We asked Nik Kinley, Director & Head of Talent Strategy, YSC, to provide some feedback on what’s coming down the pipeline this year for talent assessment. Below are his thoughts.

2016 was a quieter year in the assessment world. The wave of consolidations that swept through the industry in 2015 seemed to take a pause, and technical developments were few and far between. 2017, however, is shaping up to be a very different beast. So here are seven of the big assessment trends to watch for in 2017.

Generic Tools and Eco-Systems

Probably the biggest change in the assessment industry over the past five years has been the consolidations occurring across it, and we are beginning to see the impact of theses on assessment services.

One simple change is that the number of big global assessment firms can now be counted on one hand. So the choice of vendor is becoming a little easier. Or shorter, anyway. The mix of products available is also changing, with a shift towards more generic, off-the-shelf services. These tend to be cheaper, so are suiting the mood of businesses struggling to cope with a prolonged period of low economic growth and political uncertainty.

We are also seeing some vendors pushing assessment ‘eco-systems’, which involve companies buying-in to just one system of capability frameworks, assessment products, and development tools. This feels like something akin to what happened in the mobile phone world, with Apple, Google and Blackberry all creating separate eco-systems of products that encourage users to stay within them.

Some of these changes are positive. But generic assessment tools are limited in their ability to take business context into account, and committing to eco-systems inevitably limits a purchasing company’s ability to source all the optimal solutions. So whether these changes are all for the better is a matter of debate.

Selecting For Range

Global economic and political uncertainties lie behind our second big trend. As firms face up to the fact that VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) is the new norm, they are changing what they focus on when they make hiring and promotion decisions. Whether someone can do the job at hand is still important; but businesses increasingly also want to know what else the person can do. Some businesses are thus taking future potential more into account when making selection decisions, while others are assessing candidates’ ability to be adaptable. Ten year’s ago, benchmarking and finding the best possible candidate was all the rage. Five years ago, firms started focusing more on fit, and whether individuals were right for specific situations. The shift now is to look more at people’s range, and the scope of situations they can be effective in.

Watching Time-to-Hire

If there is one thing previous downturns and times of uncertainty have taught us is that time-to-hire tends to increase. The pool of people to choose from becomes bigger, and firms tend to become more risk-averse. In both the US and UK between 2007-2015, the number of interviews that new recruits had to go through increased by over 50%. So businesses are looking sharply at how to stop this trend continuing. Putting formal limits on interviews is one solution, using external providers to give an objective view is another. Either way, time-to-hire is this year’s metric to watch.

Localized Tools

Five years ago the emphasis was on globalization and creating assessment tools that could be culturally appropriate and accurate anywhere. The last year or so, however, has seen a push in the opposite direction, with research showing that personality tools in different geographies, such as China and the Middle East, need to measure different dimensions to fully capture people. As a result, we are beginning to see more localized assessment products – still with some commonalities to enable the comparison of people in different geographies, but with now distinct characteristics unique particular geographies as well.

Growth in Virtual Assessment Slows

Virtual assessment – with interviews and testing completed remotely – has repeatedly featured on lists of top trends in recent years. It is popular because it saves on travel costs and so is cheaper. But the past year has seen a noticeable slow-down in their spread, and for two reasons. First, people still like shaking hands and to know that an assessor has physically met a candidate – especially for the most senior appointments. And second, technology tends to get in the way, rather than enable. The best tele-presence video-conferencing systems are expensive and can be difficult to secure time on. And without these systems, video conferencing connections are just not reliable enough in many geographies. So virtual assessments – while undoubtedly part of the future – are not the revolution many predicted.

A Slow But Steady 360-Degree Revolution

360 tools have been an assessment staple for years. Yet firms are increasingly aware that the data from 360 tests often suffers from a fatal flaw – in that people can be over-rated and receive only blandly positive feedback. To counter this, new scoring methods have been developed for 360-degree feedback systems, which ensure every individual is given clear feedback about what their areas of strength and development need are. Over the past few years the market share of these new generation 360s has been growing and this trend looks set to continue in 2017.

Growing Talent Intelligence

Promises of big data and predictive analytics that will change HR are nothing new. They conjure images of big software systems and for most firms they are just words heard, and activities beyond their scope. We can’t all be Google. Yet there are some very real shifts occurring in how firms use assessment data. They increasingly expect assessment to not just help them make good selection decisions, but also provide talent intelligence: Information that can be used to inform broader talent processes. To better target attraction, on-boarding, and development. Not with expensive systems, either; just a spreadsheet and the will to collate and analyze the information. It may not be big data, but it certainly is the more effective use of small data. And sometimes small trends are the most powerful.

2017 looks to be a very different year for talent assessment!

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Nik Kinley

Nik is the Director & Head of Talent Strategy at YSC. He has specialized in the fields of leadership assessment and development for nearly thirty years. His prior roles include Global Head of Learning for Barclays RBBF and Global Head of Assessment for the BP Group.