It may be a stretch to say that 2009 was a good year for assessment. The impact of the downturn definitely hit vendors of assessment just as hard as it did those in other areas of recruitment and staffing. Most of the vendors I have spoken with over the year definitely felt the impact in terms of booking less new business during the first two to three quarters of this year. This makes sense, as the overall pace of hiring slowed to the lowest point in decades during the majority of 2009.
Despite a slowdown in new business, most vendors have been able to continue to generate revenue from their existing client base. Vendors who have assessments that can be used for both hiring and development are finding their ability to diversify beyond hiring to be a serious asset. This makes sense given the fact that many companies have chosen to invest more in their existing employees instead of investing in hiring new ones.
Many vendors I have spoken with have taken this past year to concentrate on developing new products and ideas to ensure they are ready to hit the ground running once things start to pick up. From what I have seen, the evolution of assessment tools has continued in a very positive direction.
Most of my conversations with vendors over the past few months have been more positive then they have in some time. Everyone is starting to see some movement in a positive direction, with pipelines starting to fill up with increased opportunities.
I am a glass-half-full kind of guy. So, here are a few reasons why I feel very optimistic about what we can expect in terms of assessment uptake in 2010.
New Vendors, New Products
I have seen a number of new vendors pop up on the scene in 2009. To me this means that people are continuing to invest in the idea of assessment and what it can do to help add value. While the marketplace has many players already, competition is a very good thing. Also, every vendor is a bit different, and not all are a good match for the needs of every situation. So, more product offerings and differentiation means more options for the consumer. The downside of this trend is of course that, as has always been the case, not all vendors offer products that meet the standards that must be upheld for sound science and compliance. So, now more than ever, it pays to do your homework when it comes to choosing an assessment vendor.
I have also seen a number of nice new products from existing vendors and think that as consumers of assessment re-visit the idea of using assessment, they will find that there are more products then ever to choose from and that these products are continuing to evolve.
Increased Focus on Linkage to Business Results
Vendors are finally starting to get the idea that they should sell products based on business results. There continues to be an increased focus on using business terms and providing real-world ways to measure ROI from assessment. This is the exact type of philosophy that is required for assessment to gain credibility and increase its stock amongst consumers. It’s essential to provide ways to clarify the bottom-line impact of assessment. Although slow to evolve, the continued shift in focus to thinking of assessment in terms businesses understands is helping move perceptions of assessment from that of an overly complex academically based mystery to a solid tool for improving business outcomes.
More Transactional Products
Assessments are becoming increasingly transactional. This trend has been unfolding for several years now, but I noticed a significant increase in the development of off-the-shelf assessments that are tailored for specific jobs or industry verticals. There are several reasons for this: These assessments are easy to “plug in” to broader technology-based solutions and are thus easy to sell as add on value-adds. Assessments are just one piece of information collected during the hiring process. Using assessments to provide a sketch of a few characteristics critical for a job and not asking them to provide an in-depth dossier makes it much easier to add a more general, off-the-shelf assessment.
In the past, I felt that off-the-shelf products were often too general to really add value, given the fact that jobs often look different within different organizations. With a solid decade of web-based testing under our belts, we have been able to greatly accelerate our understanding of what works and what does not. The insight we have gained from literally tens of millions of data points has allowed generalized off-the-shelf assessments to be more accurate then ever.
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Finally, transactional assessments are very appealing to small- to medium-sized businesses, a segment that represents tremendous untapped potential. This group often does not have resources required to create customized tests but can still benefit from assessments. Since highly transactional products can be sold entirely without human interaction, they represent a nice additional revenue channel for many vendors.
Continued Integration of Assessments
Another trend that has been continuing to unfold over the past decade or so is the integration of assessment into other products. Almost every ATS has experience with integration, and many are continuing to take the initiative to offer their own integrated suites that include assessment tools.
Talent management vendors have not focused on pre-employment assessment to a great extent thus far. This is bound to change shortly.
The more accurate generalized assessments become, the easier they are to insert into other products that have a broader footprint across the employee lifecycle. Increased understanding and development of assessments that can be used for both pre- and post-employment purposes will also help to ensure uptake.
A Final Note About Progress and Doing it Right
Since day one, the integration of technology has definitely made the old-guard academics in the testing world a bit nervous. In many cases such feelings are justified. The value of assessment lies in adherence to a strict set of guidelines for test development and usage. The trends I have noted above may seem at odds with these requirements to folks who are from the old school. While proving ROI of assessments and the business drivers for using assessment may seem at odds with the roots of testing, nothing could be further from the truth. It would simply not be possible to show real ROI without ensuring any assessment was measuring the things required for successful job performance. Any vendor of quality assessments understands this and as such should have a dedication to upholding the proper standards for assessment.
The legitimate vendors out there get it and are continuing to do their best to strike a balance between doing it right and making it easy for the end user. As with any other field, survival and progress requires that we adapt and evolve. Part of this is the continued meshing of the science of technology with that of psychology. The continued evolution of assessment will see it move in a direction that makes it increasingly easy to use and understand and this will serve as a significant force in its increased popularity.