Staffing Management

Effective Talent Assessment Starts (and Ends) With Leadership

By Paul Ross

Nov. 21, 2011

Talent assessment is a hot topic in the human resources industry. Defined as “the process used to help employers identify the right job candidates for their company,” talent assessment is increasingly recognized as a critical component of company performance and success—especially amid today’s economic landscape.

As companies start hiring again and employees search for new and better opportunities, effective talent assessment can give companies a distinct advantage in identifying and attracting top talent.

In addition, although the economy is recovering, many companies are still feeling the aftermath of the Great Recession. Recovery is steady, but slow, and businesses are reluctant to accrue unnecessary expenses. A bad hiring decision can cost a company more than 1.5 times the mis-hire’s salary, depending on the level of the role. With the right assessment, businesses can avoid this cost.

While businesses are starting to understand the need for assessment, they do not necessarily understand how to build an effective assessment practice. At the end of the day, talent assessment is about identifying and promoting top performers so that they can successfully execute company objectives and goals as their company’s future leaders.

More often than not, assessment is not aligned with companies’ overall strategies and goals. Instead, it is conducted in a vacuum—with little feedback or input from leaders already well-acquainted with and knowledgeable about their company’s culture, values and vocabulary.

In order for talent assessment to be effective, it must be heavily supported by senior-level executives. To achieve this, HR professionals can utilize five strategies—outlined below—to help involve company leadership in talent assessment creation and investment.

1. Conduct a brainstorming session on company vocabulary. Few initiatives are healthier for business than brainstorming. In order to ensure that talent assessment aligns with a company’s vocabulary and culture, invite senior-level executives to attend a brainstorming session where they identify key words and phrases that define the company’s mission and goals. Then, use the resulting vocabulary across all assessment materials.

2. Interview top talent. In order to better understand the characteristics of the leaders your company will need in the future, sit down with senior executives and ask them what traits they believe led to their success, what motivates them every day, and what talent gaps (if any) exist within the company. Then, align the company’s assessment with the competencies most commonly discussed.

3. Enlist senior executives to help set the bar. Share interview questions and other testing resources used in the assessment process with key leadership executives. Encourage them to review the materials and revise or add to the documents based on their experience. They can shed valuable insight on which traits and characteristics to look for in candidates.

4. Invite senior executives to conduct assessments. If possible, invite senior leaders to interview job candidates. Their extensive experience and expertise enables them to easily and articulately assess and describe an individual’s strengths and needs in ways other executives might not.

5. Invite senior leaders to personally seek out talent. Although many leaders may already do this, it’s good to remind senior-level executives to actively scout for talent—either within the company or outside of it. Doing so helps ensure a good fit when a position opens up because executives will already be familiar with the skills or the person needed to fulfill the position.

At a time in which CEOs are expected to report to their boards on succession plans, leadership strengths and talent-related risks, it makes sound business sense to include upper-level management in the creation of talent assessment practices. They can bring consistency and clarity to the assessment process and help ensure that the right talent is constantly circulating within the company.

How can HR executives convince today’s busy senior management professionals to care about talent development? Research shows that talent initiatives such as competency modeling and assessment are vastly improved when built collaboratively between HR executives and their business leaders.

According to research from Aberdeen Group, top-performing companies are 2.5 times more likely than other companies to involve senior leaders in talent development.

Further, in a survey of 439 companies, Aberdeen illustrates that best-in-class companies have business leaders that are held accountable for critical talent processes. The bottom line is that business leaders help ensure that the outcomes of talent initiatives match their organization’s needs, helping the company achieve long-term success and growth.

Ultimately, when senior-level executives are actively part of the assessment process, their companies reap the benefits, which include increased employee loyalty and engagement, increased diversity of talent, low turnover rate among high performers, increased customer satisfaction and better market performance.

Paul Eccher and Dave Ross are co-founders and principals of the Vaya Group (, a talent management consultancy.

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