

Let’s take the assessment industry first. Companies that provide behavioral assessments and related hybrid tools cease to add value when they take basic science and create complex outputs that are 20 to 30 pages in length. 

How do people use output that deep? Simple; they don’t. They thumb through it and then drop it on a bookshelf never to look at it again.

The companies producing assessments have tools that are all based on the same behavioral science. Once you understand that, you realize that everything else is a user interface/marketing decision.

In short, the reports become more and more complex to drive perceived value and get you to buy. But your company in aggregate — your HR team, your leaders and your hiring managers — use complex reporting less than they do a single-page summary. They don’t have time for the noise.

Assessment companies could do better. But guess what? So could we. Need an example? Let’s talk about our stated goal of not hiring jerks as we attempt to build positive work environments. 

It’s relatively simple not to hire someone who might be a jerk via the guidance of a behavioral assessment and a confirming, targeted interview process. It’s harder to make sure you don’t think the opposite is true. As an example, I present Donald Trump, who many consider to be a jerk.

Trump undoubtedly has a couple of behavioral assessment markers that provide red flags in our evaluation of jerks. Assertiveness that’s off the chart: check. Thinks about himself before others a good bit of the time: check.

The subtle danger for HR is the bias that creates. In a world that espouses the value of not hiring jerks, do we overvalue the behavioral markers that are the opposite of the jerk? I think we do, especially in complex, white-collar positions that place value on qualities like collaboration and the ability to influence/negotiate.

Let’s look at this through some common behavioral dimensions. Trump is without question in the 99th percentile of assertiveness, which places him squarely in jerk territory. Jerks are bad, so we rationalize that people who have low assertiveness can make better teammates. 

Then we put them in jobs that require them to drive other people for results, and we’re shocked when they don’t get it done. That’s a failure on the part of HR.

Let’s assume that another Trump behavioral marker is that he’s low in the team dimension. In the assessments I use, low team means that the best way to motivate is to give results, feedback and recognition on the individual level. 

As a result, we rationalize that individuals scoring high in a team dimension make better teammates, but it really means that you can’t motivate them through individual results or recognition.

We’d never hire a sales professional for our organizations who wasn’t low team people. We want them to be hungry, individually driven and looking to frame their W-2. In other professional roles, we’ll hire high team people and wonder why we can’t reach them by talking about shortcomings in their individual performance.

The love story between assessment companies and HR is strong and won’t end anytime soon, although they could treat their HR partner better by simplifying the output and tools they create.

HR can look smarter in the relationship by acknowledging that the opposite of a jerk isn’t a positive match for every job.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor.

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