What I Learned About Assessments From a Human Resources Technology Conference

Oct 23, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

For those who love technology and value it as an essential asset to the people side of business strategy, a conference held this near in Las Vegas, the HR Technology Conference, never disappoints. This year was no exception. It  seemed to be the biggest edition yet with a dizzying array of companies offering a wide range of solutions across the entire HR landscape.

I saw the major themes permeating the trade show floor as: unprecedented levels of individual accessibility and control over information of all types; social connectivity and easy integration of everything; data and analytics attached to most things; on-demand learning everywhere one turns; and technology as a means to support personal, corporate, and social responsibility.

I’ll leave the details of the big picture views to other analysts whom I feel have offered great insights, and drill down to my specialty areas: talent acquisition and specifically talent assessments.

Here are my notes on what I saw this year in terms of talent assessments and the current state of HR technology:

Talent assessment (and the technology used to support it) is still not seen as a strategic asset. If talent assessment were seen as a truly strategic asset, there would have been more than one session devoted to it.  The lone session that was included was fantastic. It showcased an innovative adaptive reasoning test created by DDI, a leader in the talent assessment space. A good look at the trade show floor provided support for that idea that talent is the biggest facing HR challenge, as most of the vendors had a strong focus on either talent acquisition, talent management, or both. Despite this, there were relatively few talent assessment vendors present and most of the major players with the big booths had nothing significant to say when asked about their talent assessment product strategy. I’m used to these things by now, but never give up hope that things will eventually change.

There is still very little true innovation within the talent assessment space. Within the shadows of the leviathan double-decker booths with their giant video screens and armies of mimes serving lattes dwelt a small smattering of the usual suspects when it comes to talent assessments.

It was great to see a large number of highly traditional firms such as Wonderlic, PSI, Profiles International, and CPP offering sound assessments that have been proven time and again. While these are all proper assessments, their owners are much more focused on content than technology. There is honestly nothing truly innovative about what these firms are doing, and their technologies, while effective, are well behind in terms of the major tech themes driving macro-level change in the landscape.

The real question is the extent to which these firms are making their assessments mobile ready, finding ways to socialize them, including them in real workforce analytics, or offering applicants an enjoyable, branded experience. I must have missed these things because I just didn’t see them from this crowd.  The exception here is SHL/CEB who is focused on quality and innovation, but who is moving a bit slowly given their incredible appetite for gobbling up other companies. Once they have the energy to focus, I expect interesting things from them.

There is innovation happening in the industry, but it is not coming from the big players. Instead it is coming from a new crop of early stage companies. There were very few of these companies at the show, with Findly being the most notable example of a really smart new play that is highly social and includes solid assessments in a very engaging platform. In the future I expect to see upstart firms (my company Logi-Serve) and startups such as: Knack, RightHire ,, Talentology, and ConnectCubed right there in the mix because these firms are truly using technology in new ways.

Assessments are becoming commoditized. The bigger talent management solutions are finally rounding out their offerings by focusing on talent acquisition/recruitment (SuccessFactors is doing an outstanding job here). For some big players who get how assessments work (such as Kenexa), assessment seems to be a bit lost in the shuffle. For other players who integrate via partnerships, the decision about what assessments to add does not seem to be driven by a quality focus or real awareness of how they work.

Garbage in/garbage out — giving lip service to analytics will get you nowhere. Data is the superstar of the HR tech world. This trend has been happening for a while nowm and it is a very good thing. We I/O psychologists are data hounds, and our field has been dedicated to data collection and analysis since day one. The things I saw at HR Tech this year in terms of the ability to analyze, slice, and dice data were highly impressive (Equifax, Visier).

All the technology in the world cannot take garbage in and return anything much more than garbage out the other end. So while it is great to embrace the latest in data and analytics, when it comes to predicting job success, fit, tenure, etc., expertise in measuring human traits remains a must have ingredient.

The bottom line: These are exciting times for talent acquisition and talent assessment. What I saw at HR tech was very encouraging when it comes to engaging workers, taking control of one’s career, finding opportunities, candidate engagement, and demonstrating ROI from human capital. Making these trends into a reality that will serve both individual and corporate interests alike will require a multidisciplinary approach in which workplace scientists who know how to measure all things human are sitting at the same table as masters of technology, science, data analysis, and business strategy. I hope to see increasing visibility for talent assessments as a key part of the technology plays showcased at this conference in the years to come.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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