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Assessing South Africa

By Clifford Modiselle

Historically, psychometric assessments have a bad reputation, mostly due to such assessments being conducted under a veil of secrecy as to their purpose and use. Pre-1994, in particular, corporates did pretty much as they pleased, and assessments where frequently used as much to promote certain people inside organisations as to keep other types out.

At the time, no legislation existed to govern the assessment of employees, or the processes and procedures to be followed when conducting such assessments. This changed with the promulgation of the Labour Relations (LRA) and Employment Equity (EEA) Acts in 1995 and 1998 respectively. The EEA specifies that tests must be reliable, fair, accurate and not biased against any group. Around this time the Health Professionals Council of SA also started to make its presence felt and took a strict approach to how these assessments where used by corporates.

The above changes notwithstanding, people are still suspicious of assessments based on previous experiences where they were not told what was being assessed or how the assessment would be used, and were not provided with feedback.

Further, most assessment tools are developed in the US or Europe and are not standardised to the South African population.

There is also still a lack of understanding about how psychometric assessment tools are used and how they work. Individuals are frequently not told what a test is assessing for, many companies do not link these assessments to competencies for specific jobs, and individuals do not know or understand how the tools link to the work environment.

So what are we testing for?

On an individual level, assessments can be used to recruit the correct individuals and ensure that individuals are appropriately placed within an organisation. If an organisation has clear competencies mapped to each specific role it can correctly recruit to fill that role.

Secondly, assessments can be used to identify raw talent. Skills and resources are rare and thinly spread in South Africa. Using psychometric assessments, organisations can identify talent, recruit and train it to fill the gaps it has.

These tools can also be used for self-development and career guidance. Sharing of information about the tests and their outcomes is critical here – individuals cannot know what areas they need to develop if that information is not shared with them in a constructive fashion.

On a broader level, these tests can be used to assess teams – either by revealing which team members are strong in which areas in an existing team and ensuring that future recruitment fills skills gap, or when building a team by providing an understanding of the people involved.

Taking a step up, an organisation can use these assessments to conduct pro-active risk identification and management. For example, assessing an individual before moving them into a high-risk environment to determine their suitability. It can also manage talent effectively by using these tools to identify potential future leaders. A further aspect is cultural mapping and refining, which ensures that individuals being brought into the organisation are suited to its culture and environment.

Lifting the veil

A comprehensive education campaign is needed at an industry and organisational level, from the top down, to demystify assessments tools and the assessment process. Additionally, companies need to communicate more effectively – people come to us for tests not knowing why they’re being assessed. Thirdly, it is critical that testing organisations and HR departments select assessment tools that are appropriate to the local environment and comply with local legislation. These tests then need to be appropriately matched to what is being tested for – different tools are needed for recruitment versus career development. Lastly, and very importantly, there is a lot of work we can do in terms of research and development to develop tests around SA norms that are sensitive to the uniqueness of the South African context. Education systems were not equal in the past and educational imbalances exist, it is important that assessments take this into consideration.

Clifford Modiselle, co-founder and director, Joint Prosperity

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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