Organizations that have made assessment an integral part of learning and development, and a part of their core value system, appreciate the principal worth of a quality workforce. The impact of good assessment and testing matures your learning program and helps propel the potential for your people and for your business.
For Your Business
Economic conditions being what they are, we place more and more demands on our employees. Budgets shrink while workloads expand. Productivity enhancement allows this to happen with a positive outcome. Your people have a stake in all areas of the company and need to respond to organizational changes fast. Exposing your workers to an increased amount of learning opportunities will help them adapt. Learning pays off for the business in the long run by reducing recruitment and attrition costs, but more importantly, learning targeted at improving business systems and processes pays off in more customers and more efficient operations.
The analysis conducted by the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board is a testimony to the business need for continuous development of your human capital. The Board used contributions from more than 900 learning professionals from almost 900 different organizations. More than 55 percent of these contributors are chief learning officers or hold similar positions within the training departments of their organizations. These professionals point to learning and employee skill growth as an integral step to meeting the company’s success. Almost 97 percent believe that employee learning and skill growth is either critical or very important to their company’s success.
The Board also identified three universal truths that foster learning and business triumphs. First, an organization’s success is dependent on its commitment to employee development. Second, learning programs must be recurrently evaluated and refreshed to determine their relevancy to the business position. And third, the business needs concrete measurement on the results of your learning program.
It is a fact. After relevant, valid assessment and testing, employee skill gaps will be reduced, allowing your business to execute its strategies. Proving the impact of learning investments turns knowledge gaps into a central corporate asset. By cultivating this asset, you are growing and protecting the bottom line. Operating costs will decrease, while market share and revenue growth intensify.
Quantifying and valuing your employees’ knowledge can be a challenge. But assessment gives you a replicable methodology to evaluate business skills. As an integral part of the learning program, your business can use assessment and testing to logically link employee competency levels with the organization’s performance—fairly and without subjectivity. Specific business results are the ultimate test of a learning program’s effectiveness and relevancy.
Allowing for a variation in test questions linked to predetermined knowledge levels, assessment results can help separate the higher and lower ability of learners. Armed with this discrimination, managers can make better people decisions—faster. Whether you are confirming that you have the right people placed in the right jobs or you are assigning people to tasks based on their skill sets, assessment provides a logical, consistent and fair way to determine where to deploy resources that provide a measurable return for the dollars expended.
For Your People
People need to be held accountable for their success as learners. Employees want to know what is expected of them. Helping to define these expectations, assessment determines talent levels through an easy-to-manage three-step learning process. (See Figure 1.)
First, the result of assessment and testing defines the learning programs’ content requirements as skill levels are assessed. Second, learning recommendations are outlined and learning occurs to increase those skill levels. Third, testing measures the impact of the learning process.
For example, Mary Porter is a stellar employee. She’s an active member of the IT department and is always eager to build her knowledge and promote the business. Mary is quick with the right answers and is always willing to put in extra hours to get the job done. She comes to work on time, every day, dedicated to making the business shine. Mary is eager to move from her project coordinator role to project lead. How do you know if she is ready?
Working with the three-step learning process, you already know the skill requirements for a talented IT project lead. You also know that your IT projects, when successful, result in high-quality product releases that add revenue to your operation—a direct link between the IT project lead’s skills and your revenue growth. You begin by assessing Mary’s knowledge. You know her competency levels. She scored well in business acumen, creativity, database management and change adaptation. But Mary scored low in people management—a must for someone who would need to lead an integral piece of the technology organization.
The assessment process built accuracy and relevancy into a clear set of expectations for this worker. Because she is lacking the right people-management skills, it is clear that she is not ready for the lead role she wants. Your honest communication with Mary will improve her positive support for her personal growth plan. Communicating truthfully and candidly with Mary about her learning outcomes will result in an increase in respect and trust for leadership. It is this kind of collaboration that can help you and Mary decide what management training she needs.
In this case, the training Mary needs is a formal mentoring program where she can gain practical experience in coaching other employees. She also needs to attend a seminar and actively learn about building team-collaboration skills and to take a course in employment law that includes how to make the right hiring and firing decisions. This personalized learning plan is targeted at the skills Mary needs to acquire. Regardless of format, the results of Mary’s assessment will determine the specific people-management training that you need to recommend. Once she takes advantage of this recommended training and her knowledge is measured, ideally her people-management skill level will have improved. Both you and she will then have the proof of productivity improvement to propel her into the IT project lead role where she will be able to exercise her newly developed skills to drive revenue growth.
How and when you deliver your assessments can be as critical to the success of your business as the content in your learning program. Ongoing assessment, such as with Mary Porter’s learning experience, linked to both a personal performance plan and the corporate plan fosters loyalty and a personal stake in the company. After assessment and the recognition your people should receive from their success, you will notice an increase in morale. They’ve carried out your expectations. You have given them a material testimony of their capabilities that you are working to preserve. Their experience translates into skills—skills that immediately translate into work. They will return to their jobs ready to implement their knowledge and skills with boosted confidence—confidence in themselves and in their company for making the investment in their ability.
This impact is similar with professionals who prepare, pursue and achieve information technology certifications or professional licensures and accreditations. It’s indisputable. As explored in the 2002 Global Information Technology Training and Certification study, research with contributions from more than 8,000 professionals from around the globe, certified employees consistently cultivate higher responsibility and customer-service levels, increase productivity and competitive advantage and are more likely to value their organizational commitment.
One professional who benefited from the impact of assessment and contributed to the study said, “I think they think they can rely on me now, and I’m competent in doing my job. In two years it’s gone from, ‘We’re not going to let you touch this system,’ to ‘Now you can decide who you want to use your system.’ With the training and the certification, I was progressed into the senior engineer role when somebody left.”
For Your Learning Program
The relevancy and legitimacy of the corporate learning program needs continual evaluation. Assessment and testing can consistently identify the positive and negative attributes of corporate learning programs. If your employees’ learning is consistently sub-par, your learning program may need to be reevaluated. You need both reliability and relevancy. Assessment and testing will ensure that your learning does not bias employees from certain ethnic, cultural or geographical areas. Good assessment exams provide this objectivity and legal defensibility.
A good protocol includes extensive research into the job content and items that hold true to accepted industry standards. Subject-matter experts work closely throughout the entire development process to ensure the assessment’s relevancy. Good assessments need to mimic real-world, practical applications to prove the learning program’s worth in the workplace. And you have the ability to update your own assessment content, design and functionality. Conveniently. You can expect, with confidence, that the assessment accurately reflects and measures the required knowledge, skills and abilities dictated by your job requirements that, in turn, are correlated with the learning program.
Technology-based assessments provide this reliability and make learning’s impact instantly available to the organization. These assessments give the learner instant feedback, too—about their personal progress. These “progress reports” not only impact the validation of competency levels, but also identify any need for more training. These tests can be conducted anywhere in the world, in any time zone, in any language. This kind of customization includes exam design types—from multiple-choice question types to video simulations of real work experiences.
The recent pilot of the computer-based Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam included work scenarios that have a significant impact on the accounting industry. The pilot participants agreed that the computer-based version offers more relevant content and an overall better testing experience. One pilot participant commented, “Given what CPAs are expected to do in business today, taking the CPA exam on the computer makes a lot of sense. It reflects the way we have to think and access information in the real world.”
For Your Future
When you ignore the necessity of assessing and testing your workforce, it negatively impacts the whole business. Loss of productivity, increased hiring and termination costs and a lack of focus on execution of business plans combine for a lethal result—business failure. If you don’t design learning programs to produce business results and then assess the outcomes, the only thing you are guaranteeing is a lower return on investment in your human capital. Your employees were not too busy to notice that you passed by the opportunity to develop and praise them.
The positive results in this assessment-learning-and-testing model span many industries, including technology, financial services, communications, health and medical services and human resources. Just as assessing and testing has evolved to include more industries and dynamic exam options, your corporate learning program must evolve as your corporate strategy evolves. What was valuable training for your workforce last year may not carry the same weight today or next year. To identify the agile employees—those employees who can adapt and mature with the business—your learning program’s measurement system must continually evolve.
Closely examine your workforce and involve your employees throughout developing the corporate learning plan—keeping them abreast of key objectives. A solid learning assessment design gives your people and the learning program results, guaranteeing business advancement and the real impact your business needs to prepare for future success. It’s more than just a test. It’s your measure of success.
Michael Brannick is president and chief executive officer of Thomson Prometric. He holds a master’s degree in industrial psychology from California State University at Long Beach and specialty certifications from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and the University of Southern California. For more information, e-mail Michael at email@example.com.